Rony Verbiest honors accordionist Johnny Meijer

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By Peter Beije | Photo’s by  Eddy Westveer

Dave Brubeck , Thelonious Monk and Johnny Meijer are the musicians to whom Rony Verbiest devoted his last three CD’s. After “Rony Verbiest plays Dave Brubeck”, “Verbiest meets Monk” ( Father & Son), there is now “I remember Johnny Meijer”, which he recorded with the trio of pianist Johan Clement. The Belgian musician thought it was time to honor the man who has shown him the way in jazz and how to play the accordion.

Johnny Meijer was a man of the swinging standards, which are also on the CD, such as “Sweet Loraine”, “Body and Soul’’, “Lady be Good” and “You do not know what love is’’. The songs are all played nicely and that reveals the great strength of Rony Verbiest as a musician. Whether it be songs from the repertoire of Brubeck , Monk or Meijer it’s all very musical.

Johnny Meijer (1912-1992) did not like to travel. He preferred to stay in Amsterdam and has therefore not become world famous. In 1953 and 1954 he went abroad to participate in the world championship for accordionists, winning both times. In his eyes, he didn’t have to work hard for it yet Johnny Meijer is best known as a musician who accompanied Amsterdam singers, there was good money to earn.

Father Michel Verbiest was a celebrated accordionist in Flanders and his son Rony started playing the instrument at a young age. “In the mid-60s , when the accordion was exchanged for the saxophone, I went with my parents on a city trip to Amsterdam.” A concert of Johnny Meijer was also on the program. And that made a great impression on Rony . “Once back in Belgium , I could have just one sound and one way of playing the accordion i.e. Johnny Meijer’s way of playing . This remains until the present day.”

The series of three CD’S began in spring 2012 with the recording of the Brubeck album. Rony Verbiest feels kinship with the American pianist and composer, who had studied under the classis composer Darius Milhaud. In the liner notes he stated: “Having enjoyed a classical education myself the time Measures from Bartok, Stravinsky or Dave Brubeck were never far away.”

Verbiest plays on this CD baritone sax, bandoneon and accordion. Mario Vermandel (bass), Hans Vanoost (guitar) and Luc Vanden Bosch (drums and percussion) also participate. Guest is accordionist Philippe Thuriot who was specifically invited to play on “Take Five.” That composition by Paul Desmond is the best known song the Brubeck quartet ever recorded. In fact “Take Five” is recorded twice. The first was done the “American way”; the second time it is played the “Argentinian way.” Rony Verbiest wrote with “Take Five” in mind the composition “Recuerdo a Dave”, a beautiful tango.

Do not think the album is one with mere simple listening music. “Here comes McBride,” one of Brubeck’s lesser known compositions, is approached in an unconventional way, with a touch of free jazz. Brubeck’s other famous composition “In your own sweet way” is also on the album, “In your own sweet way” belongs to the standards in the jazz repertoire, especially pianist Bill Evans made some memorable performances.

In January 2014 the recordings followed for “Verbiest meets Monk”. Thelonious’ son drummer T. S. Monk came over specially from the United States. Within a few days, a number of his fathers compositions were recorded including “Monk’s Mood”, “Straight no Chaser”, “Blue Monk,” “‘Round Midnight”; in all there are ten classics recorded from Monk’s famous repertoire. For the first time on a recording Rony Verbiest is heard playing the harmonica (in “Ask me now”).

Hans Vanoost and Mario Vermandel were also present during these recordings, that went off without much preparation. But everything went smoothly, T.S. Monk concluded afterwards. The American wrote the liner notes: ,, ,,This session was one of the most unpretentious and rewarding musical experiences of my life.’’ And: ,,Rony Verbiest is the real thing. Very few of us in jazz are able to change the way people think about an instrument. Rony does just that. It’s amazing what can happen in just three or four days between jazz musicians. (…) Having played with my father, the opportunity to perform with another original is a blessing.’’

The CD ” I remember Johnny Meijer ” is presented Sunday December 20 in Porgy and Bess, Terneuzen

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Last modified: July 15, 2018