Come Fly With Me: Colin Hunter, Croons His Way To Cuba

Wings – Bruce Parkinson – February 7, 2011

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You would expect a man whose company will bring over 350,000 Canadian tourists to Cuba this year to receive a warm welcome on the island, but on Sunwing CEO Colin Hunter’s recent visit the applause was for the quality of his silky tenor singing voice rather than his contribution to the economy.

Backed by renowned Canadian pianist Joe Sealy and a breathtaking group of Cuban musicians, Hunter was a featured performer at the 26th-annual Havana Jazz Festival in December.

Hunter’s wife Joan says Colin first opened his mouth to sing when he was a toddler in his birthplace of Calcutta, India. As he grew older, he sang in jazz clubs for a few rupees, but family needs made income more pressing than art. As his business career flourished, Hunter never lost his love for jazz standards, and when Joan bought him a karaoke machine for his 50th birthday, a life-long passion was rekindled.

In 2005, Hunter released his first CD to coincide with the launch of Sunwing Airlines. Appropriately titled ‘Come Fly With Me,’ the disc featured Hunter singing the style of music he loves best — 1950s-era crooner jazz. Songs on his debut CD included familiar standards like ‘That Old Black Magic,’ ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ and ‘Fly Me To The Moon.’

As the company he leads continued to grow into one of Canada’s largest travel corporations, Hunter has used spare moments to follow his musical muse. In 2007 he released ‘Timeless,’ and 2008 saw the release of ‘Mostly About You,’ where Hunter is accompanied by Juno Award-winning and Order of Canada recipient Joe Sealy on another collection of crooner classics.

Two more Hunter CDs will soon be released. One is a second collaboration with Sealy titled ‘All About Nat,’ in tribute to Nat King Cole, while the second is a reinterpretation of his first release ‘Come Fly With Me,’ with Hunter’s big voice backed this time by Toronto-based big band Starlight Orchestra.

In Cuba, Hunter and Sealy were energized by the accompaniment of a world-class band known as Cubajazz, which features a group of sensational musicians including saxophonist Orlando Sanchez and pianist Alexis Bosch. Singer Danai Blanco electrified audiences in duets with Hunter, while a group of young percussion players amazed with their virtuosity.

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Rehearsal for the shows took place amidst the timeless glory of Havana’s Hotel Nacional, the one-time playground of infamous American mobsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. It was a classic setting for Hunter’s smooth retro stylings. The group’s first festival show was at the quintessential – and still smoky — Havana jazz club La Zorra y el Cuervo (The Fox and the Raven).

The next day the group headlined an evening concert under clear Cuban skies at the Casa de la Cultura Plaza, where several hundred jazz lovers – a wonderful mix of Cubans, Canadians and Europeans – gave Hunter, Sealy and Cubajazz an enthusiastic response.

How does Hunter find the time to combine a singing career with the demanding role as CEO of Sunwing? According to Joan Hunter, he simply makes the time. “He does it like he does everything else,” she says: “Single-mindedly, and with passion.”

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