The saying goes: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Johnny Summers not only heeded that advice, he wrote a song about it.
The Calgary-based Johnny Summers Little Big Band is coming to Sylvan Lake to entertain at a swing dance presented by Jazz at the Lake organizers. For the second year, a series of special events is being planned instead of the annual jazz festival.
The Swing into Spring event is being held on May 21 at the Sylvan Lake Community Centre — and Summers is gearing up for a lively event that will attract swing dancers from all over Alberta.
Tunes by George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington are on the program, as well as newer music by James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Van Morrison — and some original numbers composed by Summers
“We try to have something for everyone — a great diversity, so there’s a great flow,” said the singer/trumpet player.
Among the original songs will be Never Work a Day in Your Life, which Summers co-wrote with Alberta’s celebrated pianist (and former Canadian senator) Tommy Banks.
And, no, the song doesn’t refer to what some people think of senators.
Summers said they relate to the aforementioned adage about doing what you love.
“We styled it to sound like a Cole Porter tune,” with witty lyrics that include references to Lady Gaga and Madonna to keep the song rooted in the 21-century.
Songwriting with Banks was a compelling, exhaustive experience, said Summers, who recalled labouring for about 30 hours to find the exact right lyrics. When the two took a coffee break from songwriting in an Edmonton mall, Summers got a taste of Bank’s celebrity.
“People would go by, see Tommy Banks, and say, ‘Hello, senator!’ ‘Hi, senator!’ … It was kind of funny …”
Banks’ impressive piano talents are featured on Summers’s Piano Sessions Vol. 2, one of five CDs the singer has recorded since 2003.
Summers knew from about age 11 the impact music would have on his life. He remembers sitting in his bedroom listening to Harry Connick Jr.’s Blue Light, Red Light album. Other performers who have influenced him over the years are Wynton Marsalis, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer and Louis Armstrong.
Although Summers started studying classical music in high school, he switched to the jazz program in university.
He later took voice lessons with international jazz and blues vocalist Dee Daniels in Vancouver, and described this as a pivotal period that changed his life. Daniels “opened my voice up to new possibilities.”
The hard-working musician now performs in a variety of bands — including quartets, quintets and the 18-member Calgary Jazz Orchestra, which he founded.
His Johnny Summers Little Big Band is made up of eight musicians who put on regular concerts in Calgary and around the province.
The group has been a mainstay of the Jazz at the Lake festival, because Summers enjoys working with its organizers Cheryl Fisher and Eric Allison.
He calls it “one of the best run festivals I’ve ever seen.”
Although the singer is the rare artist with enough business savvy to have been offered lucrative employment — including a realtor position with a development company — he has never regretted sticking with his first love.
“There’s no feeling more gratifying and humbling than to touch people through music,” he said. “I am forever thankful for the inspiration and encouragement this affords.”
Tickets to the 8 p.m. event are $25 from www.jazzatthelake.com.