Don’t Miss Me: a song from fire

Don't Miss Me cover art
art by Nicole M. Shewchuk

“Don’t Miss Me” released as an instrumental on November 30, 2021.

It also released as a song featuring Will Clements on July 30, 2021.

“Don’t Miss Me” is a quiet song, but it has an association with fire, because of three incidents. All three of these tragic events are part of the song’s history.

The first one happened when I wrote the song in 2013.

1/3: October 2013 – writing “Don’t Miss Me”

At the end of 2013, I looked toward age 19. I was a dropout with my first job lined up. That job had little to do with jazz.

Thankfully, I had the Meghan Gilhespy Quartet as my home in jazz music. I played a gig with the quartet at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster on October 9, 2013.

Meghan Gilhespy led me and several friends from New Westminster Secondary School to Capilano University. She is a peer to whom I’ve looked up for a decade: a great vocalist, always smart and humorous.

You can get a sense of all that from the album she released in 2016, Vive Le Tour.

At the gig on October 9, 2013, I asked Meghan if she would sing one of my original songs. She said yes, so I wrote a new song later that night when I got home. The title “Don’t Miss Me” came easily, drawing on my experience dropping out of university and on a breakup.

The next morning, I found out that a building had burned down just after we left the gig. The fire happened across the street from the Heritage Grill.

The title of my new song had a bigger meaning now.

Over the next few months, we performed “Don’t Miss Me” at the Heritage Grill a couple times.

Unfortunately, this fire was only the first of three incidents in the song’s history.

The second happened many years later, in 2020.

2/3: September 2020 – performing it myself for the first time

As the fall of 2020 began, I was eager for collaborators, and so was my friend Will Clements. He had made his first album, The Boy Next Door, in 2019. I wanted to feature him on a recording of mine.

To make our collaboration more interesting, I pulled out “Don’t Miss Me” from my catalogue of compositions. I asked him to write new lyrics for the song, and he said yes.

But I still have never performed the song live with Will. Instead, on September 13, 2020, I played it with Francis Henson and Carson Tworow. We performed as a trio at the Water Street Café in Gastown.

William Chernoff live photo
photo by Ilhan Saferali

This gig with the trio was the first time I performed “Don’t Miss Me” as myself. I had launched my solo career in 2020, thanks to my first FACTOR Artist Development grant.

And I intended to record the song with Will, releasing it as I built my career over the next year.

But that day of September 13, 2020, New Westminster burned again: it was Westminster Pier Park this time.

I noticed that the song now had two fires in my home city associated with its life.

However, I didn’t expect a third incident to bring it all together.

3/3: summer 2021 – releasing the song

In May 2021, the Heritage Grill itself burned down.

The place where “Don’t Miss Me” began — among many other memories in New Westminster — was gone, just like the building across the street back in 2013.

So, I knew that the time to release the version I had recorded with Will had come.

And also in May 2021, I applied for my second FACTOR Artist Development grant. This one was for the trio with Francis and Carson, who had recorded “Don’t Miss Me” with me and Will Clements.

As a trio, we made an instrumental version of the composition after we finished recording it with Will.

November 2021: the instrumental version drops

This fall, I won the second grant from FACTOR. I got the green light to continue with my guitar trio. So, I will now release studio recordings that I make with Francis and Carson — starting with the instrumental version of “Don’t Miss Me”.

Here’s to new life and memories that will come from this song, which has seen enough tragedy.

The artwork, after all, evokes blue sky or water instead of fire.

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