In 1994, a guy named Stuart Bastow walked into an Ottawa piano bar. The 20-something had never sung in any venue except perhaps a shower but, thanks to a pint or two of courage, the next thing he knew there was a microphone where his glass used to be. By the time he had put down the mike, a woman had wandered up to him and asked for his autograph.
In 1996, a swing revival band was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ensemble featured some of the east coast’s classically-trained and genuinely-gifted jazz musicians. In charge of vocals was a bit of an unknown, a guy called Johnny Favourite, a guy formerly known as Stuart Bastow.
The National Post caught the act and wrote enthusiastically about a guy, “swigging and swinging to his heart’s content”.
In March, 1999, The Juno Awards, Canada’s not-quite equivalent to the Grammies, were held. An extremely talented and very dynamic group called The Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra were charting with a song called “Rootbeer & Licorice” and, from out of the shadows, they unexpectedly stole the Juno for “Best New Band”.
Big bands have a lot of musicians (there were as many as 14 in the Swing Orchestra), a lot of ideas, a lot of personalities, a lot of ambitions. But they also have things like families, day jobs and monthly mortgage payments. Big bands seldom last and so it was with The Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra.
The singer’s name didn’t go way though. Stuart Bastow kept it as his nombre artistico and I’m not sure there’s even been a better handle for a lounge singer. There were a couple of (very good) solo albums, a couple of years in Portugal, more than a couple of shows every night on cruise ships.
Then a few more years passed and a guy named Don Day walked into a San Miguel piano bar. It was on Mesones, it was called La Noche, and this Don Day, a very particular-about-his-music barfly, was knocked out. The guy singing jazz standards with a splash of pop and rock had great chops, superb style, a mile-wide repertoire and he not only vocalized, he entertained. Stuart Bastow was alive, well and singing in San Miguel de Allende.
There were many absolutely amazing nights, so many ups, a few downs, so many more ups, a few more downs. I even thought for a while that our town might lose my most treasured entertainer. But we didn’t. With quite a few less drinks and quite a few less pounds, Stuart and Johnny are back. Still as entertaining as ever and now at the town’s best piano bar, San Mike, every Wednesday at 8:00 pm.
San Mike Cantina/Piano Bar is located at Canal 18 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Johnny and friends perform every Wednesday from 8:00 pm (and usually start on time). There’s a 50 peso cover and a good food menu (the short rib tacos are greasy finger good).