Written by Anthony Bonaparte, Montreal Suburban newspaper
On two consecutive nights during the first few days of this year’s 35th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Colin Hunter performed a selection of his favorite tunes from the Great American Songbook — classics made famous by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn, Nancy Wilson and others.
During the June 27 and 28 shows downtown at the House of Jazz on Aylmer St. as part of the festival’s Les nuits de Montreal series, the 75-year-old crooner took the stage with long-time collaborator and musical director, jazz pianist Joe Sealy, drummer David Laing, saxophonist Al McLean and bassists Dave Watts on the first night and Paul Rushka on the second. Hunter’s high-flying accomplishments as an artist are impressive enough on their own. But when you add that his day job is, literally, high-flying, one has to take note.
Hunter is the founding president, CEO, and owner of Sunwing Airlines and the all-inclusive vacation package company, Sunwing Vacations. He launched the Toronto-based company a decade ago after a long career in the travel industry and in that time grew Sunwing from a fleet of two aircraft to almost 30 planes flying out of more than 30 cities across Canada.
When it comes to music, Hunter says he has always been a sucker for the old standards and one day, in a hotel lounge in Acapulco, he loosened his tie, teamed up with the piano player and sang a few. Years later, when launching Sunwing, a staff member dared him to sing Come Fly With Me, a 1957 tune written for and made popular by Frank Sinatra. In 2005 Hunter finally took the leap. He put together a 16-piece band, booked some studio time and recorded 11 songs for an album appropriately titled Come Fly With Me.
Nine years later, with 10 CDs under his belt, Hunter divides his time between the airline, now run by his eldest son Stephen, and regular performances at home and abroad, including a number of stops in Quebec.
In fact, he has more than a dozen shows scheduled in this province this year alone. “We always find that Quebec audiences are very appreciative and attentive so it’s always a pleasure to play here,” said Hunter, sitting with Sealy in a second floor lounge of the soon to-be opened House of Jazz location on de l’Avenir Blvd. in Laval. Upcoming Quebec shows include the Festival Jazz Mont Tremblant, Bistro Le Sam in Quebec City’s Le Château Frontenac, and just across the river, Le Festival Jazz Etcetera Lévis. Later this year he and Sealy will play festivals in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Cuba.
Nevertheless, Montreal remains a favorite for both men. “I’m born in Montreal so I always love to play in Montreal,” said Sealy who, along with Hunter, calls Toronto home. When he’s not on the road, Hunter has a stage that he can also call home, having recently opened the Jazz Bistro, located on Victoria and Dundas streets in Toronto.
“It’s a restaurant where people can sit and have a good time and listen to good artists,” said Hunter. And listening to — and learning from — good artists is something for which Hunter will always make plenty of time. “I’m always learning,” he said. “I think everybody has to learn all through life. The day they stop learning, they’re dead.” For more information, visit