Thursday, 8 February 2018

Father and Son Musical Duel is a Fundraiser for Research Chair

By Neil Armstrong

Eddie Bullen and his son, Quincy, will perform two benefit concerts of "Father & Son Dueling Pianos" in Toronto on February 10, 2018.       Photo contributed

A father and son duo – both popular pianists – are dedicating two shows from their Black History Month tour to raise funds for the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and the Diaspora at York University.

Eddie Bullen and his son, Quincy Bullen, started the tour of their “Father & Son Dueling Pianos” concert in Halifax on February 1, and were in Montreal on February 3 before concluding it with two shows on February 10 at the Ada Slaight Hall, Daniels Spectrum in Toronto.

Eddie sad when was around 14 or 15 years old he got an album, “An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea” and fell in love with it.

“I thought they did such a wonderful job just playing together and it seems like they were having so much fun. And just in loving the record and loving the concept  - I mean the concept has been around before -- as a young budding musician it really stuck with me.”

He thought of doing that some day with a piano player, and lo and behold one day realized that it would be with Quincy whom he taught music.

“We did something together on one piano and that idea came back again and I’m like I think I can do this with my son.”

In 2011, he booked Toronto Centre for the Arts and they did their first “Father & Son Dueling Pianos” there.

“It’s a great experience. I figured he was waiting for me to get good enough to play him but I don’t think he realized that it was actually the other way around. It was that he had to get good enough to play with me because I bring the pain when we’re on stage,” quipped Quincy describing it as a sparring match where he tries to hold his own.

He says there is togetherness but there are also levels of competitiveness.

“We talk about our lives. A father who was very persistent with regard to practicing and making sure that my son didn’t get caught up in the wrong crowd and being regretful that you’re not around. I was a helicoptered father, I was right on top of him,” says Eddie.

When they do the musical arrangement they pitch songs around to each other.

Quincy says the tough part is choosing the songs because many songs don’t work for a dueling purpose on two pianos.
“We want to have as much fun with the song as you guys watching it so ultimately it's choosing the right song. Usually once you chose the right song, the song kind of explains itself,” he says.

“Dueling Pianos” takes patrons on the journey through pain and joy in reaching for and attaining excellence by using masterful renditions of Canada’s own Oscar Peterson’s ‘Hymn to Freedom’, John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ and more… all arranged for two pianos.  The musicians weave musical classics from jazz, classical, calypso, reggae, pop and the blues into their story, showing how the father prepared his son to understand and embrace his historical roots, the roots of music and the world’s great musicians.

The senior Bullen said knowing that Jean Augustine was a stakeholder in pushing for Black History Month and a lot of other black initiatives in the position she held for many years, they wanted to pay homage and show their appreciation.

In 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month after a motion was introduced by Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, who was the Member of Parliament for the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore from 1993-2006.

The Jean Augustine Chair, within the Faculty of Education at York University, is committed to studies, research and action-focused programs capturing and advancing the Black experience in Canada.

Professor Carl James was appointed the holder of the Chair for a five-year term that began on July 1, 2016.

“We just thought we would give back a bit and just make people aware of her contribution,” says Eddie.

Augustine says she thinks it is important that everyone in the community sees importance of the Chair.

“I was always very concerned that we, as members of the diaspora, whether it is African or Caribbean or Black, that we have nothing at the university that our young people walking through the universities in this country can point to as interested in the issues or would give them the research, the data, that would enable them to know more about their community.”

She gave all of her archival material to York University, which was the start for this Chair. A Chair is $3 million and the university was able to put $1 million on the table as a result of all the things she offered.

“I asked that the $1 million be put towards the Chair so the efforts over the last number of years is really to fully fund the Chair because the university does not fund the Chair. It’s people in the community who fund the Chairs and so I thought I would enlist the community in the raising of the $2 million.”

So far they have raised over $900, 000 which means they have about $1.1 million to go so she is asking for donations.

She thinks there are so many people in the community that the goal can be reached if everyone supports the efforts.

The duo have taken their “Dueling Pianos” concerts to Grenada where Eddie is from, in the USA, and they plan to take it to Barbados where they have had other engagements.

“The music is a backdrop to our lives and there’s a bit of dialogue in between songs. And we explain why we chose this song and how this song impacts our lives and the trajectory of Quincy’s career, and me being a mentor and father,” says Eddie.

On February 10, there will be two benefit concerts and benefactors will receive a tax receipt from the York University Foundation.

“It’s definitely for families – young and old – to see because it’s a great experience to see the father-son duel and the father-son togetherness working at the same time. It’s wonderful and a wonderful story to be a part of,” says Quincy.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Feb. 8-14, 2018.]

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