If Facebook has taught us one thing, it is not to believe everything we read on the internet.
Case in point is Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s biography on the Vancouver International Jazz Festival website.
And even while the small inaccuracies Glenn-Copeland corrected during our interview will never influence an election or be called “fake news”, they do help paint a more robust portrait of the musical septuagenarian.
“I’m actually 75,” says Glenn-Copeland with a laugh on the phone from his home in New Brunswick, correcting the first inaccuracy in his bio. “I’m 75 and a half almost. Oh my God. At this point, you go 75.2, 75.3, and you mark it off and go, wow!”
But age has certainly not slowed down the musician, unlike others in their seventies who are enjoying retirement, as he is about to embark on a tour that will take him from Toronto, to as far north as Dawson City, with a stop in Vancouver at this year’s Jazz Fest in June.
“I realize now I really couldn’t retire if I wanted to, but retire from what? Retire from song writing? Well, I’m never going to retire from song writing,” he says. “It really is just about now, at this age, I’m being asked to have the energy to go on tour. It seems that I do, so I’m doing it.”
Another inaccuracy is in how long Glenn-Copeland has been absent from performing, as it is actually twice as long as the twenty years indicated on his online bio.
“No, that’s not correct,” he says. “I disappeared for forty years.”
Originally performing in his late twenties and early thirties, it was something he did only because there weren’t many other options at the time. It would actually be his passion for song writing though that would sustain him.
“When the music I wrote did not illicit lots of invitations to play in lots of different places, I just became what is my basic nature, which is to just write, and write, and write,” he says.
With a return to writing, Glenn-Copeland found himself in children’s music. First writing for Sesame Street, a little closer to home he would also spend twenty-five years entertaining children as a regular on the CBC’s Mr. Dressup.
So, what brings Glenn-Copeland back to the stage after forty years? It turns out there was an appetite for his music from a somewhat surprising source.
“In 2015, a gentleman got in touch with me and asked me if I had any cassettes left of one of the things that I had put out in 1984, and I did,” he explains. “He ended up selling just about all the copies that I had left.”
Following the almost instant sell-out of those cassettes, Glenn-Copeland began receiving requests from independent record companies around the world, asking to reissue some of his early work.
“The next thing I knew, people began asking me to play, and I thought, why? I really didn’t get it,” he says. “Then I realized it was a younger generation that was interested in this stuff that I had been writing all these years.”
Tapping into a new-found market of twenty- and thirty-somethings, Glenn-Copeland realized that most of them weren’t even born when he had originally written the material.
“That was an interesting experience for me,” he says. “That generation was so enthusiastic about everything, and I knew that if I wanted to thank them for that enthusiasm I was going to have to thank them in person, by going on stage.”
Another inaccuracy in Glenn-Copeland’s online bio is describing him as a “transgender artist”.
“I am transgender, and I am an artist, but you know that’s a slightly different take on it,” he says.
Not that Glenn-Copeland looks to disconnect the person from the artist. This is especially true when you consider just how much of a trailblazer he is for the transgender community, having come out in 1947 at the age three, announcing to his parents at the time that he was a boy.
Not surprisingly Glenn-Copeland says it wasn’t easy to come out at such an early age, at a time when the whole idea of being transgender was something few people knew, or talked about.
“What it created was a lot of difficulty for me personally, which ended up being a strength because I had to go through that,” he says.
Part of that strength also came from Glenn-Copeland’s time at Montreal’s McGill University between 1961 and 1965, where he studied classical music.
“Maybe I wasn’t the only person who was out on McGill’s campus, but I certainly was out, and I knew no one else who was,” he says.
And while definitely a challenging time, it has provided him with a certain resilience in life.
“If you’ve been living authentically as someone society has denigrated, or made into something to be feared, or made into something that they consider to be against nature, then you inevitably end-up looking to support those who have been suffering,” he says. “It’s just a natural part of being another human being in the context of community.”
And though not a total inaccuracy, Glenn-Copeland also chuckles at being described as a “multi-instrumentalist”.
“Well I consider that over the top,” he says.
Admitting he does play piano, guitar, oboe, and the hand drum, beyond perhaps a single number on an instrument at any given concert, his choice is to stick with the vocals.
“Currently, I don’t choose to do any of the above,” he admits. “I no longer play the guitar at all. I can play the piano, but I don’t choose to.”
Not that Glenn-Copeland needs to play an instrument on this upcoming cross-Canada tour, as he is traveling with a quintet of musicians who allow him to concentrate on what he does and loves best, which is to sing.
Finally, while the tour includes a stop at our city’s Jazz Festival, it is a bit of a misnomer to refer to Glenn-Copeland as a jazz musician.
“I’m certainly not a jazz player,” he says. “That is not what I do. We do not get on stage and begin to improvise, and when I think jazz that is what you do.”
Coming from a classical background, Glenn-Copeland says improvisation is not part of his musical vocabulary.
“I might do a little bit of improvisation, but I’m not a jazz player by any stretch of the imagination,” he says. “I might use chords that somebody thinks of as jazz, but no that’s not the same thing at all. When you get right down to it, you could say that Chopin was playing jazz because he played a lot of those chords.”
Instead, Glenn-Copeland describes what he and his band does as an eclectic fusion, and it is no doubt a big reason why his new fans are clamouring to see him in concert.
“Most audiences don’t go to something that they haven’t already listened to and already know they’re going to like it,” he says. “Most folks go, ‘oh, who is this person?’ Then, they Google the hell out of you, and listen to everything they can find. If they come to the concert, they’re not expecting anything that is remotely going to sound like jazz.”
For those looking to find out more about Beverly Glenn-Copeland and his music, you can find him online at songcycles.com.
The 2019 Vancouver International Jazz Festival runs June 21 through July 1 at venues around the city. Beverly Glenn-Copeland performs on June 25 at Performance Works on Granville Island. Visit coastaljazz.ca for tickets and information.