One of the highlights of last month’s Jazz Band Ball festival was special recognition for veteran bandleader Rice Honeywell, Sr.
Honeywell, 83 – leader of popular Dixieland band Red Beans & Rice – was presented at Pacific Inn with the ‘Conservator of Jazz’ award Sept. 27 by White Rock Traditional Jazz Society president Don Phillimore.
The award recognizes the popular cornetist/pianist/vocalist’s contributions to music on the local scene, and his continued championing of the idiom he fell in love with as a young man in the early-1950s.
While Red Beans & Rice is official house band for the society, the band actually came first – formed in 1990 when Honeywell retired from musical-instrument sales in Toronto and he and late-wife Helen moved west.
As a longtime aficionado of the Dixie style – and a collector of classic jazz – Honeywell put together Red Beans & Rice around a core of established Vancouver-area players, including the late Eggy Lay on reeds, Dave Griggs on trombone, Jim Marsh on banjo, Mike Cox on drums and Mike Hobbs on bass.
Key to the group dynamic, then and now, is Honeywell’s own approach on cornet – a pared-down, driving lead line inspired by one of his idols, 1920s-30s jazzman Muggsy Spanier.
“The best thing a cornet player can do in ensembles is drive it down the middle and keep out of the way of the other guys,” Honeywell said. “Traditional jazz only works when you weave all the lines together – you can’t have everyone playing like a soloist all the time.”
First regular gig for the band locally came when Howard LeTroy, owner of a restaurant called Oasis on the Bay, agreed to have the band play on weekends. It immediately connected with residents.
“Helen went around and passed the hat to customers and people said let’s keep it going,” Honeywell said. “Eventually it became a society.”
When the Oasis went under, the band went on to play at such Peninsula venues as Judy’s On Top and the Sandcastle Club, before settling into the Pacific Inn for an eight-year run.
The society switched its activities to Royal Canadian Legion Crescent Branch 240 in 2000, where it now presents regular Sunday sessions from 2-5 p.m., along with guest bands from the traditional jazz circuit. As well, Red Beans & Rice plays alternate Friday nights at Porter’s Bistro in Murrayville.
He and wife Nancy also keep the jazz going strong at the Legion during the society’s summer hiatus by producing their own 10-session series of Sunday dances.