Tuesday, 30 December 2014

William Carn Quintet plays The Jazz Room Saturday

WATERLOO DEC.30, 2014 --- When William Carn formed a quintet more than 10 years ago to play his original compositions he needed some of the most creative musicians on the Canadian scene to bring his music to life.

Carn, one of Canada's top trombone players and composers, found what he needed in Kelly Jefferson on sax, David Braid on piano, John Maharaj on bass and Anthony Michelli on drums. The music starts in The Jazz Room at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 3. Cover is $20. More details at thekwjazzroom.com, www.facebook.com/JazzRoom or on Twitter @KWJazz.

“We are really looking forward to this," Carn said in an interview with New City Notes. "This will be the first gig of the New Year, and just getting to play with these guys is a rare treat now. Everyone is so busy, it is hard to get everyone together.  But we just did three nights at The Jazz Bistro (jazzbistro.ca) last month, so that was really great.”

The William Carn Quintet is a powerful fixture on the Canadian Jazz landscape. It has recorded two CDs. The first was nominated for a Juno.

"We are going to do pieces from both CDs.  All the songs are written by myself, but I think I will include some standards as well," Carn said.

"I just came across a tune by Kenny Wheeler that I would like to do on Saturday. For Jan, it was part of the Big Band Suite.  It’s a beautiful ballad and suite that was very impactful when I first heard it. I was just at a jam session the other day with friends, and somebody took out this tune, and I was: ‘Gosh I had forgotten about this tune, and how beautiful it is,'" Carn said.

Contemporary-original jazz sprinkled with standards. Nice.

After working with his quintet  for years, Carn wanted to experiment more, so he formed a quartet called Run Stop Run, which played The Jazz Room before.  It includes Don Scott on guitar, John Maharaj on bass and Ethan Ardelli on drums.

"That group is still active today. We did a tour in January of this year. I also started a group with my wife Tara Davidson, we started a nine piece group, the Carn Davidson NINE," Carn said.

Davidson plays the alto sax, composes, records and performs. Davidson played The Jazz Room last fall showcasing material from her latest CD, Tara Davidson Duets.

The Carn Davidson NINE's debut CD was nominated this year for a 2014 Best Traditional Jazz Juno Award. Carn was also nominated for the same award in 2007 for his CD Other Stories.

"I am just moving forward, and I actually have a new group in mind.  I am just working out the details in my head before I make any calls.”

Carn has played and recorded with a long and growing list of jazz stars, including --- Rob McConnell, Joel Frahm, Randy Brecker, David Binney, Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen, Mike Murley, Tim Hagans,  Barry Harris, Hilario Duran and Andrew Downing.

“I feel very fortunate to have had a wide variety of experiences.”

His high school music teacher played Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass one day in class, and Carn never forgot the experience.

"I was hooked. The Boss Brass was my first, I would say, jazz icon. It is an icon. Rob McConnell and his arrangements. Just that level of musicianship, and to hear it as an ensemble, it is flawless," Carn said.

Rob McConnell grew up in London, ON. and learned to play the valve trombone. He started performing in the early 1950s. By 1968, McConnell created the Boss Brass, that became the most famous big band in Canada. It toured the world. The legendary Guido Basso played trumpet in the Boss Brass. It was McConnell's primary vehicle for performing and recording into the 2000's. McConnell died in 2010 at 75, but not before influencing a generation of jazz musicians, including Carn.

"That was really a big part of my musical makeup for many years. And then later on I was fortunate enough to, I mean I studied with Jerry Johnson who played in the Boss Brass, and then later on I got to play a few times with Rob’s Tentet. I thought it couldn't get any better than that.”

Johnson was a trombone player in the Boss Brass, and a much loved educator. He passed in Stratford in 2005.

The day after the gig Carn and his partner Davidson fly to New York City. They visit the place regularly, and haunt the Village Vanguard and 55 Bar on Christopher Street.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Michael Dunston is all about soul

WATERLOO ON., Dec 26, 2014 --- One of Canada's best soul singers, Michael Dunston, and some of the country's leading jazz musicians, bring the music of Donny Hathaway back to life in a special Boxing Day show in The Jazz Room.

"Donny Hathaway has been that guiding light, his lyrics and his songs, are my life pretty much," Dunston said in an inteview with New City Notes.

Hathaway exploded on Soul Scene in 1970 with The Ghetto. He won a Grammy Award, garnered legions of fans and critical praise.  It was a life of talent and tragedy. In 1979 he was found dead on the sidewalk ottside a New York City hotel.  His death was ruled a suicide.

"I learnt every song he ever recorded," Dunston said. "And one day Dave Young was playing at The Rex, and he asked me as I was leaving, would I like to put together a gospel thing with him? I said: 'Sure, but I got some music that I think you need to hear."

Dunston brought his collection of Hathaway recordings to Young's house, and introduced the legendary jazz bassist to the largely forgotten soul singer from Chicago. They formed a band, started playing Hathaway's music on the summer festival circuit, and in select clubs. That was about seven years ago.

Dunston is backed by Dave Young on electric bass. Young is a familiar face in The Jazz Room playing his double bass.  For this show, the Dean of the Double Bass breaks out his Fender.  Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Bernie Senensky on piano, Brian Legere on guitar, Mark Kelson on drums and Perry White on tenor saxophone.

"I think we did three or four jazz festivals last year, it seems to be taking on a life of its own," Dunston said.

Dunston sings with three Toronto-bands with institutional status in that city --- The Lincolns, Crack of Dawn and Soul Stew.  He recorded a single for Atlantic Records back in the Eghties called Walking into Springtime. Since his mid-teens, all Dunston has done to earn a paycheque is sing soul music. And discovering Hathaway's music was like finding home.

"It was very difficult material for me in the beginning because his writing is monumental, his singing is monumental." Dunston said."It was really a challenge for me, but right now it is like buttter. I've got it down.  I knew I chose the right path to go and do this material and it keeps Donny alive, and not many people know that much about him."

 Dunston calls Hathaway one of thre greatest sould singers of our time, more than 35 years after Hathaway's death.

When not peforming with his Donny Hathaway Project, Dunston is performing, writing and recording with Soul Stew.  That band includes David Gray on guitar, Matt Horner piano, electricp iano, organ and background vocals, John Johnson on tenor, alto and baritone saxes, Mark Kelso on drums and background vocals and Roberto Occhipiniti on bass and background vocals.

Soul Stew plays The Jazz Bistro in Toronto on the first Wednesday of every month, and will peform there for New Year's Eve.

"That band plays the Rochester Jazz Festival every year," Dunston said.  "It's the only band they bring back every year, I think we are going for a record nine times now."

Added Dunston: "We are in the studio right now. I have written about four or five songs for the new project, and I guess in a month or two we should be recording them, and it should be out in the summer time."

Dunston grew up singing gospel in church choirs in Providence, Rhode Island.  He also sang on street corners.  While out one evening riding his bicycle a guitar player in a local band spotted Dunston and called him over to sing.  He sang the1968 hit La La Means I love You by the Delfonics.  He was 14 years old. The band recruited him, and Dunston started rehearsing with it for a wedding gig.

The band was called Nakupenda, a Swahili word that means I love you. Dunston sang with the band for years, going on the road during summer vacations and other breaks in school. To this day he has a picture on his smartphone taken when he was 16, and performing with Nakupenda in St. Agatha, Quebec.

"And these guys hipped me to everything about music," Dunston said. "I mean I was so lucky to be involved with these guys."

It was a musical education like no other.

Nakupenda had a horn section, and it covered material from Sly and the Family Stone, and Chicago.

"I can remeber them bringing me to Paul's Mall to see Herbie Hancock when he had just left Miles Davis," Dunston said

Paul's Mall was a legendary venue in Boston.

"I can remember the guitar player going up to Woodstock to hear Jimi Hendrix, I couldn't go but he went," Dunston said..

Dunston could not attend his high school prom, junior or senior, because the band played all those gigs.

"These guys, to this day, are actually surprised that I am still performing as an artist," Dunston said. "When Motown picked up Michael Jackson these guys discovered me on the street.  And Michael Jackson made it legitimate for young guys to sing in a band, in a club."

In 1974 Dunston graduated from high school in Providrence, and hooked up with a band out of Albany, New York called Gems of the Future.  Dunston was now 17, and he headed north with his new band, singing and playing a little trumpet. It did not work out well, and before long Dunston was recruited by an older musician named Mitchell Taylor.  Taylor brought Dunston to Canada, crossing the border Thanksgiving Day, Oct. 13, 1975.

"My first gig was in Barrie, Ontario and from Barrie I went to Thunder Bay.  I mean it was all over the place.  It was incredible.  I was on the road.  I really paid my dues," Dunston said.

At that first gig in the Brookdale Park Inn in Barrier, the 17-year-old Dunston met Gail, the woman he would later marry.  They are still going strong after 37 years of marriage.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Kirk MacDonald and Harold Mabern amaze, charm and inspire The Jazz Room

WATERLOO ON., Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014 --- Harold Mabern finishes a set, stands up from the piano bench, walks across the stage and starts talking into the mic about John Coltrane.

A legend talking about a legend.

It was another milestone moment in The Jazz Room last Sunday. The 78-year-old Mabern continues performing jazz-blues piano at the very highest level. For this gig Mabern played with Toronto-tenor sax sensation Kirk MacDonald.  There was no sheet music and no charts on the stage for three sets of straight-ahead jazz.

Mabern and MacDonald just finished the second set with Moment's Notice by Coltrane. It was featured on the 1957 album Blue Train and since became a jazz standard. Mabern wanted to talk a little about both Coltrane and the song.

"John William Coltrane, let me tell you something folks. I brag about this, I had the pleasure of knowing that man, and playing opposite him night-after-night," Mabern says.

"John William Coltrane was almost like being a saint.  If all of us had met John Coltrane there would be no racism, no muggings or whatever, because he was truly a man of peace," Mabern says.  "I was already a pretty good person, but he made me even better. God bless John William Coltrane. You should applaud that folks, he was one of a kind."

After the applause fades, Mabern continues with his story about how the song Moment's Notice was named. The great trombone playaer Curtis Fuller was looking at the music for the new piece during a rehearsal just prior to the recording session for Blue Train.

"So Curtis Fuller looked at this and said: 'John, John we can't create this on a moment's notice.' And that's how it was titled. Thank you, true story," Mabern says.

The 1957 recording session that produced Blue Train, which was Coltrane's second studio album, included the young trumpet player Lee Morgan. Years later, Mabern was playing piano in Morgan's band.  Mabern was playing the night Morgan was shot and killed - Feb. 19, 1972 - in Slug's Saloon in Alphabet City. Morgan was 33 at the time, and had recently kicked heroin.

Morgan's career was on the rise again. His common-law partner Helen More pulled out pistol at some point that night, and shot Morgan. He bled to death before help arrived.

"I wish  I could have been somewhere else," Mabern says in an interview with New City Notes.  "To tell you the truth, I don't really like to talk about it.  All I know is they were all laughing and talking at one point. The next - hostility, and boom. We heard a shot. That was it."

This happened in between sets Mabern says.  A lot of accounts get that wrong, including a post last week in New City Notes.

"A lot of people got it on the band stand, see that's a lie," Mabern says. "We were on intermission."

"It was a sad way for him to go man. We were getting reading to go to Europe for the first time. He was happy. Happy with his band," Mabern says.

The first set for the MacDonald-Mabern Duo on Sunday: I'll Remember April, Body and Soul, I Have Never Been in Love Before and Alone Together.

Second set: Falling in Love With Love, Bluesette, I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, Things Aren't What they Used to Be and Moment's Notice.

Third Set: Oleo, Blue Monk, (the third song was a blues, did not catch the name), Bye Bye Black Bird and Green Dolphin Street.

MacDonald and Mabern go way back.  Mabern was in town playing a gig at the old Cafe des Copains in Toronto. He also sat in on a regular Saturday CBC Radio broadcast of a jazz show in the Sheraton Centre. Jim Galloway was the tenor sax on that weekly gig, but Galloway couldn't make it that day.  MacDonald was called to sub.

"And the band was Terry Clarke (drums), Neil Swainson (bass), Harold Mabern, and I was scared," MacDonald says. "That was a long time ago. I had such a great time."

MacDonald saw Mabern perform whenever he could, sometimes in New York, sometimes in Toronto. This past summer, MacDonald called Mabern and asked the great pianist if he would come to Humber College to teach during the summer workshop that MacDonald leads.

"We spent 10 days together playing music, teaching and all that, and we did a recording at the same time," MacDonald says. "So we are back at it, and renewing old acquaintances."

That new CD was recorded for Addo Records and  is called Vista Obscura. It was released in the U.S. on Dec. 9th. It features Neil Swainson on bass, Andre White on drums and Pat LaBarbera, also on tenor sax. It is beautiful and flawless. Having two virtuoso tenor players on the same recording gives the reeds a rich, full sound to balance Mabern's vigorous playing. Last Saturday, MacDonald and Mabern played Gallery 345 in Toronto as a CD release party.

"It's a very beautiful record," Mabern says.

Mabern is more vital and productive than many jazz artists half his years. He played a Christmas show at the Kennedy Centre earlier this week. In April he is on another CD that will be released by Smoke Sessions Records. Smoke is the straight-head New York City club on Broadway near 105th Street.

"I have to compositions on the album," Mabern says. "So if you are in New York City, April 10-11-12, come by Smoke."

When the music was finished last Sunday, and the crowd gone, Mabern was putting on his coat, getting ready for the drive back to Toronto.

"Wonderful club, wonderful piano," Mabern says of The Jazz Room. "You all got quite a thing here."

check out Mabern's website, http://haroldmabern.jazzgiants.net and MacDonald's site at, http://kirkmacdonald.com.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Mark Eisenman only gigs when he can do justice to the music

WATERLOO, Tuesday Dec. 9, 2014 --- Mark Eisenman brings his trio to The Jazz Room Saturday night and a lifetime of respect for the music.

Eisenman, a veteran jazz pianist from the  Toronto scene, plays with Steve Wallace on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. All played The Jazz Room in the past and are enormously popular with club regulars. This will be a night steeped in tradition and straight-ahead jazz.

"I have worked with these guys so many times it is so easy to play," Eisenman says in an interview with New City Notes. ""If people want to hear a lot of standards, I like playing them because then you can just call tunes that everybody knows."

Eisenman, Wallace and Clarke have played together so much they don't need a set list for the gig.

"You are just diving in there with creative musicians," Eisenman says. "The  best music I ever heard are guys communicating on the level of songs, and being so good at it, they just don't need to have anything planned."

Eisenman records, and teaches in the jazz program at York University. He picks and chooses his gigs. You can read more about him here, www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com.

"Sometimes I turn down a lot of work because I want to play real pianos," Eisenman says. "That's why The Jazz Room is so important to me, because I can go play a good piano in front of nice people who are listening."

The Jazz Room stage is dominated by the Yamaha C7 grand piano. No talking is allowed when musicians are performing.

"I figure if I am going to out now and I am going to play this music, justice has to be done to it. And having a good instrument to play is the first step. Now it is up to me after that. If it's not good, it is my problem," Eisenman says.

When it comes to respecting the music, Eisenman never forgot what happened the day he headed for the the Colonial Tavern on Yonge Street in the early 1980s to hear the Johnny Griffin Quartet for a Canada Day gig.   He was looking forward to the show. Griffin was a bop and hard-bop tenor saxophonist who played with a long list of greats,  starting in the 1940s with Lionel Hampton.

 Before his death in 2008 Griffin played with Thelonius Monk, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, among many others. Eisenman arrived early for the show, and secured a seat near the stage. One member of the quartet came in, played a few chords on the piano and shook his head. Eisenman never forgot what that musician said: "'This piano is not tuned. We will be back to play when the piano is tuned, as per the contract.'"

Eisenman was born in New York into a musical family. His mother was born in Toronto, and loved to sing. His dad played piano, saxophone, accordion and composed music.

 Eisenman's dad was a Holocaust survivor who came to Canada in 1948 after living through the horrors of Auschwitz. He arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax three years after the war ended. Eisenman's grandfather on his dad's side was the principal flutist in the Lodz symphony in Poland before the Second World War. Everyone in Eisenman's father's family perished in the Holocaust, except for Eisenman's dad, and his dad's youngest brother.

After arriving in Canada and meeting Eisenman's mother, the family moved to New York, and back to Toronto more than once.

"He did a lot of different things, including some piano teaching and taught me a little bit," Eisenman says. "He was always going around teaching kids. He used to be a substitute teacher. So music was always there. My mother did a little singing. There are some demo recordings I have of my mom and dad from 1954, just amazing."

Eisenman started in  jazz studies at York University in 1974. It was a ground-breaking program, one of the first at a Canadian university.

"I really learned a lot about it there with the guys who started the jazz program  there, John Giddings and Bob Witmer," Eisenman says. "They were both great players."

He teaches at York now. The list of alumni from that program includes the leading players on the scene today.

Following his gig at The Jazz Room (www.kwjazzroom.com) on Saturday, Eisenman will be back on stage on the Jazz Bistro in Toronto with his quartet on Friday, Dec. 19 and Saturday, Dec. 20. It includes Kelly Jefferson on sax, Neil Swainson on bass and Morgan Childs on drums.

The Mark Eisenman Quintet is at The Rex in April, and includes Steven Wallace on bass, John McLeod on trumpet/Fugel horn , Pat LeBarbera on saxes and John Sumner on drums.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Boom for Rent comes to The Jazz Room Saturday night

WATERLOO ON., Dec. 3, 2014 --- When Brendan Davis plays jazz he wants toes tapping and people singing at least one of the tunes by the end of the night.

Boom for Rent comes to town Saturday night at The Jazz Room. This quartet is comprised of veterans from the Toronto scene. Davis on bass, Reg Schwagger on guitar, Chris Gale on tenor sax and Ted Warren on drums. Gale can not make the gig Saturday, so Perry White is playing in his stead. White is a sensational tenor player, and well known to regulars of The Jazz Room.

"We've been working on Soon, a George Gershwin tune. You will probably hear a Wayne Shorter song called Tom Thumb, maybe Bolivia. And we've been working on this tune called Tombo in 7/4 by this great percussionist Airto Moeira," Davis says.

"We are not looking to alienate anybody, but we like to play with a lot of energy, and a song can go anywhere basically," Davis says.  "We will probably play one or two Dave Holland compositions as well."

This quartet grew out of a weekly jam at a little place on the Danforth called 10 Feet Tall back in the spring of 2012.  That club is now closed, but Boom for Rent lives on. The jam session was great while it lasted.

"I did not know Reg all that much, and I asked him to come and play one night, and he did," Davis says in an interview with New City Notes. "And he said: 'You know, when this thing kind of cools down from there we should play together some time.' So I set that up and we added Chris and that was it."

Boom for Rent usually plays in and around Toronto --- Chalkers on Marlee Avenue , The Rex on Queen West and a little place called The Local GEST in the heart of Cabbagetown on Parliament Street. In July it had a residence at The Rex and played every Monday night.

"The quartet was playing and it got better, so much better every week,:" Davis says. "By the end of it, it was unreal."

Davis loves Boom for Rent, and he's busy composing music for it. He wants the band to head into a recording studio in the second half of next year.

"There is quite a large palette to draw from with these musicians, so I am going to, so I am starting to work with that and come up with some ideas and compositions," Davis says. "So I am looking at that right now. That is my personal goal with this band."

Davis studied jazz at York University, and during his last year Oscar Peterson was appointed Chancellor. The giant of the jazz piano would play with the students in workshops. Davis still speaks about the experience in reverential tones.

"Just to be able to stand beside that machine, and play with him. His playing was so strong. I would just hear whatever I had to play," Davis says. "It was fantastic."

A couple of years after graduating from York, Davis headed for the New England Conservatory of Music to do a master's in jazz. Davis studied under the legendary bassist Dave Holland at the New England Conservatory. Holland played with Miles Davis in the Sixties. He is still going strong, and was a headliner at the Detroit Jazz Festival this year.

The New England Conservatory jazz program was great, but not long after Davis finished he did not play for nearly 10 years. He had a bad back. But then, about 2004, he was well enough to start playing again. He was gigging in Vancouver, and had a trio with Amanda Tosoff on piano and Morgan Childs on drums.

In 2008 Davis and his wife drove back to Toronto.

"We were driving back and I checked my Facebook and somebody said: 'I need a bass player in Toronto, I need a bass player for Friday night.' And I was already working before I got back here, and I haven't turned back since," Davis says. "The city has been really good to me since I've come back."

When Davis was trying to think of a name for his small ensemble he was looking at a book about his favourite artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

"He had something spray painted on the wall of his studio that said: 'Boom for Real.' And I thought, okay, not quite. Boom for Rent, that's it. It's goofy and clever at the same time, kind of like me."

Toronto born and raised, Davis remembers George's Spaghetti House, a legendary jazz venue that booked bands to play for an entire week. He took his first date to that place to hear the Moe Kauffman with Bernie Senensky, Jerry Fuller and Neil Swainson.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

John Tank and his all star band set for special show

NEW YORK CITY, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 --- John Tank settles into a chair in a trendy coffee shop on The Bowery, looks around and shakes his head.

"I feel like a tired old man sometimes," Tank says.

The over-priced java, and the gleaming cafe around him are unwelcome reminders of how money changed the former-Bohemian enclave where he's lived for more than 40 years --- The East Village. When Tank moved here in 1974 the neighbourhood was packed with musicians and venues. Now it is teeming with rich people, and many of his favourite places to play closed long ago.

In the basement of this trendy coffee shop was a club called the Fez Under the Time Cafe. That's where the Mingus Big Band played every Saturday. The Fez closed more than 10 years ago, and the Mingus Big Band moved to the Jazz Standard.

Back in 1974 most of the ground-floor units in the East Village were boarded-up. Now the street-level units are all occupied with busy restaurants, shops, cafes and boutiques. A one-bedroom typically rents for at least $3,500 a month.

The smash musical RENT was set in this neighbourhood. The show was developed in one of the four theatres on East 4th Street where Tank lives. But this neighbourhood, like every other one on Manhattan, was gentrified beyond recognition.

Tank is getting ready for his gig in The Jazz Room in Waterloo with some of the best jazz musicians on the Canadian scene. He is traveling to Waterloo for his 96-year-old mother's annual Christmas party. To help pay for the trip, Tank does a show on Sunday, Dec. 14, 4-7 p.m. in The Jazz Room.

The quartet includes Robi Botos on piano, Dave Young on bass and Ted Warren on drums.

This will be something of a re-union of sorts for the musicians. They first played as a quartet at the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival in 1996.

"I tell you something, my playing really feels good," Tank says.

These days Tank plays in the New York City Jazz Workshop's Big Band, which recently had a gig in Something Jazz near Times Square. He's also playing in the Monday night jam at the 11th Street Bar that often features Charles Davis on tenor sax, Pasquale Grasso on guitar and Murray Wall on bass. He sometimes jams at Fat Cat and the Zinc Bar in the West Village.

When he first moved to the East Village the neighbourhood had lots of places to play. A jazz musician earned a living walking to and from the gigs in the East and West Village.

"I had my choice of so many places to go, and they were all run by musicians," Tank says. "Basically I just stayed in this neighbourhood."

The Tin Palace was a regular venue for Tank back in the day. It is now an Italian restaurant. Studio Rivbea is gone. That's where Tank played in Sam Rivers' band the Winds of Manhattan, and Sam Rivers' Big Band, which also included Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. Every Saturday, Tank had a gig at the Ladies Fort with Joe Lee Wilson and Monty Waters Big Band. The Ladies Fort was a jazz performance loft at 2 Bond St. in the NOHO District.

"I used to go to Boomers all the time, that was a great club, now it's like a diner," Tank says.

All that's left of The Village Gate is a sign on a wall above Bleeker Street. One of the last shows there before it closed in 1993 was Penny Arcade's "Politics and Sexuality." The club is long gone, but Arcade is still at it. She is developing a wickedly funny piece on the gentrification of New York City, and the decline of the culture in the world capital of culture.

"It's starts with a cafe and it ends with cupcakes," Arcade says in an amazing performance of her unnamed work-in-progress at Joe's Pub on Nov. 10.  Watch for more of Arcade's incredible work. She is giving voice to the experience of artists like Tank.

The old Village Gate was a special place for Tank. That's where he sat in with Charles Mingus.

"Mingus was looking for a new sax player, and his sax player at the time and I got on the stage and we had a tenor battle, and we brought the house down," Tanks says.

"After that I was in the backroom, and Mingus said: 'Let me hear you play a ballad.' So I played My One and Only Love," Tank says.

A few weeks later Tank was with a group of people in Mingus' apartment in Manhattan Plaza on 43rd Street. Mingus' wife Sue was there. So was the trumpet player Jack Walrath.

"So Mingus turns around and says: 'Are you going to come to my record session?' And I said: 'Yeah, I'll be there,'" Tank says.

Tank is on the Mingus recording called Me Myself An Eye, and  Something Like a Bird. The band for that recording session included Walrath, the Brecker Brothers, George Coleman and Eddie Gomez, among many others.

"That was a great time," Tank says.

Tank moved here in 1974. He was born and raised in downtown Kitchener. After learning the tenor saxophone Tank studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston during the mid-1960s. He always wanted to live in New York and work the jazz scene here. He did that as an illegal alien for his first 16 years. That's how much he wanted it.

Out on the sidewalk, Tank looks around his New York neighbourhood. It is crowded with reminders of another time when the dollar was not king.

"This was the only place I could afford," Tank says, standing at the corner of Easts 4th St. and Lafayette. "When I moved down here, this was a very dangerous place to be. There was nothing, all these buildings were all closed. There was nothing here."

Everything was boarded up. It just before New York City flirted with bankruptcy. It is now bustling with pedestrians going in and out of businesses big and small, coffee shops and cafes.

"Most of the artists have gone," Tank says. "I am fortunate that I have been able to maintain a low rent for all these years, that keeps my place affordable."

As Tank walks up the Bowery he talks steadily about the neighbourhood and how it's changed.

"If you go straight east that's where Slugs was. That was a famous jazz club. That's where Lee Morgan was shot six times. His woman came in and emptied a gun on him. He was playing on the stage," Tank says.

Slugs was on East 4th St. in Alphabet City, between Avenue B and Avenue C. Morgan was a 33-year-old trumpet player who had recently kicked heroin. Morgan's career was on an upswing when his angry woman shot him to death in the club. It was closed after the murder.

"There were people killed out in front of that club.  There was a saxophone player, a young guy, walked out on the street and somebody shot him," Tank says.

When the Loft Scene closed down a lot of musicians hit the streets.  Tank used to play by the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd St. There would be 10 bands in that area on any given day.

"They soon made short work of that, they started arresting musicians," Tank says.

In the 1970s New York was battling an epidemic of heroin addiction. In the 1980s crack cocaine arrived. Tank watched it all unfold from his fifth floor apartment on East 4th St.

Tank is standing at the corner of East 4th St. and the Bowery, in front of a pub-restaurant called Phebe's. Tank used to play there in the late 1970s.

"Now it's a sports bar," Tank says.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Joel Miller mixes American roots and Latin jazz in his contemporary sound

WATERLOO ON., Friday, Nov. 28 --- Joel Miller's saxophone case comes packed with inspiration from the Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi Delta and the folk revival of the early 1960s.

“I love to hear Doc Watson, and blues and actually been doing a bit of that here," Miller says. "Been trying to get into these songs, and playing guitar and learning to sing these songs."

He finds the simplicity inspiring and compelling. (www.joelmillermusic.com).

"When I compose and when I play, I try to sort of keep this simplicity," Miller says.  "That attracts me to that music and that’s what I am trying to bring into the complexity of jazz.  Because people are always talking about  jazz and  how they don’t understand.  I am trying to draw on that visceral aspect of folk music and bring it into the music that I write.”

Having a Cuban cajon player in the band also injects some Latin Jazz into the sound.

The 45-year-old tenor saxophonist from Montreal brings his quintet to The Jazz Room, Saturday, Nov. 29 following a series of shows in the Cultural Houses all over the Island of Montreal. Miller and his band Honeycomb played in the Rideau Showcase last winter in Quebec City.  They won, and the prize was a series of shows in the 24 music venues.

"But the exciting thing about it is we have all this new material, new stuff that I have been writing and arrangements, all this stuff," Miller says in an interview with New City Notes.  "We are growing as a band."

The Saturday show at The Jazz Room has Miller on tenor sax, John Roney on piano (“A total monster piano player”),  Fraser Hollins on bass, Kullak Viger Rojas on cajon and congas, and Kiko Osorio on drums and percussion.

Miller is among Canada's leading jazz composers, performers and recording artists. He won the 2013 Juno  for best jazz CD.

“It was really cool. Getting the Juno Award was incredible," Miller says. "To have recognition after working my butt off for all these years.  To get recognition and an award like that, it was pretty amazing."

The son of a composer who taught at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Miller grew up in a musical family in Sackville. His mother was into jazz and listened to it all the time. His parents decided he would play the saxophone.

 "As soon as I played the first note, it was instant. Instant sort of, it felt right, you know, and I just started taking lessons, and got into jazz listening to the radio, to Gilles Laframboise’s show every night," Miller says.

"I listened to that religiously, and heard Monk, and Coltrane, and Coleman Hawkins, Wayne Shorter, Cannon Ball Adderley. He played everything. And then from there I got into jazz through the saxophone and I started taking lessons from a saxophone player named Donny Palmer who was based in Halifax.  He encouraged me," Miller says.

There was a bass player in Antigonish named Skip Beckwrith who was also a big influence on Mller. There were also a lot of jazz workshops at Saint FX, and he attended as many as possible.
“I went there when I was about 15-years-old, and met a lot of jazz students there, and a lot of people to this day remember me.  Like when I was there I came and played, I was like 15-years-old.  Through that I met Kevin Dean and Gordon Foot.”

Dean and Foot later went to teach at McGill in Montreal. When Miller was graduating from high school he headed for Montreal to play on the streets during the jazz festival.
"We actually made quite a lot of money coming to Montreal when I was a teenager, like 16 or 17. It gave me a real taste for the City of Montreal, and jazz music and the jazz festival," Miller says.

"That was like ’85 or ’86. It was really cool back then, it used to be on St. Denis Street. You could drink on the street and there wasn’t all this stupid sponsorship," Miller says. "Now it’s another scene entirely.  The jazz festival is not at all what it used to be.”

The trips to the Montreal Jazz Festival as a teenager and the busking made impacts on Miller that last to this day.

“It has always been, in the summer time, a great vibe and all that. And as a kid it was just like, wow, this is so cool and so much more interesting than where I grew up. So I got a feel for the city and I studied at McGill University," Miller says.

He graduated in 1996.

These days Miller is leading three different bands.  He lives in St-Henri, a historic neighbourhood made famous by Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones.  Peterson wrote a beautiful piece called Place St-Henri. In Peterson's day the neighbourhood was full of factories and working-class families.  Now it is gentrifying with expensived lofts in the old industrial buildings along the Lachine Canal.

Miller's show Saturday is his first in The Jazz Room.

"I really look forward to playing at The Jazz Room.  And it sounds like people are really taking care of business there. I am thrilled about that.”

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Harold Mabern plays The Jazz Room in early December

NEW YORK CITY, Friday Nov. 14, 2014 --- The legendary pianist Harold Mabern steps outside the front door of Mezzrow - the newest club in the West Village jazz scene - to talk about his upcoming gig at The Jazz Room in Waterloo.

The 78-year-old Mabern is among the greatest-living practitioners of straight-ahead jazz piano. His importance and contribution can not be over-stated.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, Mabern plays The Jazz Room with the Toronto-based tenor saxophonist Kirk MacDonald. Mabern and MacDonald recently cut a CD together, and the early-evening show promises to be among the very best ever heard in the club.

"Well the blues is very important because jazz comes from the blues, not the other way around," Mabern says in an interview while standing in cold night air. "When I was coming up in Memphis Tennessee we, I hate to use the world hate, but we didn't like the blues because we wanted to play be-bop."

Mabern likes to talk a lot about how the past influences the present. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie created be-bop in the late 1940s.

"As a matter of fact Dizzy Gillespie, the co-progenitor, the difference between me and Bird, he said: 'Bird could play the blues and I couldn't.' He right. That's what Dizzy said.  Charles Mingus said: 'I wish I could write like Duke Ellington and play the blues.'

"You see, so when you can play the blues people all over the world can relate to that," Mabern says. "And I don't like to get up and play stuff, get in my own world and play for myself, I play for the people. And that's what's important."

Mabern's main piano teacher in his hometown of Memphis was Phineas Newborn Jr. After graduating from high school in 1954, Mabern headed for Chicago.  There, he fell under the influence of Ahmad Jamal.

"When I got to Chicago there were clubs everywhere and piano players everywhere, and once I found out Ahmad Jamal was working at this club called The Persian Lounge, I knew that's where I needed to be," Mabern says.

"I worked clubs everywhere man," Mabern says. "I worked clubs on the South Side, the North Side, the West Side. Chicago clubs were ubiquitous, and plus you had to play all kinds of styles, you just couldn't play one.

"You had to play blues, you had to play with singers, you had to play be-bop, you had to play everything. You had to play with big bands.  So that was a great four-and-a-half years for me where I really learned a lot just being in that city," Mabern says.

A woman walks out of Mezzrow carrying an instrument case, and Mabern immediately chats with her.

"That looks like a French Horn, is that a French horn?" Mabern says.

"It is a French horn," the woman says.

"So who are you with? Symphony orchestra?" Mabern says.

"Symphonies and shows and stuff," the woman says.

"Beautiful, nothing wrong with that," Mabern says.

"Nothing wrong at all, but I wish I had your ears," the woman says.

"Well I wish I could do what you do, so it's all related, jazz and classical go hand-in-hand," Mabern says.

"That's it, that's it, thank you. What a pleasure to hear you," the woman says.

"My pleasure, hope to see you again," Mabern says.

"It was great, fabulous, take care of yourself," says the woman who walks up the stairs that lead to West 10th Street, and into the cold night air of Greenwich Village. If she wasn't before, she is clearly now a fan of Mabern and his music.

The big man moved to New York City on Nov. 21, 1959, checked into a hotel and then went to Birdland. Outside the famous club he met Cannonball Adderly (who played on Miles Davis' famed Kinda Blue album). Adderly introduced Mabern to the trumpet player Harry "Sweets" Edison inside the club. Mabern started working right away, and he never stopped.

As a bandleader he made 22 albums. As a sideman he played on at least 76 albums. He recorded a live CD in the jazz club Smoke at 105th Street and Broadway in 2013. A year earlier he released a CD under the Live at Smalls label. And this year he has a new CD with the Toronto tenor player Kirk MacDonald, who has played The Jazz Room twice this fall.

Mabern was playing with Lee Morgan on a night in February 1972 when the 33-year-old trumpet player was shot to death in Slug's Saloon in the East Village. Mabern says the shooting happened during a break in the show, and he was in the back when the shots went off. Morgan's common-law wife walked into the club, and emptied a revolver into the talented musician. Jazz musicians in New York City still talk about it.

 The audience for Mabern's recent gig at Mezzrow sat in rapt silence when he played, and hung on every word of his humorous patter between numbers.

"This song was written for five of the greatest jazz musicians ever, I mean really," Mabern says.  "And strange enough all from the state of Pennsylvania.The title is called, if I say it fast it sounds rock-'n-roll, Bobby-Billy-Jimm-Lee-Boo.  I thin it sounds funny. If you can figure out who it was written for I will let you buy yourself another round."

It was written for Billy Goldstein, Jimmy Merit, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and Boo Hader. In this set Mabern plays pieces by everyone from Cole Porter to Stevie Wonder. He is accompanied on bass by Essiet Essiet.

"I tell students: If you want to be a great composer, study the Great American Songbook because they all have a certain way they write," Mabern says.  "So we are going to do a song by Cole Porter that is not played too much.  It is called Begin the Beguine in the Key of C.  The bridge is two-five-one in B-flat. See, this is rehearsing."

The audience laughs hard, but quickly gets quiet as Mabern starts playing. When he finishes the Cole Porter song there is loud applause, and Mabern starts telling another story based on the famous quote from Albert Einstein -- "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

"They said Albert Einstein's wife was really the smart one, and Einstein was kind of dummy by comparison," Mabern says. "It's supposed to be true, but check it out, and it really makes sense. She said to him: 'No Albert, no. Use your imagination.' He said: 'Oh, yeah.' That makes sense why he would say that, imagination is more important than knowledge."

Jazz musicians deal with imagination all the time, he says.

"Now I am leading up to a point, I hope it's a point. A friend of mine says: 'There is no such thing as the greatest.' I said: 'Yeah, except when we talk about Charlie Parker and Art Tatum.' They up there. You don't debate those two. If you are going to debate Bird and Tatum, you have a problem."

Bird and Tatum.  Hard to get more straight ahead than them.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

David Braid is breaking the boundaries of contemporary jazz

WATERLOO ON., Nov. 25, 2014 --- Juno-Award winning pianist and composer David Braid has a new project that breaks the format of traditional-small ensembles.

Usually there is an introduction, everyone plays the melody, and then one-by-one each musician does a solo.  That pattern is repeated for every piece.
"It's fun to play in that sort of conventional, traditional format, but my idea with this group was to find ways to break away from that," Braid says in an interview with New City Notes.

Braid put together a new septet for this project The core of the septet is a quartet of musicians known as Peripheral Vision.  Braid did not want this septet to spend two or three years developing a cohesive sound and strong musical bonds.  So, he absorbed Peripheral Vision into his ensemble, and wrote the music with them in mind.

"They have been pretty active in the contemporary jazz scene for a number of years," Braid says of Peripheral Vision.

"They are a quartet - tenor, guitar, bass and drums.  I have my friendships with all of them, and have played with them in different musical contexts many times," Braid says. " So since I sort of have a band within a band."

In the final set Peripheral Vision will play some original material to mark the release of the latest CD. The David Braid Septet begins a cross-Canada tour in January, so the show on Friday in The Jazz Room is a warm up for that road show.

The show is all original music written by Braid. There is a single piece of music for each set, a suite essentially, and each one has a different theme. Each one is also about 40 minutes long.

"It is full of different moods, and different contrasts, different soloists," Braid says.

 It is loosely based on an old folk melody. One set is all about rhythm, and another is about melody.

"And the third set is a song set, so it is kind of an exploration of melody.  I am in the process of writing kind of a jazz-art-song-cycle kind of thing.  So there's the third set,” Braid says

The septet has Braid on piano, Trevor Hogg on tenor saxophone, Don Scott on guitar, Michael Davidson on vibes, Michael Herring on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. The cover is $25. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Music runs 8:30-11:30 p.m. 

"And my idea with this group too is not to make one person stand out, but sort of equalize everyone in the group in different ways, make sure it sort of balances at the end," Braid says.

"So as a way, because Michael is extra special, and he is playing all through the night, but I really want to give him a special spot where he could really do a solo thing.  He is going to play a solo vibes thing, which is great.”

Braid says his latest project is a reaction to what he likes and dislikes in contemporary jazz. What he likes is the great potential for spontaneous composition, creating music in the moment, where there is not just one soloist extemporizing, but a whole group at the same time.

"In more traditional jazz groups that doesn't happen to the same degree as it can in contemporary jazz groups.  So I like that very much and I bring that element very much into my music," Braid says.

Braid also likes how contemporary jazz borrows from just about every source --- classical, folk, world, hip-hop, among others.

"And to me I think that's wonderful because I think that gives you such a wide pallet of colour and texture to which you can be creative with," Braid says. " I think from an audience point of view it is also interesting, because they can hear how these different influences can speak through sort of a western musical format.”

What Braid does not like about contemporary jazz is how composers do not give the audience enough consideration when writing music.

 " In other words when I am writing, I am writing from the listener's point of view, not from the sort of the almighty composer's point of view," Braid says. " I really believe that."

Too many times while sitting in the audience and listening to contemporary jazz, Braid finds his heart and mind wandering even while he is intellectually engaged.

Writing and performing contemporary jazz should be like inviting friends to dinner.

 "First of all, obviously you want them to enjoy the food.  But maybe you want them to experience something they haven't experienced before, you know what I mean?  Like maybe you are not going to invite people over for dinner, and cook them hot dogs," Braid says.

 "Maybe you want to prepare something that sort of shows  some respect, but has some intelligence and interest, has some element of surprise, but at the same time is enjoyable to ingest," Braid says. "And just stretching out the metaphor a little bit farther, I also think you should invite people for dinner to not let them know what a good cook you are."

When all the elements are present, a virtuous relationship between the stage and the audience is created that feeds both sides.

"I think the most important element is the sense of community that happens when great music is happening.  In other words people are being moved by what they hear, and they are responding, and then that energy feeds into the musicians, and there is a social dynamic that is going back and forth," Braid says.

"To me that is what the essence of great music is.  So I don't know if I have achieved any of what I have set out to achieve," Braid says. " At least that's my goal with this particular project.”

Braid has won two Juno Awards, and released several CDs. He started piano lessons with a neighbourhood teacher when he was very young.  His interest in jazz was sparked by hearing a Mozart symphony on a local radio station during a weekly Saturday morning Mozart show.

“All I remember is hearing all the inner parts, like someone for the first time pulled the back off a clock, and the mystery of how those arms are moving, you can see all the gears moving on the inside,   I sort of felt that way about how I was hearing all the inner voices of this symphonic piece.  That's what got me curious about the design of music.”

One of his high school teachers was a jazz guitarist, and told Braid to check out jazz if he was interested in music composition because jazz musicians composed music while improvising.

"And I remember, I was like 17 when he mentioned that, and because I didn't come from any sort of musical background, I was like: 'You can do that?'  My whole experience of music was that you played what's on the page. So it was composition that got me interested in improvising, and then improvising naturally led me to the jazz world.”

While at the University of Toronto he studied classical piano, jazz, psychology, computer science, math, music theory and composition.

"I really took full advantage of my four year undergraduate degree," Braid says.

Like many Canadian jazz musicians who went to the University of Toronto, Braid was deeply influenced by Phil Nimmons. The virtuoso clarinet player taught jazz improvisation for classical musicians. He joined the faculty there in 1973. Nimmons still teaches that class.  He is 91.

"And he teaches a jazz composition course as well.  We talk on the phone two or three times a week.  And he is still playing concerts, we just played a concert a couple of weeks ago, and it’s amazing," Braid says.

During the past 10 years Braid and Nimmons performed more than 100 concerts - just the piano and clarinet.

When preparing for their first concert together in a small church in Dundas, Braid studied all the tunes he thought Nimmons would want to play, some standards and chords his former teacher liked as well. On the way into the church, Braid asked Nimmons what he wanted to play.

“And he said: ‘Ah, let’s just improvise. Just forget it, let’s just improvise.’  So we did, and the initial success of that concert, which will always be special to me, and this was like the very first time we ever really played together, and he decided he wasn't going to play any conventional jazz anymore, he just wanted to do this improvised duo, that’s it.  And every time he is asked to play concerts he is like: ‘I am playing with David, we have this duo.’”

When Braid talks about his former teacher with equal parts awe and respect. He marvels how Nimmons engages with the audience, taking questions, telling stories.

"It’s really sweet because he is really so generous, and at the end of his career in a sense, sort of the last chapter, he is putting everything on the line because he is sitting up, 91-years-old, and improvising, in front of these fans of his, who have known him for decades," Braid says.

"And that’s amazing, 91-years-old, just throw everything out and start fresh again, and put it all on the line.  That’s tremendously inspiring.”

Friday, 21 November 2014

Stephen Zurakowsky finds his groove for jazz-classical-contemporary fusion

WATERLOO ON., Nov. 14, 2014 ---  After celebrating his 50th birthday this past summer Stephen Zurakowsky found a new sound he will share at The Jazz Room on Friday. Nov. 21.

The veteran classical-jazz guitarist and composer has a special night of live music planned.  It features 10 funky-jazz compositions he wrote, three solo tributes to the great Canadian guitarist Lenny Breau and a talented vocalist for some standards.

 "I wrote 10 new compositions specially for this night," Zurakowsky says.

Joining Zurakowsky on stage Friday night --- Greg Prior on bass, Ryan Cassidy on tenor sax and flute, Paul MacLeod on piano abd Giapaola Scatozza on drums.

Special guest Jane Cowan will join the band to do some standards, "to offset all the originals that I will be doing," Zurakowsky says.

Zurakowsky is well known as the head of the Kitchener-Waterloo Classical Guitar Society.  He teaches classical guitar. He plays jazz guitar with the Kitchener-based Big Band Theory.  He's played the Music Room in a classical-jazz duet with the guitarist James Brown.

"I started playing in Big Band Theory three years ago, and that's what got my interest back into jazz," Zurakowsky says.  "I was enjoing reading in that band so much because the charts are so difficult, and then I found my jazz chops getting a little bit better."

After turning 50 Zucharsky sat down and started writing new music.  He wanted to compose jazz ballads bordering atonalism.  Instead, he brought home the funk. 

"I feel like I am crossing over," Zurakowsky says. "It is edgy, 'cause that's sort of my classical background, but it's more melodic and it's really, really funky.  That's why I got Giapaola to play drums, he's from Toronto and this is sort of his speciaty."

Previously, the soft-spoken classical guitarist released two solo recordings of original, moody music. Big City Quiet Moments and Four Trees in Winter.  The beautiful, melancholic-austere sounds he attributes, in part, to his Ukrainian-Polish background.

"I am just changing. All of a sudden I felt like writing happy, fun music," Zurakowsky says. "Maybe that sounds kind of weird, but the melancholy of the Ukrainian music, I think I just came to the end of a phase.  And then all of a sudden, boom, all these funky rhythyms started to come out. It was a lot of fun."

"I think when you are composing, you can't necessarily control what is coming out," he says. "It kind of just goes where it goes."

He wrote the 10 new compositions in about six to eight months. The transition from solo classical guitar to composing for, and playing in jazz bands, is emancipating.

"It feels more free because when you play classical guitar there is every tiny little sound, every detail, but when you are playing in a group all those details from each person add up to the whole, so that way it feels more freeing,"   Zurakowsky says.  "And I like that spontaneous, improvising feel."

When Cassidy plays flute he can also Beat Box at the same time, so Zurakowsky wrote some music to feature that --- Hip Hop Blues, Funkelude and Prelude to the Jazz Groove.

"That beat boxing and flute playing is so cool."

Prior is the bass player for Big Band Theory. Zurakowsky and Jane Cowan have known each other for a long time.

"She's an incredible singer, again she is a cross between classical and jazz, so it is a good fit," Zurakowsky says.

"I will be doing some solo work that night, and they are all tributes to Lenny Breau," Zurakowsky says. "I think when I was in high school, and I heard that for the first time, one song, he combined so many genres like flamenco, jazz, blues and then classical right hand techniques, like tremulendo.  I was so attracted to that."

Lenny Breau was a pioneering Canadian fusion guitarist.  Sadly, most music fans today know nothing about his important contributions to the Canadian guitar scene.  Zurakowsky's tributes Friday night will move from a Chet Atkins-style walking bass to flamenco and then a bee-bop sound.

"The tribute to Lenny Breau song is blues, blue grass, blues rock, and jazz blues. And then combining classical elements and putting them all together," " Zurakowsky says.  "He was one of the world's greatest guitar players, and nobody knows who he is. He's Canadian"

The three tributes Zurakowsky plays Friday night will introduce Breau to people who never heard of him, and rekindle memories among fans of a certain age. Beau played the university-coffee-house circuit in the 1960s and 1970s around southern Ontario.

At 50, Zurakowsky seems to be starting a new phase of creativity, and he's exscited about it.

"It's great actually."

While well-known as a classical guitarist and composer, Zurakowsky's jazz roots go back more than 30 years, to when he studied music at the University of Toronto, 1987-1991. A legendary music proff there named Phil Nimmons, directed the school's big band.  He needed a guitarist and persuaded Zucharsky to join.

"He took me under his wing and taught me how to arrange and play jazz," Zurakowsky says.

Nimmons, a virtuoso on the jazz clarinet, helped many classical musicians find their jazz groove.

"His original music is this cross between jazz and classical.  So a big influence on my music was his music called The Atlantic Suite.  That's a big song and I guess a big inspiration for me.  It is a huge suite for big bands: Is it classical? Is it jazz?  Is it contemporary music? Like, there is no category.  So I wrote a piece thinking about my days with Phil, it is called the Canadian Landscape Jazz Suite.  So I have dedicated that to him."

It was written for a quintet, but Zurakowsky played it recently in violin-guitar duet at St. Andrew's Church and it worked very well.

Classical musicians are good at reading music, but not so good at figuring out the chords for jazz.  So when Zurakowsky auditioned for Nimmons big band at the University of Toronto it did not go particularly well.  But the legendary teacher saw something in Zurakowsky, and brought him on board anyway.

"I said: Okay I will do it, but just don't ask me to solo or improvise.   So the first chart he picks for the night is going really, really fast,  I am barely keeping up trying to play the chords, and people are soloing and all of a sudden he says:  'Play a guitart solo.'  A couple of notes came out, but I had no idea, it was just so fast.  You have to think and hear so fast," Zurakosky says.

"So when we finished the chart he asked me to stand up in front of the band and scream.  Like, I am so shy and quiet, right. So I stand up and he says: 'Scream!'. And I said: 'I can't, I can't.' So then I scream a little scream and he goes: 'No, no, like this.' And then he does this big, huge Tarzan scream, and says: 'That's what you have to feel when you improvise, and don't worry about all that other stuff. You have to have this really go-for-it attitude."

"As the months went on he would ask us to do that, stand up and scream," Zurakowsky says. "That's how I got into jazz."




Thursday, 13 November 2014

Childhood trips to Village Vanguard had huge impact

WATERLOO ON., NOV. 13, 2014 --- The musical journey that brings alto-sax sensation Tara Davidson to the stage of The Jazz Room started decades ago with trips the legendary Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village.

"My dad took us to New York a lot," Davidson says.  "Lucky us, for sure."

Davidson is a leading alto-sax player, composer, recording artist, educator and performer.  The Juno-nominated performer and composer plays The Jazz Room on Saturday in a show that will feature compositions from her latest CD, Tara Davidson Duets. But it all started with the influence of her dad, Ron Davidson, a trumpet player who headed a high school music department.

"We would go to the Village Vanguard and hear people, I was really young," Davidson says.  "He always tells the story how I fell asleep on the table after he stayed all night to hear Illinois Jacquet."

Jacquet was a tenor sax player and jazz musician best known for his solo on "Flying Home." Davidson also heard Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall when she was young.

"I remember that," Davidson says.  "I knew that was special and how amazing he was."
She still makes regular trips to the famous club on 7th Avenue in New York City to hear jazz, and take private lessons with Dick Oatts, the lead alto-sax player in the Village Vanguard Orchestra. Oatts taught at the Manhattan School of Music for years, and is now at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Davidson's dad helped her pick her instrument when she was 12. To this day, he seldom misses a show. Check out her webpage at TaraDavidson.ca and browse the CDs and schedule of shows.

"He brought a bunch of woodwind instruments home for me to try, and I liked the saxophone best," she says.

Davidson released her latest CD at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto a few weeks ago.  It is a duets project with 13 tracks featuring six different duet partners

"All of whom I love playing with, I have personal and musical relationships with these people, which is why I asked them to join me on this record," Davidson says.

The CD features compositions by Davidson and one by each of her duet partners. For the Saturday gig in The Jazz Room, three of the duet partners will join Davidson on stage --- Mike Murley on tenor sax, Andrew Downing on bass and cello and Andrew Occiphinti on guitar.  They will also play trio and quartet configurations.

"Just to sort of give variety through the night," Davidson says.

The duets project follows Davidson's release of CDs featuring her quartet, quintet and nonet, so she was looking to do something different.

"I wanted to choose something I would be happy focusing on, and I really love playing duets," Davidson says.  "I often get together with other singular musicians to learn tunes,  and when I studied with Murley a lot of my study time was playing duets with him actually. So I really like it."

Davidson, 35, has released several CDs as band leader, and many more as a side player.  She is married to the trombone player William Carn, and they co-lead a nine-piece band.  They travel regularly to New York City to hear jazz.

Davidson studied jazz  at the University of Toronto, 1998 to 2002, under Mike Murley, considered one of the best, if not the top tenor sax player on the Toronto scene.

"At the time he was one of the private teaches there, and I wanted to study with him some more there," Davidson says.

She also studied under Phil Nimmons, who was about 70 when she attended the University of Toronto.

"He was an amazing, vibrant, intelligent, great man," Davidson says.  "And he would speak of the fact that as a musician one of the most beautiful things about being a musician is that you can always grow and get better.  And the pursuit of that is exceptional and beautiful." 

She loves to teach as well.  In the jazz program at York University, and at Humber College, in the community school music program that is held every Saturday.  Davidson teaches a lot of young people 11 to 15 in tha program, conducting them in small combos and private lessons. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Tall musicians stretch all the boundaries

WATERLOO, Ontario --- One of the most unique voices in contemporary jazz, the genre-defying Stretch Orchestra, is coming to town.

If you never heard this trio before, you will never forget it.

Three virtuoso musicians, and a bundle of instruments, producing a big sound unlike anything you ever heard before. Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, is poised to be another milestone night at The Jazz Room.

Stretch Orchestra is Kevin Breit (mando-cello, mandola, mandolin), Matt Brubeck (cello) and Jesse Stewart (percussion).  The trio played the Kitchener Blues Festival in August to loud and long applause.  Last year, it played the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival.  Breit has appeared five times at the local jazz festival over the years.

Playing together since 2005, the trio has produced only one CD so far, and it won a 2012 Juno Award for best Instrumental Recording.  That was the self-titled CD Stretch Orchestra.  Distances and crazy-busy schedules have kept them out of the recording studio. Elora-based Breit says 99 per cent of the music the trio plays Friday will be instrumental.

“It's just kind of Americana music,” Breit says.  “Because it is improvised, it will always be calld jazz.  It is harmonic, so that gives it the jazz bent, the jazz shape for sure.

“I always say Americana because there is blue grass in there, there's blues in there, there's jazz in there, there's tango music in there, which is not really American but our version of it anyway.  So it's got all that stuff in it, I think,” Breit says.

That's why this trio plays jazz festivals, blues festivals and chamber music festivals with ease, winning new fans at every show.

Hard to believe this creative powerhouse has produced only one CD, and The Jazz Room is very, very lucky to this trio play on Friday night.

“Yeah, distances kept us from doing another one, ust the geography” Breit says.  “Jesse lives in Ottawa and he teaches at Carlton, and Matt teaches at York University and lives in Guelph, and I am on the road.
Among those three things try to get us in the room, it's a bit of a coup that we actually have, collectively, a date available to do this show on the Seventh.  I am so happy it worked out.”

Breit is on the road a lot. Bandleader, composer, studio work, sideman.  He has won other Junos with other bands, and recorded with the likes of Holly Cole, Hugh Laurie and Norah Jones. One of his instruments is a mandola, an ancestor of the lute and the mandolin. Unless you have heard Breit, very few people have ever heard or seen a mandola. It dates back to the 9th Century, and was popular in Italty and Spain. It did not reach England until the end of 14th Century. It is small and traditionally has nine frets and up to six strings.

“I am really into that, I really love playing those,” Breit says.

His instruments are custom-made by a luthier who lives outside Niagara-on-the-Lake, Joseph Yanuziello.

Breit loves to tell the story about sharing an elevator with Chicago Blues legend Buddy Guy. Breit was playing at a guitar festival in Chicago, and so was Buddy Guy. The next morning Breit is taking the elevator down to the lobby when Buddy steps into the lift. Breit is abashed and flustered, and presses the button for the basement. Then he mutters something to the living legend beside him.

"I saw your show last night Buddy and really enjoyed it," Breit said.

"Well, awright," Buddy said.

The elevator goes to the basement, the doors open and close, Breit hits the correct button for the lobby and the two are off again. When the doors open on the lobby, one of Buddy Buy's assistants is standing there, arms crossed, waiting for his boss.

"What kept you Buddy?" he said.

"The kid took me for a ride," Buddy said jerking his thumb at Breit.

Breit and Stewart had worked together in different bands, played the Guelph Jazz Festival and other gigs. This was prior to 2005.  Stewart told Breit about this amazing cello player who just moved to Ontario, Brubeck, the son of the legendary jazz pianist and composer. When the trio first got together, they called themselves The Tall Boys because everyone is, well, really, really tall.

The name was changed to Stretch Orchestra because Breit and Co. found out there was already a band calling itself The Tall Boys.

The Jazz Room audience will hear a mixture of new and old pieces Friday night.

“Half and half,” Breit says.  “Some from our self-titled disc, and new songs.  We are always gathering up this dust, we are always picking up new songs.  We will probably do some selected covers that people will hopefully recognize.”

Brubeck teaches at both York University and Humber College in Toronto. He rides the bus into and out of Toronto on teaching days, working on a laptop while the bus rolls down the 401. Stewart is a professor at Carlton University's School for Studies in Art and Culture.

Breit's music still chills more than 10 years after hearing him play for the first time with a band called Folkalarm.  It was at the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, and with one of his small, custom-made instruments he covered Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys.  Never heard anything like it, before or since.

“It's one of those tunes everybody knows,” Breit says.  “It is one of my favourite tunes ever written.  I still get goose bumps hearing it.  Not us playing it, but the Beach Boys.”