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The political piano man

Karel Roessingh is used to travelling here, there and everywhere for gigs. That comes with the territory, especially now that the longtime Highlands resident and former two-term Highlands mayor is more active than ever on the concert front.
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Local pianist Karel Roessingh in his studio in the Highlands.
Karel Roessingh is used to travelling here, there and everywhere for gigs. That comes with the territory, especially now that the longtime Highlands resident and former two-term Highlands mayor is more active than ever on the concert front.

Roessingh plays upwards of 20 shows a month, from one-off showcases to his stable of regular gigs, ranging from restaurants (O Bistro, Pagliacci’s) to hotels (the Empress, Ocean Pointe). In a lot of ways, he couldn’t have scripted a better scenario for himself.

“In the last few years, I’ve been steadily busy, and I love it,” Roessingh said. “I’m taking gigs because I enjoy all of them. They are all great fun to do. I’ve been concentrating on my playing the last couple of years, so I’ve really noticed an effect doing all these gigs.”

Roessingh is well known to Greater Victoria residents, both as a piano player and politician.

In addition to his thriving music career, which includes multiple albums and extensive film and television scoring, he has a long resumé of community and political work. He’s serving his third term as a Highlands councillor and is in his last week as chairman of the Greater Victoria Public Library board. Among his many other accomplishments, he is a founding board member of the Island Biodiesel Co-op and board member of the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts, at which he occasionally teaches.

He also teaches two classes at the Camosun College jazz program, which is run through the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

“Gigging is always a hard living, so I’ve always had something else to do, between royalties and studio work,” he said.

He is appearing Saturday at Caleb Pike House, a coffeehouse-style gig he plays every year at the heritage site. It’s mere minutes from his house on Munn Road, a homestead where he and his wife, Brenda, have lived for the past decade and a half.

Roessingh has lived in plenty of places — Metchosin, North Saanich, Victoria, Oak Bay — but Highlands has been home since 1989.

How he came to the Highlands is a story in itself. “I had been living in View Royal, and the same day my condo sold, I was buying some champagne to celebrate when I found a photocopied ad between the liquor store and the bank,” he said. “It was a five-acre property, so we rushed out there to look at it. Immediately, Brenda and I thought, ‘;There’s our place.’ ”

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Leiden, Holland, and spent my school years in Calgary. I was a mere infant when we moved to Calgary.

At which point did you know Calgary was not for you in the long term?

I don’t have a lot of attachment to Calgary. I wasn’t sad to leave it, frankly. I left right after high school, and was on the road for a few years.

When did you arrive in Victoria?

I went to college in Boston and lived in Montreal for a short while. I moved to Victoria in 1974.

What brought you here?

One of the gigs I had when I was on the road was in Victoria. It was February and the grass was green, so I said, “This has got to be it.” It was at Club 44, on the base at Naden. It has since burned down, but it was a huge club at the time.

What is your favourite thing about the Highlands?

The quiet, the natural beauty. It’s a beautiful place to live. It’s ideal because it’s close to town — I can get downtown in 20 minutes — but it’s out in the country. I’ve always liked that.

What is your greatest accomplishment as a person?

Gosh, that’s hard. Honestly, I can’t think of one specific thing.

I’ve done things that I’ve been proud of on a few fronts, politically and musically, so there’s a few things I think, ‘;I did good work there.’ But …

And as a professional?

I do such a big variety. Last summer, I played with Valdy and it was great, great fun, and just last night I did a Jazz Vespers show with Joey [Smith] and Damian [Graham], and I love playing with them.

I’ve played with big stars, but I don’t think of those any differently than I do any other gig. I love them all.

First album you purchased?

The first single I purchased was Alley Cat, in 1964. I bought singles in the ’60s, because I loved instrumental pop hits. In high school, I started buying jazz.

Favourite album?

I have a lot, so I don’t know if I could choose. [Miles Davis’s] Kind of Blue, I guess.

First concert you attended?

In elementary school, we were all bused up to see the symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic.

Favourite concert you attended?

I saw Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock as a duo on grand pianos in Vancouver, which was very exciting.

If you had one motto, or rule to abide by, what would it be?

Last year I did a gig in North Saanich and stopped by to check out the piano beforehand, and not a word of a lie, the maintenance guy said, “It’s in good shape — it’s just been painted.” Which was true, because it was white.

But it was a crappy piano. So my motto would be, just because you painted it …

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