Salmon Arm saxophonist plays tribute to Layton

Salmon Arm was very well-represented at the funeral of Jack Layton, in the form of musician Richard Underhill.

Richard Underhill

Salmon Arm was very well-represented at the funeral of Jack Layton, in the form of  musician Richard Underhill.

Underhill, a Juno award-winning saxophonist who lives in Toronto, grew up in Salmon Arm.

Richard’s mom Florence says she was thrilled he was asked to play.

“I was really honoured that they chose him, and so was he, he was quite excited about it. It was quite emotional watching him.”

The Observer reached Underhill via email, who said it was an honour and a privilege to play ‘Into the Mystic’ and ‘Magnificat’ at the celebration of life. He said he has known Layton and his spouse Olivia Chow for many years.

He wrote: “In the late ’90s they used to stop by on their tandem bicycle when I was playing a patio on King Street and listen to a few tunes. We would chat between songs, it was great that they liked the music, they were so enthusiastic. I was a fan of Jack’s politics and I offered my services if they ever needed music at events. It wasn’t long before I was playing nomination events and fundraisers for Olivia. When Jack ran for the leadership of the NDP, he invited several Toronto artists and musicians over to his funky downtown house to discuss how he could make a unique impact at the convention. We discussed a lot of ideas, and in the end, I wrote a song with Lorraine Segato for a video presentation that played just before he made his final speech. He won the convention on the first ballot and our song ‘Together’ was used as a campaign song in the 2004 election. From that point on I played many campaign events with Jack and Olivia. He was such a great man, always positive and fun. They would say that Jack and Olivia put the party into political party, and they were right. Having fun and helping people was a combination I couldn’t resist!”

Underhill said the couple chose the music he played.

“I think they did a wonderful job of picking songs that expressed the mood of the moment. Into the Mystic by Van Morrison is both sad and hopeful, absolutely what we were all feeling at that moment. And the Magnificent Cat, Moe Koffman’s interpretation of Bach’s Magnificat, was perfect for the solemn arrival of the family.

“I knew that we were going to play both pieces, but I only found out just before we played that Olivia and Jack’s family were going to enter the hall while we were playing the second piece. It took a lot of resolve to keep it together as they entered, it was such an emotional moment.”


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