By Bessie Ng
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Jaymz Bee smiles and laughs. I blink and stare in disbelief. We’re chatting it up in Barberian’s Steak House, and Bee is slyly trying to get me sloshed on chocolate martinis. He’s almost rhapsodic as he recounts the day when his house burnt down to the ground. The cause? A wax poodle, one of those stylized candles not meant to be lit, just for show. He lost everything.
Most people wouldn’t look on the bright side of such a disaster, but Bee thinks it was quite humorous. More importantly, it forced him to look inside himself. He believes there is nothing that can get him down. It’s this philosophy that has been the key to Bee’s success.
Bee has made it his purpose in life to try and project this kind of happiness into the life of others. He is the self-described “king of cocktail” and was in town to promote his new book, Cocktail Parties for Dummies, which comes out just in time for the post-exam party season.
Born and raised in North Bay, Bee grew up steeped in part culture. His family wasn’t rich — his father was in real estate and his mother was in insurance — but they were close to the upper-class because his parents threw great parties. This is where his party sense was conceived.
“That was embedded in me. There were always pinwheel sandwiches and punch and people over-socializing. There was always something happening.”
The only thing that wasn’t happening was school. Bee hated it because he felt there was no learning involved.
“A teacher asked me three problems of the nuclear family. I gave my views of what the answers should be, though I had read the book and knew what the book said. The teacher said, ‘that’s not in the book Jaymz.’ I knew that. And I asked why I couldn’t come up with my own answers instead of regurgitating the text. The teacher said, ‘if you’re going to be difficult, then I’m going to have to send you to the principal’s office.’ Can you imagine that in Grade 13?”
That day, Bee quit school and shortly after left North Bay for Toronto. He finished his high school diploma at Inglenook Community High School, and alternative school.
After graduation in the early 1980s, Bee planned to study acting at the University of Windsor. But he got sidetracked when he was involved with the band the Look People. He also had stints with two CBC shows, Fraggle Rock and Friday Night with Ralph Benmurgi.
He continued doing little projects until his one big break came by way of the stars. Early in 1996, astrologer Eugenia Last told Bee something important was to happen on April 3, 1996.
“She told me I will come into a large sum of money from nowhere and on that day I have to throw a party for influential people.”
Coincidentally enough, Bee was contracted to throw a party. With that little bit of otherworldly advice, he knew April 3 would be perfect. That day, he threw a party for a book company. Bee approached someone from the company with an idea for a book — a guide to throwing great parties. He already had a table of contents, a business proposal and the first chapter ready to go.
Within the week, Bee had a book deal and earlier this month, his book was published under IDG Books’ Dummies series.
Crazy schemes like that are nothing compared to how he got his record deal — he crashed HMV’s grand opening party. Designer Melleny Melody created a hobo suit out of old subway transfers and cigarette butts for him. He carried a garbage bag over his shoulder and a sign that said “Not invited.” After Bee whined for 20 minutes about how he was overlooked in the invitations, Paul Alofs, then-president of HMV, personally invited him inside.
Once inside, Bee went to the washroom and changed into a tuxedo that he was carrying in the garbage bag. Not long after, Alofs moved to BMG Music and signed Bee to a big record contract.
Now the 34-year-old Bee has his own record label, Leisure Lab, designed to bring cocktail music to the masses. His current musical project is Jaymz Bee and the Royal Jelly Orchestra.
Bee divides his time between Toronto and the lounge capital of the world, Las Vegas, where he will be living permanently in January.
“It’s the only place where I’ll find people with the vision I have. You know they’ll appreciate it.”
And what is this vision? To bring fun back into people’s lives. For the time being, Bee will continue to party. He attends an average of three parties per week, either as host or guest of honour.
Bee advocates cocktail parties because they bring back the art of socializing, especially in this “age of technology.” Nowadays, with people communicating through emails, faxes and telephone, the art of conversation has been lost. This is why we need cocktail parties, which hinge on schmoozing and gabbing, Bee says.
But cocktail parties should not be excessive. “Everything in moderation,” says Bee. “Being a purist is just as bad as being addicted.”
What does he say to those who claim cocktail parties promote alcoholism?
“I’m promoting responsible drinking. I’m not promoting binges or drinking your-weight-in-beer,” says Bee. “If you look good and feel happy, there is not harm [in drinking] A good host will serve smartinis [non-alcoholic drinks] for anyone who doesn’t want to drink.”
Bee is intent on bringing social fun into peoples’ lives, the premise of his new book.
“I’m just an entertainer. I’m trying to help people en masse by getting them to lighten up and enjoy life and once in a while to take time out to remember the fine things in life like a good drink, a good snack and some good conversation.”
He takes another sip of the martini. “My success is based on parties.”
The party that is his life.