A&E » Arts

Dinner for two with Cameron Chu



Who: Cameron Chu

Where: Bearfoot Bistro and the Wildflower Café

When: BB nightly, Wildflower for Fathers Day, June 15

Trust me on this one: If Cameron Chu ever invites you for a drink, make sure you take up his offer – his stories are incredible. The unassuming pianist has been serving up smooth jazz sounds to complement those seafood sensations at the Bearfoot Bistro for the past eight years.

As Whistler’s premier musical director, Chu has reeled in some of the most exciting jazz and blues names in the business, including the late soulful saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, who played with Ray Charles, and R&B legend Bobby Taylor, who is coming back again for this year’s Cornucopia wine festival. Taylor not only discovered the Jackson 5 but he played with everyone from Fats Waller to Billie Holliday to Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight. He even fired Jimi Hendrix for playing solos too long!

But back to the man with the nimble fingers – our own Cameron Chu is much more than meets the eye. I’ve had several scotches with Chu at BB’s bar before so I knew he was a walking encyclopedia of jazz and blues. But a recent Bearfoot Bistro lobster special dinner date had me rearing to run off and join a jazz band with the stories he told.

Chu is a classically trained child prodigy who graduated from the Vancouver Academy of Music. He’s travelled the world playing in bands for more than 30 years and is a good friend to many of the jazz world’s biggest names past and present. He also has a biology degree.

"It was never my intention to play jazz professionally when I left school," said Chu. "I was actually working in the department of zoology at UBC."

But his passion for the piano turned him to the dark side. He swapped science rooms for smoky jazz dens and lab coats for lounge suits. Nine to five became five to nine and the big wide world swallowed him up taking him to venues and places that exist only in the memory of true jazz greats or in dusty vinyl albums recorded live and left for dead.

So what sent him over the edge to follow his passion?

"You can blame Art Tatum, a piano player from the ’30s," he smiled. "Even today he is considered the greatest piano player on earth. I was listening to the radio one day in the ’70s and heard him play for the first time. He sounded like four people playing at once. He was all over the place and I couldn’t believe how flawless his execution was. That was it for me. People said his style could never be repeated, that it wasn’t humanly possible and there was the challenge for me. Of course, I’m still trying to catch up to his level to this very day."