Wednesday 29 October 2014

Brooklyn jazz meets Mississippi blues in The Jazz Room

WATERLOO ON., Sept. 29, 2014 --- About four years ago the Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist and composer Petr Cancura made a life-changing trip to Senatobia County, Mississippi for the annual Otha Turner Family Goat Roast & Picnic.

The music Cancura heard that August weekend inspired him like nothing else. After returning to Brooklyn, he wrote more than enough music in one month for a new recording.   That music, a jazz-blues fusion, will be front-and-centre Saturday night  in The Jazz Room.  The CD is called "Down Home."

"It just changed my life," Cancura says in an interview with New City Notes.

Otha Turner started the annual goat roast and blues jam decades ago. Turner led The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. He was featured in Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning movie The Gangs of New York, and in Scorsese's documentary series on the blues. Hill Country and Delta Blues musicians take turns playing on the back of a flat-bed truck at the annual picnic.  Turner's granddaughter, Sharde Thomas, plays the fife in the band, and his grandsons play drums.

Cancura could hardly believe what he was seeing and hearing.  It took him way back to his roots. . Cancura was born and raised in the former Czechoslovakia, far behind the Iron Curtain of Cold War Europe.  His father was charged with treason and threatened with 15 years in prison for buying a Yamaha keyboard.

When he was nine-years-old Cancura's family escaped to Austria, spent eight months if a refugee camp and then settled in Ottawa. Later  Cancura studied music at Carlton University. Then he studied jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston - one of the best jazz programs in the world.

"Pretty soon after I got heavily into music I went back and started checking out all this Eastern European music, Gypsy music," Cancura says.  "That stuff just really speaks to me.  Really , all it is is an Eastern European version of the blues.  I have been studying and playing jazz for over 20 years at this point, and that's become part of my life. When I went down there and checked out this picnic, I got those same shivers that I do when I hear Gypsy music."

The CD "Down Home" is nominated for a Juno Award, and Cancura comes to The Jazz Room fresh from a cocert and workshop at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.. The Jazz Room is Cancura's second stop on this Canadian tour. He plays tenor sax, clarinet, banjo and mandolin. Cancura is also the programming manager for the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The Down Home project taps into everything this multi-instrumentalist has to offer.

"It's kind of combining a lot of southern-kind-of-blues and folk traditions,' Cancura says.  "And then letting loose with a bunch of really incredible improvisers from New York."

After graduating from the New England Conservatory in 2006, Cancura headed for New York City.  He lives in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

"It is a great, booming little neighbourhood that is packed with musicians," Cancura says.

He plays a semi-regular gig at Barbes, a performance space and bar at 9th Street and 6th Ave. in Park Slope.  He also plays IBeam in the Gowanus area Brooklyn, a performance, rehearsal and teaching space for established and emerging musicians.. Cancura's also played the Cornelia Street Cafe and the Blue Note in the West Village.

"I like it," Cancura says of New York City.  "I have been here for a long time, I have been here for eight years.  And it's tough, but it's great.  I have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, so we are always talking about should we stay, should we not?"

But Cancura and his partner always decide to stay.

"It's expensive, it's a hard place to live, but people seem to fight for their life here in a good way," Cancura says.  "They fight for it, if we are talking music and art, they really fight for it.  And when people come to a rehearsal or session to play, they mean it, and it makes it pretty special."


Monday 27 October 2014

First Manhattan, then Berlin, now Waterloo.

WATERLOO ON., Oct., 27, 2014 --- Peter Van Huffel brings the sounds of Toronto, New York and Berlin to the The Jazz Room on Friday night, fresh from a gig in the Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village.

The alto-saxophonist and composer is nearing the end of his most productive year so far, and his show Friday in Waterloo features his band Boom Crane.  After releasing three new CDs so far this year on three different European labels, with another due out before long, Van Huffel's is a cosmopolitan sound.

After graduating from the Humber College jazz program in 2001, where he studied under Pat LaBarbera and Don Thompson, Van Huffel headed for New York City.  He did a Master's Degree at the Manhattan School of Music, which he followed up with several years of gigging in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Now, he is based out of Berlin, Germany and loves it.

“The jazz scene is amazing," Van Huffel says of Berlin.  "It is very different.  As far as big jazz cities go I have lived about equal time in Toronto, New York and Berlin, and they each have tremendous offerings, but each one has a different thing to offer."

And Berlin offers up a lot of experimental music, perhaps the strongest experimental scene Van Huffel has yet experienced.

"Most music that I am doing, I know there are some people out there who find it tremendously avant garde some of my stuff, but in Berlin I am pretty much one of the jazzy guys," Van Huffel says in an interview with New City Notes.

Berlin bustles with musical innovation.

"There is a lot of sound improvisation in Berlin, a lot of musicians who are really focused on minimalist improv," Van Huffel says.  "There is also a lot of traditional jazz, and more the style that I am playing as well, but it's really a city that if you are willing it can really open your mind I think.”

Van Huffel revels in the German capital's history of free jazz.  The only similar scene in North America, he believes, is found in the Chicago where the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music is based. Ken Vandermark's free jazz is comparable to what's coming out of Berlin these days, Van Huffel says.

Germany is kind of the originating area where all really experiental jazz started to come out of, and there is a great tradition of it, and some really amazing players," Van Huffel says.  "I have had the chance to play with the older guys who kind of grew up in that scene.

"It's really fascinating to see how they approach their instruments, how they approach the idea of music, spontaneaity," Van Huffel says.  "It is really quite different from playing an improvised solo over a set amount of chord changes in a set form.”

Van Huffel came to Humber College with a head of full of Charlie Parker.  He has fond memories of the Toronto school for encouraging students to explore the music and push boundaries.

"I think Humber helped open my mind," Van Huffel says.  "Really great teachers there."

The alto-sax player Mark Promane was also a big influence on Van Huffel's musical education at Humber College.

"It was a very broad program, not only swing and be-bop based, but I got to play in a fusion ensemble for a few years, and really try a lot of different kinds of music, tremendously open-minded teachers and fellow students, so it was great," Van Huffel says.

The Manhattan School, he remembers, was much more tradition bound.  He made up for that by hitting as many clubs as possible, and hearing the wide array of jazz on offer in New York City.

"Especially once I finished my Master's Degree, I spent another four years living in New York after that, and developed my own band," Van Huffel says.  "I got to play with some really amazing people in all different styles related to jazz improvisation.  It was quite a mind opening experience.”

He lived in West Harlem at first, 152nd Street and Broadway, and then moved to Brooklyn, living in Park Slope and Propect Heights. Van Huffel  played the 55 Bar on Christopher St. and the Cornelia Street Cafe, both in the West Village. He played  the Tea Lounge on Union Street in Park Slope, and Barbes at 9th Street. and Sixth Ave, also in Park Slope.

“It is kind of like the local musicians' hang, at least it was when I was there," Van Huffel says of Barbes.  "Quite werll-known New Yorkers like Jim Black and Chris Speed, they are performing there, or used to be at least, all the time."

The financial demands of living in the resurgent neighbourhoods of Brooklyn and other opportunities in Europe convinced Van Huffel to leave New York City.  He had a Canada Council grant to study composition in Copenhagen.  He fell in love and married a French-speaking singer from Brussels, Sophie Tassignon.

He checked out the jazz scenes in Paris and Switzerland, but Berlin stole his mucial heart. New York had become tiring and expensive for Van Huffel.

"I just kind of hit a point where I felt I was teaching, and pardon the term, but busting-my-ass too much, outside of actually being a musician just to survive," Van Huffel says.

By contrast, culture-rich Berlin is the most affordable capital city in Europe.

“Gentrification is definitely taking over so rents and housing prices are creeping up fairly quickly," Van Huffel says of Berlin.  "Even in comparison to Toronto, comparison to New York, Paris, anywhere, it is still quite affordable.  Especially as far as going out in the evenings, going for a meal, going to see a concert, even buying groceries, things likie that, it is unbelievably cheap compared to other cites.”

The move is proving to be a good one for Van Huffel, who is going through an intensely productive period.

 "I have usually been releasing one CD every couple of years, but this year, I have released three now with my main projects and another one is about to come out, all totally different projects," Van Huffel says.

Boom Crane, which plays The Jazz Room this Friday, released a new CD on a Spanish label in June.  Van Huffel's other grou;p Gorilla Mask released a CD on a Portuguese label in May. And this past January, the band Van Huffel shares with his wife, House of Mirrors, put out a CD on a German label.  Then there is the Berlin Trio called Scrambling X that has a CD coming out on a British label in four to six weeks.

Different cities, different bands, different sounds and a raft of recordings.  The Jazz Room audience is in for something outside the mainstreams of contemporary jazz.

"I like people who surprise me and throw new sounds my way," Van Huffel says of his major influences, Charlie Parker, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Tim Burn, John Zorn and Anthony Braxton.

Joining Van Huffel on stage at The Jazz Room is Michael bates on bass and Jeff Davis on drums.

“Michael and Jeff were the bassist and drummer in my New York quintet, which I led for about five years when I lived there.  We did two records together and toured Canada quite a few times.  Over the last few years we have barely seen each other, but have made music each time we have, and that's kind of how this project got going," Van Huffel says.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Joe Sullivan's long apprenticeship pays off big time

WATERLOO ON., Oct. 21. 2014 --- When Joe Sullivan auditioned at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in 1982 the music he played changed his life and enriched jazz fans for the past generation.

On Saturday night, Sullivan and his quintet play The Jazz Room featuring songs from his latest CD, Whiskey Jack Waltz.  Sullivan is now among Canada's leading jazz composers, and will be joined on stage by Neil Swainson on bass, Lorne Lofsky on guitar, Andre White on drums and Kirk MacDonald on tenor sax.

The 56-year-old Sullivan is married, lives in Verdun just outside Montreal, teaches in the prestigious music program at McGill University, and is a prolific composer for big bands and small ensembles.  He has released seven highly-acclaimed CDs.

Not bad for a young man from Northern Ontario who spent years searching for his musical calling.

In 1982 Sullivan was competing for a place in the Berklee program that teaches composition for movie scores.  He always liked writing music, and he figured movie scores would be an interesting way to make a living with his trumpet. The audition was all about jazz and improvisation.

Sullivan did very well in the audition because he was placed in a class of advanced players, and he had to work very hard.

"I started to do a lot of playing, and I suddenly realized I really liked playing jazz trumpet, so I started practising it like a maniac," Sullivan says in an interview with New City Notes.

"And that's when I really started being interested in performing jazz trumpet," Sullivan says. "Before then I liked doing it, but I didn't see myself as being particularly good at it or advanced, and I really liked the writing way more, but at that point I kind of got the bug."

During his year at Berklee, Sullivan wrote a lot of music under the tutelage of a big-band writer and trumpet player named Greg Hopkins.  Sullivan took lessons from Hopkins, and wrote charts for him.

"He was really good for me," Sullivan says.

After that year at Berklee Sullivan returned to Montreal, and became a busy, gigging jazz musician.

"I did all kinds of stuff in Montreal.  I played with everybody.  I started my first quintet with a guy named Francois Theberge, he's pretty famous now," Sullivan says.  "It was great in those days. I had my own little quintet, started playing around with that.  Played in Montreal, played in Ottawa, played in Quebec City. All that stuff.  It was great.  It was really fun."

For years, ever since graduating from high school in his hometown of Timmins, Ontario, Sullivan searched for his place in the music world.  He was the second-oldest child in a large Franco-Ontarian family.  The first music Sullivan heard was his mother's singing.  She was part of a group called The Four Rasicots  Sullivan's uncle played piano and sang lead vocals, and Sullivan's mother and two aunts sang the harmonies.

The uncle was a bootlegger in the nearby village of Connaught, about 40 kilometres from Timmins. On bonus-pay days the gold miners from Timmins crowded the train to Connaught for a good time. There was a sawmill, a train station, a hotel and couple of dance halls.  Not much else. That's where Sullivan's mother was from, and that's where his parents met and fell in love.

The Four Rasicots played in the hotel and dance halls in Connaught, and in Timmins.  They played on the radio.  Sullivan's mother could not read music, and she was determined her children would, so everyone studied piano from an early age with a Grey Nun from the local convent.

In high school Sullivan played in rock bands and wrote a couple of musicals for the school's annual show.  The musicals toured around Northern Ontario, and the young Sullivan found he liked composing. He picked up the trumpet in Grade 11, and taught himself to play a little.

The son of a doctor, Sullivan did well in school and left Timmins to study at the University of Toronto.  He started working on a Bachelor's degree, taking a lot of political science courses.  Next to the U of T campus is the Ontario Conservatory of Music.  Sullivan wandered in there, and signed up for trumpet lessons with George Anderson.

"I sort of missed the music thing," Sullivan says.

He was also playing piano and doing arrangements for a woman who sang and recited poetry at different venues in and around Toronto.  He also went through a Llewyn Davis phase, writing and performing folk songs in bars, strumming a guitar.

"Cause I liked writing music."

After a year in Toronto, Sullivan decided to attend the University of Ottawa.  Most Franco-Ontarian students from Northern Ontario headed for the U of O, he had friends there, his younger brother was going there too. So he finished his degree at the University of Ottawa - an honour's bachelor of arts with a concentration in music, classical trumpet.

Sullivan hung around Ottawa for a year, teaching ear training classes at the university, and trying to figure out a way to make a living with his horn that did not involve playing classical music in an orchestra. That's when he decided on the Berklee program for writing movie scores. After a year in Boston, he was having a lot of fun playing on the Montreal scene.

That's where he met Charles Ellison and Kevin Dean.  Two phenomenal trumpet players and composers. They were a little older than Sullivan, and he looked up to them. And they were both university proffs.  So they could make a living playing jazz trumpet and teaching at the university without having to play in R&B bands, rock bands or classical orchestras to pay the bills.

Sullivan was playing in the Concordia big band under Ellison's direction.  Sullivan got to know a lot of musicians his age, including Francois Theberge - a tenor sax player and composer.

"Charles was really good to me. He was a great trumpet player and he helped me a lot.  He gave me some pointers.  I wrote some charts for that band to feature him.  He gave me some lessons, and then he started to send me to sub in the Vic Vogel Band."

Vic Vogel is a legend in the Montreal jazz scene.  In 1967 he started Le Jazz Big Band, and is credited with reviving the big band tradition in Quebec. Vogel is the only musicians to play 20 consecutive years on the stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival. In the early 1980s, Sullivan found himself regularly subbing in Vogel's band.

Sullivan knew he needed a Masteer's Degree if he were ever going to get a position teaching at a university.  So he headed for the New England Conservatory of Music, which has an international reputation for its excellent jazz program.

"It was perfect because I could already play pretty well, and I already had a lot of experience in writing.  So when I got there I was able to study with these really world-class individual artists like George Russell and George Carzone."

Carzone is a leading tenor sax player and composer of his generation. Among many of Carzone's other students are Joshua Redman and Bradford Marsalis. Russell was an Amercan jazz pianist, composer, teacher and theorist who taught a veritable who's-who of leading jazz artists. He died in 2009.

After studying under Carzone, Russell and others, Sullivan returned to Montreal where a teaching job at Concordia University was waiting for him. He met the love of his life while studying at the Conservatory, and was now married.  It was 1987.  After a couple of years he started teaching at McGill on contract - mainly composition and arranging.

In 1993, Sullivan landed a full-time job teaching at Vanier College in the CGEP system.  It was a good job, full-time, decent pay and benefits. He had time to compose and arrange his own music for his own bands. It was all jazz, all the time --- at school, on stage, in the studio.  It's what he wanted. After seven years, a tenure-track job came open at McGill, and Sullivan got it.

"I was hired to teach jazz composition and arranging. I teach trumpet as well.  But my principal role is to direct a big band and teach a graduate level writing course. I love the big  bands, it is such a beautiful thing."

While he loves big bands, Sullivan thought his trumpet playing started to slip.  Too much time directing, composing and arranging for big bands, and not enough playing in small ensembles.  So he formed a new quintet, wrote the music and put out another CD. He's found the perfect musical balance.

He regularly gigs in three Montreal clubs, the Diese Onze (French for Sharp 11th), The Upstairs and The Resonance Cafe. Beginning Thursday, Sullivan's quintet plays The Rex in Toronto for two nights.  Then he brings the band to The Jazz Room for Saturday night.

It is a rare privilege, he knows, to have the same band playing the same music, three nights in a row. So the Saturday night show at The Jazz Room will be extra special.

Monday 20 October 2014

Seats will be scarce when Big Band Theory hits the stage Friday

WATERLOO, ON., Oct.  20, 2014 --- A hard-driving, loud and joyous celebration of complex music comes Friday night to The Jazz Room with the return of Big Band Theory.

The Musical Director and Conductor, Robin Habermehl, wants you to know the group sounds nothing like the big bands of the swing era.

"We are talking big band jazz like Buddy Rich from the Seventies, Maynard Ferguson, stuff like that," Robin says in an interview with New City Notes. "So it's not a dance band."

This Kitchener-Waterloo based 18-member jazz orchestra includes several talented writers and arrangers. With help from the Waterloo Region Arts Fund, the band recorded a CD earlier this year during a concert at The Registry Theatre.

That recording, which was mastered by Rick Hutt of Cedar Tree Studios, includes the legendary Canadian jazz master Don Thompson on vibes.  The CD will be on sale Friday, and Big Band Theory will play the music from that CD during the show. It is all original and was written by band members Rob Gellner and Bruce Gordon, who both play trumpet. The Friday show will also include pieces by The Big Phat Band out of Los Angeles.

The show at The Jazz Room will have 17 musicians --- five trumpets, four trombones, four saxes, piano, bass, drums and guitar. The band usually has 18 members, but one can not make the show.

"So it gets a little exciting," Robin says.

Don Thompson is a recipient of the Order of Canada, and plays piano and bass in addition to vibes.  He has a long, long list of recording credits as both sideman and leader.  He toured with George Shearing for years, and played all of the famous venues in the U.S. with that great man, including Birdland and Carnegie Hall.

When Big Band Theory asked Don to play a show with them that would be recorded, Don agreed to provide a couple of charts, and do one rehearsal before the show.  Turns out Don was so impressed with the musicians in Big Band Theory, he did seven rehearsals and an extra show at Cameron Heights Collegiate in downtown Kitchener. Don drove in from Toronto for each of the dates.

"It's unbelievable the support we are getting ," Robin says.
Big Band Theory was formed three years ago out of a pool of busy, gigging musicians who wanted to maintain their music-reading skills.

"Everybody is saying: 'Oh man, we only play in trios and quartets, I don't read anymore. That is the hardest skill to keep going, your reading," Robin says. "So it's that ensemble to be able to play very difficult, complex music at lightning speeds and making it all work."

Big Band Theory rehearses every Sunday at the Waterloo Naval Association, and does an annual fundraiser for the venue in return. Don Thompson says he will come back to play that fundraiser with the band. Big Band Theory played the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival in July with Don Thompson on vibes, and last played The Jazz Room about a year ago to a sold-out house.

"The guys don't do this for money, this is passion.  We've got one guy who comes in from Mississauga, guys coming in from all over the place.  And everybody is loyal to it, it's unbelievable,  because there is nowhere else to play this kind of stuff."

Robin laughs about the last time big Band Theory played The Jazz Room.

"There is so much sound coming out of all these horns there are only three mics on stage just for soloists, 99 per cent of it is just acoustic," Robin says.  "People will sit three feet in front of us and say: 'Geez it's kind of loud.' I said: 'Well there are 18 guys up here. Like, what was your first clue?'"

In addition to conducting and singing, Robin plays tenor, alto, and soprano sax. The other sax plays are: Ken Hadley (flute, soprano, alto sax), Mark Laver (soprano, alto sax), Ryan Cassidy (tenor sax), Taylor Ellingham (baritone) and Tim Moher (alto).

The trumpet plays are: Bruce Gordon, Rob Gellner, Randy Brown, Chris Alcantara and Kevin Kalbfleisch. The four trombone players are Paul Ellingham, Ron Schirm, Robin Jessome and Steve Hagedorn.

The rhthym section: Andriy Tykhonov on piano, Andy Macpherson on drums, Greg Prior on bass and Stephen Zurakowsky on guitar.

The Jazz Room opens at 6:30 p.m. Friday. If you want a seat, get there early because the club will be packed with fans and jammed with waves of sound from blasting horns.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Haruka-Ettun Project from NYC plays two gigs in Waterloo this weekend

WATERLOO, ON., OCT. 15, 2014 ---  Ehud Ettun played the double bass and spoke Hebrew. Haruka Yabuno played piano and spoke Japanese. But the two classically-trained musicians instantly found a common language in jazz.

Ehud traveled from his home in Israel four years ago to do a Master's Degree in jazz at the New England Conservatory in Boston.  Haruka was coming from Japan to study jazz at the Berklee School of Music, also in Boston. Shortly after they both arrived a mutual friend organized a jam session, and the two met for the first time.

Musical sparks started flying during the first piece they played together, "Green Dolphin Street," and their musical collaboration was born.

"I think there was some kind of musical connection in that jam session," Ehud says in a telephone interview with New City Notes.  "So we had this musical click in Boston four years ago, and we have been playing together ever since."

On Saturday, Oct. 18, Haruka and Ehud play The Jazz Room.  They will play pieces from their CD, released in July, called "BiPolar." They will play some standards, and some jazz arrangements of Israeli and Japanese songs. On Sunday, Oct. 19, Ehud and Haruka play The Music Room on Young Street in Waterloo, featuring pieces of by Bach.

After finishing his jazz studies at the New England Conservatory, Ehud headed for the World Capital of Jazz --- New York City.  He lives in the South Bronx, and gigs regularly on the New York scene.  He plays Smalls, Cornelia Street Cafe, the Bar Next Door, Blue Note and Kitano. He loves playing the ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn too.

After playing the classical guitar for years Ehud picked up a double bass when he was 16. He studied at the Jerusalem Music Academy with Michael Klinghoffer.

"I had a very, very good classical bass teacher in Israel," Ehud says.  "Ironically, most of his students are jazz-based players."

The Israeli jazz musicians Avishai Cohen, Omar Avital and Gilad Abro all studied under Klinghoffer.  At the New England Conservatory, Ehud's teachers included Dave Holland and Donald Palma.

Ehud's first CD, "Heading North," featured seven original compositions.  Haruka played on that CD. So did Tal Gur on sax, Hatti Blankett on drums and Hagal Perets on guitar. The CD release party for his second recording, BiPolar, was held at the Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village in July.

Living and playing in New York City means Ehud is exposed to lots of different music.  He has several projects underway now.  In Waterloo this weekend we will hear the Yabuno-Ettun Project.

Ehud works with pianist Bert Seeger and his group The Why.  Ehud leads the Ehud Ettun Trio, which releases a CD soon, and the Boston-based Internal Compass Orchestra.

"There are some great, great musicians I am getting to play with," Ehud says.  "I am exposed to so much different music from so many different places.  I have a band with a Peruvian drummer, another band with an American saxophone player and an American drummer. Another band with Haruka, who is Japanese.  And just all of this together makes New York really, really special musically."

The show on Sunday in The Music Room is a return to their classical roots.

"We will be playing some of the Viola de Gamba Sonatas of Bach, which are pieces he wrote for the Viola de Gamba, which is an early version of the cello.  So Haruka and I both come from classical music backgrounds, but mostly working as jazz musicians.  So it was a very interesting journey for us to go back to the music of Bach and prepare for the concert.  We are very excited about this."

In addition to composing, performing and touring, Ehud runs his own recording label, Internal Compass Records.  Next year, Ehud plans to return to his native Israel for a while to set up an educational program.

"So all that together is going to keep me busy for a while," Ehud says.


Tuesday 14 October 2014

KOGGING Returns With Songs of Every Day Life.

WATERLOO, OCT. 14, 2014 --- In a small Dutch village near the German border a boy picked up a saxophone, and started a musical journey many years ago that brings him back to The Jazz Room on Friday, Oct. 17th.

The composer, lyricist and vocalist Norbert Kogging begins a six-city tour of Canada with his gig at The Jazz Room with a pocketful of new recordings from his latest CD, "Sketches of Ordinary Life."  The young Dutch jazz artist has a deep affinity for Canada and Canadians.

"You have a beautiful country and it really is a pleasure for us to travel around, so it's really beautiful," Norbert says in a telephone interview with New City Notes from his home in the Netherlands. "And you have beautiful venues, and the people are really warm, and they welcome the music very much, actually, that's the main reason."

After learning the alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, Norbert played in a big band in his home town. but he soon fell in love with the songs of Frank Sinatra. After discovering Old Blue Eyes, the horns stayed in their cases and Norbert learned to sing.

"I still like Sinatra a lot, but it's slightly different than what I do with my group, but it is one of the basics of where it came from for me."

Norbert did a Master's Degree in Jazz Vocals at the Conservatory of Amsterdam in 2009.  Part of his Conservatory studies included the Banff Centre's Creative Music Winter Residency.  Norbert has fond memories of working in a hut nestled among the peaks of the Rocky Mountains at the Banff Centre.

"You get up, you take your coffee, you go to your hut, you practice, you write, you do whatever you want to do there, but you just work, work your ass off, which I really, really liked and enjoyed,"  Norbert says. "It has been tremendously important for me."

He wrote several songs at the Banff Centre.  Back in Amsterdam he was drinking with his friend and pianist, Folkert Oosterbeek.  They decided to form a band, develop the songs Norbert wrote in Banff.  They signed up drummer Felix Shlarmann and bass player Tobias Nuboer. The quartet is called KOGGING,

The foursome returned to Banff and recorded the debut CD "Daydreaming." The first club they played afer recording that CD was Yardbird Suite in Edmonton. Norbert and his bandmates maintain a special affection for the Edmonton club, one of the longest-running jazz venues in North America. They will return to Yardbird Suite during the upcoming Canadian tour.

Norbert moved to Amsterdam years ago to study jazz at the Conservatory.  He loves the city, and its vibrant scene.  Earlier this month, the 33-year-old singer and composer moved his wife and one-year-old daughter to Harlem,  a very old and beautiful town 15 minutes by train from central Amsterdam.  They bought a house there.  Norbert rides the train in and out of the Amsterdam where he keeps a studio for teaching students, and reharsing with KOGGING inbetween gigs.

Folkert is his constant musical collaborator.  Norbert will write the words for a song, and have a melody in mind as well, before bringing the material to Folkert.

"We are good friends as well, so we work a lot together," Norbert says.  "I always come up with all the ideas, and when I get it to the point where I think it is good to work with somebody, a different look at it, then I go to Folkert."

KOGGING's second CD is intensely personal for Norbert.

"What I found important for now was that I just wrote about actually myself, and what kept me going for the last couple of years," Norbert says.

The birth of his daughter in 2013 was a big influence on the band's second CD.  As well, the influence of social media on our 21st Century lives, especially Facebook and Twitter, informs "Sketches of Ordinary Life."

"That was the whole, main theme of the CD," Norbert says.

KOGGING's music can be hard to label.  It is vocal jazz, for sure.  It is also influenced by indie, pop and singer-songwriters.  KOGGING calls the music "singer-songwriter jazz."

You can see at a glance how important non-profit jazz societies are becoming in Canada.  Four of the six gigs KOGGING plays on this visit will be hosted by jazz societies.

*  The Jazz Room (the Grand River Jazz Society) in Waterloo, Friday Oct. 17th.

*  The Rex Hotel and Jazz Bar in Toronto, Saturday  Oct. 18th.

*  The Avalanche Bar (Georgia Straight Jazz Society) Courtney, B.C., Thursday Oct. 23.

*  The Basement (Saskatoon Jazz  Society) Friday Oct. 24th.

*  The Yardbird Suite (Edmonton Jazz Society) Saturday Oct. 25tth.

*   The Arts Station, Fernie, BC, Oct. 26.

The latest CD features Michael Moore on alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet.  Unfortunately,  Michael will not be on this Canadian tour because of his busy schedule.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Sweet Sounds of Sweet Shadow

OCT. 8, 2014 --- After Pete Mills finishes teaching a class Wednesday morning on Duke Ellington the tenor- saxophonist chats about his coming show at The Jazz Room, marking a rare appearance in his home country.

"I have spent much of musical career in the U.S., teaching at various universities, and also performing," Mills says. "I am just grateful for the opportunity to play music, particularly back home."
The Saturday show at The Jazz Room follows wide-spread acclaim for his fourth and latest CD, Sweet Shadow.  ( It was recorded live in the now-closed Cellar in Vancouver.  That club was operated by the tenor-saxophonist Cory Weeds, who also played The Jazz Room twice in the past

Mills says he recorded Sweet Shadow on Cory's label, in part, because he wants to bring his music back to Canada more often.

"I was very excited about how the project turned out," Mill says. "The music turned out better than I deserve."

Mills made Sweet Shadow with Matt Wilson on drums, New York guitarist and composer Pete McCann, New York bassist Martin Wind and Columbus-based pianist Erik Augis. Mills is not bringing this group to The Jazz Room for the Saturday gig though.  He will be playing with first-call musicians familiar to club regulars, David Braid on piano, Ted Warren on drums, John Maharaj on bass.

"I have played with John Maharaj, actually in Michael Occhipiniti's band, recently here in the United States," Mills says.  "I have followed Ted's career and I have followed David Braid's career, and admired him from afar for many years.  I am so excited to play this music with them because they are fantastic."

Mills says he learns new things about his own music when he plays it with different musicians.

"New stuff happens, and it's always fun.  I think these guys are open, open to whatever happens in the moment, and that's the way I am trying to live my musical life these days," Mills says.

When the guitarist Pete McCann heard that Mills was coming to The Jazz Room, McCann praised the venue.

"He spoke highly and fondly of it as one of the greatest places to play," Mills says.  "I have caught wind of the The Jazz Room, and I have heard Ted Warren play many times, and I approached him recently with this project, and asked him if he would be interested in playing with me and interested in booking me."

The Guelph-based drummer Ted Warren is The Jazz Room's artistic director.

After growing up in Toronto, Mills attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. Coincidentally, Mills roomed with the local tenor saxophonist Dave Wiffen while studying in Rochester. Then Mills did graduate work at North Texas State.

These days, Mills lives in Columbus, Ohio and teaches jazz at Denison University, a small, private school. Mills plays in mid-western jazz clubs, and as a soloist and member of a big band called the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.  He also anchors a quartet that hosts a long-running jam night at the Park Street Tavern in Columbus.

Mills plays The Jazz Room on Saturday, and then it's over to Toronto to play The Rex on Sunday. He will visit his mother on Thanksgiving Monday, and then head back to Columbus for his weekly jam.  For 10 years his Columbus quartet hosted the weekly Tuesday-night jam at the Park Street Tavern.

"They are important," Mill says of jam sessions.  "They are a great opportunity to develop the sound of the band, and as important to share and learn from everyone else too."

Growing up in the North York section of Toronto, Mills studied saxophone with Peter Schofield and Pat LeBarbera, one of Mill's heroes.

Mills father was a huge jazz fan, and took young Pete to George's Spaghetti House to hear the great tenor saxophone player Scott Hamilton.

"I remember it vividly because my dad took me there for dinner," Mills says.  "We heard Scott play, and the next day was a Saturday morning and I got out my saxophone and I think I played in bedroom for three or four hours trying to figure out what was up."

Mills dad was a member of the Toronto Chapter of The Ellington Society. Ellington's music was played in the house a lot, along with Louis Armstrong.

"One of the things with this record, Sweet Shadow, in all my records now I  record something by Strayhorn.  In addition to Ellington, Strayhorn was my dad's favourite composer, Billy Strayhorn," Mill says.

Among Mills' most beloved possessions are three autograph books his dad owned.

"I have Louis Armstrong's autograph, James P. Johnson's, Fletcher Henderson Band from the Palais Royale dated in the 1940s. Yeah, it's nuts," Mills says.

His dad attended one of the most famous jazz concerts in history --- the 1953 Massey Hall show with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Bud Powell and Charles Mingus.  The recording of that show -- "The Quintet" -- is one of the best selling jazz records of all time.

"He was there, he went back stage, he told Bird how much he liked his tie, and Bird gave it to him," Mills says.  "Nobody remembers where the tie is, but I have Charlie's autograph from that evening. It's in pencil. It's in the autograph  book that also contains Louis Armstrong's autograph, James P. Johnson's.  And it says: 'I remain Charles Parker.'"

The Bird's autograph was photographed and included in the liner notes of Sweet Shadow, in part, as a tribute to Mill's dad.

"I'm proud of that," Mills says.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Legendary Jazz-Blues Pianist Johnny O'Neal Amazes and Charms

SUNDAY, OCT. 5, 2014 --- The legendary Johnny O'Neal plays the Yamaha C-7 piano that dominates The Jazz Room stage and breaks into a wide, toothy grin.

“This is a great piano,” the 57-year-old jazz master says.

The club is quiet.  There are just a few people around.  Johnny has arrived early for the gig.  He tries out the piano.  He chats with the sound engineer. In less than an hour O'Neal will give a performance that has some new fans weeping, others calling for a return engagement and everyone on their feet clapping and hooting.

Johnny played Art Tatum in the 2004 Ray Charles biopic -- Ray.  Johnny opened for Oscar Peterson at Carnegie Hall in 1985. In fact, it was Oscar Peterson who recommended Johnny for the role as Tatum. Simply put, Johnny is one of the world's best practitioners of mid-20th Century jazz piano technique. He does not read music, but has a repertoire of 1,500 songs.

Joining Johnny for the gig are Dave Young on bass and Terry Clarke on drums.  The trio just finished three nights at The Jazz Bistro in Toronto.  It is a wonderful, joyous re-union for the three.  In 1984 this trio cut a studio album in Detroit, Johnny's hometown, and a live album at one of the most famous jazz clubs in North America, Baker's Keyboard Lounge on the edge of the Motor City. They did not play together again until O'Neal's gigs in Toronto and Waterloo.

Now, three decades later they give a performance no one in the club will soon forget.  The show instantly became the stuff of Jazz Room lore.

O'Neal starts the show with “Put on a Happy Face.”  It is a rollicking, foot stomping performance.   Everyone is captivated before the first song is half done. 

“We don't have a planned set, so we don't know what we are going to play,” Johnny says.  “If you have any requests keep 'em to yourself.”

The rest of the first set: Too Close for Comfort, One Hundred Years From Today, Tomorrow Night, A Beautiful Friendship, L'il Darling, Saving All My Love for You, Come Back Baby Blues, My Ship, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, She Doesn't know, Deed I Do, Come Sunday, All of My Life and Please Don't Talk About Me When I am Gone.

In between songs O'Neal lays on charm as beautiful as the music.

“We are dedicating this to all the lovers out there, hope you enjoy,” O'Neal says as he introduces Saving All My Love for You.

Before finishing the first set with Come Sunday, O'Neal says: “I like this place. I'm going to come here every night.  I thank for you for being in Waterloo at The Jazz Room, you are wonderful people.”

After complimenting the audience, he praises the club.

“This is a great venue.  I play all over the world, and this is in the top five.  And this piano is great, I give it a 10,” O'Neal says.

The second set: I'm Born Again, Where Can I Go Without You?, On the Trail, Over Joyed, Homeboy Blues, Make Someone Happy. After a loud and long standing ovation, O'Neal played Night Mist Blues for an encore.

“I am over-joyed to be in The Jazz Room and hope to be back again soon,” O'Neal says.

While introducing Make Someone Happy, O'Neal says: “If you love life, life will love you back.  If you make someone happy, you will be happy too.”

O'Neal was born and raised in Detroit.  He first sang and played gospel in the Bethany Baptist Church.  He maintains connections to his hometown, playing the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2013.

The re-union of O'Neal with Young and Clarke was 30 years in the making. After making the two albums with Young and Clark in Detroit, O'Neal returned to New York City.  After arriving in New York in 1980 O'Neal made a name for himself playing int the bands of Art Blakey, Milt Jackson and Clark Terry.  In 1986 he was mugged outside his Harlem apartment, and he left New York.

He spent the next 25 years out of the spotlight, playing mostly in Detroit, Atlanta and St. Louis.

“I thought he was dead,” Clarke says as he sips a beer after the Sunday gig. “When I heard Johnny O'Neil was coming to Toronto to play, I thought it must be a younger relative of Johnny's. Not the Johnny we played with in the Eighties.”

Clarke moved to New York City in 1985 and stayed until 1999. He was there through the worst of the crack cocaine scourge.  The murder rate peaked in New York in 1990.  Clarke had no idea O'Neal had fled the violence, and the two never re-connected --- until last week in Toronto and Sunday in The Jazz Room.

In 1998 O'Neal contracted HIV.  He lost a lot of weight, but returned  to New York City four years ago.  With the help of friends he got his health back, regaining 40 pounds. Among those friend are Spike Wilner, the manager at Smalls in the West Village.  Last year, Wilner released a CD of O'Neal on the Live at Smalls label. It is O'Neal's first recording in a dozen years.

Every Saturday O'Neal plays a midnight gig in Smoke at 105 Street and Broadway. Every Sunday O'Neal plays a Smalls, the basement club on West 10th Street that has near-religious status in the West Village jazz scene.  Mondays O'Neal plays at Mezzrow, the new club Wilner opened last month just across 7th Ave from Smalls. This masterful artist is rebuilding his career one gig at a time.

The response of the audience to Sunday's show in The Jazz Room ensures O'Neal will play there again. It is just a matter of when.

“I had tears in my eyes,” Denise Baker, a local jazz singer, says of that show..

The Grand River Jazz Society wants to start a recording label called Live from The Jazz Room.  It would be great to issue a CD of O'Neal's show, and then give O'Neal the CDs to sell.  O'Neal could use the money to help pay for his medical expenses.