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Howard Linscott

Any Other Way


Jonathan van Bilsen

May 23, 2024

Those who live in north Durham, especially Port Perry, will no doubt have crossed paths with Howard Linscott. He is a fantastic musician, knows everything there is to know about music, and has been in dozens of theatre productions.

Where did it all begin? Howard, along with his sister, was born in Toronto. His father worked for Rowntree’s Sweets, a large candy company, now owned by Nestlé. Of course, I had to ask Howard if he ate many candies when he was young, and he smiled and nodded. “I only ate Rowntree,” he replied. “Munching on anything else would seem to be treason.”

Howard’s mother worked at Canada Packers in the payroll department and Howard reminisced about the time they drove a herd of cattle across St. Clair Avenue, led by a bull named Yogi. “It was hilarious. They stopped the traffic,” Howard said, chuckling.

Like most boys, Howard delivered newspapers. In his case it was the Toronto Star, and at the age of 12, he read the entire paper every day. “It was a great way to learn what was happening in the world, as well as in Toronto.” He laughed and added, “I am great at trivia, as long as it does not go past 1967.”

While attending Humberside Collegiate, Howard met Dave Thompson, a teacher, who was also a jazz pianist, an arranger and a composer. The school had a full music program, and Howard was put into the string section. It was against his will, as he wanted to study art, but music it was, and not just any instrument, as Howard was to learn the double bass.

Music history was one of Howard’s favourite parts of the course, and through his newfound love for music he excelled in the program. By Christmas of his first year in high school, the teacher took Howard’s parents aside, and explained that he was gifted and needed to have private tutoring. That opened the doors for Howard Linscott.

Howard was introduced to Thomas Monahan, the principal bass player for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Through the connection, Howard ended up receiving private lessons from Peter Madgett, a renowned bass player, who played with the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra.

That Christmas, Peter Madgett delivered a very special gift to Howard. His parents had purchased a double bass, manufactured in 1736, in Italy. Howard was conscripted to be part of all the musicals performed at the school. He wanted to be on stage, but because he could read a score, he was always involved in the musical side of the programs. In grade ten, Howard was at a grade 13 conservatory level. “It did not come easy,” Howard explained. “I would practice up to five hours every day.”

Howard auditioned, and was accepted into the Toronto Youth Orchestra, and attended music camps in the Parry Sound area. “It was amazing; because we had conductors come in from Europe to teach us.”

One summer, while still in high school, Howard joined a string ensemble and toured Canada, playing at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. While still in his teens, he played Massey Hall and the iconic El Mocambo.

Like most musicians, Howard had to supplement his income and worked as a picture framer in an establishment next door to the El Mocambo, which made it easy to play there after working hours.

A desire to write music led Howard to learn piano and guitar, which he considered an easy transition from double bass.

He also worked as a legal proofreader for the law firm, Borden Ladner Gervais, as well as an editor for Ernst and Young, the largest professional services firm in the world.

Howard played in a blues band for quite some time. His double bass, was accompanied by a piano, drums, guitar, two saxophones and a trombone. Howard on piano, along with his friend on saxophone, wrote most of the arrangements, which was a great learning experience. It got to a point where Howard heard horn sections in his head and was able to sound them out, something he can still do today.

Unfortunately, the double bass was not cool in the 1970s disco era, so Howard turned his attention to blue grass and rockabilly music, which worked well. He also played as backup for the famous busker, Subway Elvis.

Howard had a passion for antique cars and would visit Port Perry to see his friend who restored vehicles all the time. “I loved this town so much,” he said. “I decided to move here.”

Once in town, Howard pursued his love for music and joined the Borelians, as well as performing at several venues, ranging from Colonel Mustard to the Victory Baptist Church. While playing with Gordon Girvan, a retired music teacher from Port Perry High, Howard decided he needed a unique image, a bit off the beaten path. Introduce Ms. Zara Blayz, the alter ego of this exceptional musician.

The new look was a hit, and in many situations, Howard became known as Zara. “The image became so popular, I even went outside of the clubs, dressed as her, and people now know me as both.”

I asked Howard who his favourite musician was and without hesitation answered, Little Jackie Shane and her hit song ‘Any Other Way’. If you have an opportunity to hear his work, you will not be disappointed, whether it is Howard or Zara.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show,’ on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.

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