Bill King is set to perform with The Real Divas
It’s a few days after B.B. King’s May 14 death, and jazz musician and music photographer Bill King is sharing a moment he had with the blues legend.
In 1998, the Casa Loma resident had one minute to shoot photos of the legend, while he was performing at the Harbourfront Centre. Back then there was a screen to look at the photos, and he had two cameras with a total of 72 shots on him.
“I go back and look at all the stuff — it’s all the standard B.B. King stuff, facial shots — then it’s the last shot.
“The last shot,” he says, with great emphasis. “It was Lucille that he held up.”
Lucille was the entertainer’s famously beloved Gibson guitar.
But music photography, which he intends to ply during the June 18-29 TD Toronto Jazz Festival, isn’t Bill King’s first passion. The music itself is, and on June 20 he’ll be on the piano performing with three ladies he’s worked with in the past: June Garber, Sophie Berkal-Sarbit and Lauren Margison — The Real Divas.
The Distillery District is the setting for a reunion that brings a smile to the Indiana-born Torontonian who arrived here in 1969.
“Probably the past 25 years, I’ve worked with a lot of female singers,” he recalls, adding Berkal-Sarbit and Margison were 15 when he first collaborated with them. They’re now in their early 20s.
“You work with them when they are really young, and then they go away and have time to mature and think about what they are doing,” he admits.
Garber is in her 60s.
There’s a fondness in his voice, and it’s clear he loves music. He’s worked with acts like The Shangrilas and Ronnie Dove in the 1960s, and then Martha Reeves (of the Vandellas fame) and the Pointer Sisters during the ’70s.
King has also performed with Ronnie Hawkins, launched his own record label — Night Passage Records — and spent time as a jazz broadcaster at Q107. He still produces and co-hosts a show on CIUT 98.5.
However, jazz isn’t quite what it used to be in the city, he observes.
“It’s sort of going through a change now because you’ve lost a lot of the iconic, local figures: the Jeff Healeys, the Rob McConnells, the Doug Rileys, the Jim Galloways,” he rues. “The connection you had to really think about was they were not only big players and drew people to the seats, but they also booked their own musicians.
“That group has passed on now, so there’s nobody who’s stepped in that can fill a place locally. It goes back to where it needs to reinvent itself.”
Back to his photography, King shares a smile under a modest Sam Elliott moustache. He’s only playing the piano on June 20 for a few hours, but the shutterbug inside him gets free run.
“I’ve been banking some wonderful moments from the festival,” he says. “For 10 days it goes and then it disappears. Then you’re sitting in January saying, ‘Damn, I wish it was June’.”