Musical savvy of popular showband collected worldwide, over decades
“People say, what do you play, and I say, we’ll play anything, what do you want?” says Marc Beaudin, founder and leader of the Edmonton showband, Counterfitz.
Counterfitz, which plays the CreekwoodStock music festival on Sept. 15, truly does perform an astonishing range of music — from big band to pop, blues to country to rock. That’s a testament to its talented musicians, including two powerhouse lead singers, but mostly to Beaudin’s extensive history as a performer.
Raised in Sept Îles, Que., he grew up listening to big band horns on his father’s Glenn Miller records and to an aunt whose emotional hymn singing was highly sought after. He loved classical music so the first instrument he learned to play was classical guitar. Soon, he was adept at acoustic and electric guitar, double and electric bass, piano, tuba and drums. He studied music at a CEGEP (a Quebec community college) before succeeding at a national audition and landing a full-time position with the Royal Canadian Artillery Band of the Canadian Armed Forces.
“The military is like a microcosm of society,” says Beaudin. “You have dentists, lawyers, mechanics, military police, ground troops,
suppliers and you also have a strong tradition musically.
“Every regiment has their own music. There are six regular forces bands in Canada — Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Quebec City and Halifax — with 35 musicians per band. The job of a military musician is public relations within the community, morale building within the troops and reinforcement of tradition.”
During a 23-year military career, Beaudin played all genres of music, from challenging classical pieces by Shostakovich and Ravel to jazz standards, showband favourites, national anthems, current and classic pop. He played concerts in high school gyms, parades, official events and military tattoos to audiences worldwide.
Memorable shows included one in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea to celebrate their 2001 ceasefire, a memorial service at Vimy Ridge and a gig in Bosnia to mark the end of Canada’s participation in the conflict there.
The military also trained Beaudin as a drum major (he led the marching band when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Alberta in 2011) and in his spare time, he learned to arrange music and orchestrate ensembles.
Before retiring from the military in late Dec. 2011, he created Retrofitz, an 11-piece showband with horns, to entertain at corporate events and big weddings. “I wanted to change up the pace a little bit,” he says.
At smaller events, Retrofitz shrinks to five or six members, including a saxophone player, and becomes Counterfitz. While the sidemen rotate as they’re available, Beaudin and singers Samantha King and Lindsey Shorey are constants, with King belting out Etta James hits and other big blues tunes, and Shorey handling the spectrum from Beyoncé songs to rap.
Beaudin takes pride in his bands being ace professional performers. “It’s never about us on stage, it’s about giving the audience energy. It goes back to me watching my aunt in church, communicating so strongly with people.”
Yet he arranges all the music for a unique spin. “If we play Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars, I write a middle section to customize it for the band and for my singers.”
Beaudin continues to widen his command of new genres so his bands are capable of slipping klezmer or New Orleans soul into their set lists. Their versatility has earned them many high-profile gigs, including the first Oilers game in Rogers Place and the Tim Hortons Brier, but his favourite might just be a San Diego wedding for which they were flown in.
“The bride was from Calgary, but they could have hired anybody, anybody. They hired us, and they hired Andy Kim (songwriter of Rock Me Gently and Sugar Sugar) — and he opened for us! I’m thinking, oh my God, this guy is in the Roll Hall of Fame! It was surreal!”
Words: Lise Lalonde
Photos: Steven Csorba