Into the Fire

Steve Maddock owes at least part of his resumé to the bad judgment of another singer.

In 1998, the crooner/actor/voice teacher from Burnaby, B.C., got an unexpected call from a cruise ship line, asking him to fill in for its previous male vocalist, who had been fired for having marijuana in his cabin.

“I kind of got thrown into the fire, not quite knowing what to expect,” he says.

The cruise director gave Maddock a couple of days to get his bearings before hitting the stage, but asked to see his script – which didn’t exist.

“For a gig like that, the patter is just as important as the singing. They want it to be a show, with a theme. They want it to be slick. They want you to have nice segues from one tune to the next.”

Because he was an emergency hire, the cruise director cut Maddock some slack, allowing him to work from point-form notes instead of a verbatim script.

“I did a Nat King Cole tribute. I did a couple of Frank Sinatra tributes, because that was about the time Sinatra passed away.”

He and the female vocalist on board put together a few duet shows, including a “Best of Broadway” compilation, a ’50s rock ‘n’ roll tribute and even a country music show.

“We had a four-piece rhythm section and a guy on reeds who also played flute. They were great musicians. They could read anything you put in front of them.”

Besides having to pump up his repertoire in a hurry, Maddock faced a lot pressure as both a singer and a show organizer.

“You’d have a week, maybe 10 days with a ship full of the same people, and they’d fill out comment cards at the end of each cruise. If you had a couple of cruises in a row where your marks were not good, that was grounds for dismissal.”

After a second cruise gig, Maddock gave up that aspect of his career to spend more time with his wife and young children. Still, he appreciates what he learned from the experience.

“You have to learn fast. You have to think on your feet and be able to adjust quickly to what’s happening around you.”

Adaptability is one of Maddock’s strengths. After three years of theatre study at University of Windsor, Ontario, he enrolled as a jazz trumpeter in the commercial  music program at what was then Capilano College in North Vancouver, B.C.

A year later, he switched to vocals. Despite a strong preference for jazz, honed by early exposure to recordings of Nat King Cole trademarks such as “Route 66,” “Sweet Lorraine” and “Unforgettable,” he calls himself a jack-of-all-trades kind of singer.

“I’ve done a lot of jazz festivals and clubs and things like that, but I still do a lot of musical theatre. Every now and then a group like the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will hire me to do kind of a pops concert,” he says. “The more versatile you are, the more employable you are, and that’s a good thing in this business. If you’re only going to do one thing, you’d better be damned good at that one thing.”

Besides his flourishing career as a singer, Maddock is also a respected voice teacher who has been on the faculty of his alma mater, Capilano University, for the past 20 years.

This week, he and Vancouver singer/vocal coach Karin Plato will be in Whitehorse to present a duo concert, followed by nine days of intensive vocal jazz workshops and master classes presented by Jazz Yukon, in collaboration with the Yukon Arts Centre and Music Yukon.

Plato has offered several similar courses here since 2011. This will be Maddock’s first visit north, although he and Plato have previously collaborated on several summer music camps in B.C.

“When I do any kind of camp, or jazz workshop, that lasts for more than two hours, there are selfish reasons for doing it,” Maddock admits. “Yes, it’s a job, but this is why I’m doing it, for the love of music and for the act of sharing music with other people who are as passionate about it as I am. That is so rewarding, and such a thrill.

“Teaching is such an important part of what I do, and my development as an artist. I can’t imagine continuing to perform and not teaching. And I can’t imagine teaching without staying active as a performer myself, because the two really complement each other.”

Plato and Maddock will perform at The Old Fire Hall on Friday, Jan. 15, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Dean’s Strings, or at the door.

The workshops and master classes run Jan. 15 to 24. For more information contact Music Yukon at 867-456-8742.

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