There could easily be a movie made about 70-year-old Walnut Grove musician Douglas Fraser, his path crossed with seemingly endless amounts of performing arts icons. Instead of the silver screen, the musicologist is bringing his life’s work to the stage at the Fort Langley Jazz Festival.
“I grew up on the road going from stage to stage, standing in the wings,” Fraser recounted.
Parties with celebrities likes Orson Welles and Bing Crosby seemed like an average evening in his younger days.
“I studied my whole life right from the horses mouth. I would overhear a stories and pay my sister to write it all down.”
The performing arts has always been in Fraser’s blood – his father was a Ringling Brothers Circus member, and later, vaudevillian performer with partner Danny Thomas. Fraser’s mother performed on the Shubert and Albee Circuits in vaudeville, and his maternal grandmother toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
Originally born in Ontario, Douglas primarily worked is the United States and was part of the jug band resurgence in the 1960s – later playing jazz in concert coast to coast.
He toured with acts including Blood, Sweat and Tears, Brian Adams and Sweeney Todd, Boz Scaggs, George Carlin, Donna Summers, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Buddy Rich.
“When I’m not doing this, I’m the opening act for The Kingston Trio,” Fraser explained. “They were the ones who knocked Elvis from the top spot on the charts and remained there until they were ousted by The Beatles.”
The “this” Fraser referred to is “touring internationally to provoke interest and history of North America’s past.”
Equipped with a banjo, a guitar, and his own voice, Fraser paints a picture of the burgeoning entertainment scene between the 1840s to 1930s through four specially designed performances.
“What I do is explain history and perform songs. I have never crossed paths with anyone who does the same thing,” Fraser said. “Ragtime players are all dead. You’ll never again find people who know songs from the 1800s.”
Performance number 1 at 11:30 a.m. and number 2 at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 27, cover the 1840’s until until 1909.
“I talk about performers and tell stories you’d never normally get,” Fraser explained. “They come from people who’s parents were slaves.”
On Sunday, July 28, performance number 3 covers the 1920s at 1:30 p.m. and the 1930s at 3:00 pm.
“Buddy Holly and Elvis is where most students start with music. This is the music that launched show business in America. People realized a living could be made,” Fraser said.
Fraser’s own living led him to Langley after his father relocated to Vancouver. He was working at California’s Knott’s Berry Farm and overseeing the park’s musical performances when his father became ill. Fraser moved to the Lower Mainland to be with him and has remained ever since.
“I am a home owner in Langley because the life style, close amenities, and level of comfort ad up to give me the most rewarding choice I could ask for,” Fraser explained. “The population in the city and township is getting larger and we are losing that quiet town feeling, but even with it, Langley is still quaint and familiar – just the way I like it.”
Fraser has additionally spoken at schools, managed a New Westminster theatre, and published the book Early Entertainment which expands on many of the stories one would hear in his shows.
“It’s gratifying to be able to spark interest,” Fraser said. “People always come up to be after the show and say ‘well I didn’t know that’.”
The Fort Langley Jazz Festival takes place July 26 to 28. Fraser’s performances all take place outside the Langley Centennial Museum.
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