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. (

"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 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.”

Sunday 2 November 2014

Petr Cancura and Down Home amaze fans in The Jazz Room

WATERLOO ON., Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014 --- Brian Drye operates IBEAM Brooklyn when he's not playing trombone and piano in Petr Cancura's award-winning quintet, Down Home, so he knows something about audiences.

"I think it's going to be hard to beat this," Drye says after the show Saturday night in The Jazz Room that sparked a long-and-loud standing ovation.

A live jazz show is a two-way street where musicians and audiences must come together to make the magic happen.  And it happened in a big way in the little club on Saturday.  Hard to say who was more amazed, the musicians or the audience.

Drye says even the audiences in Brooklyn, where the band is based, are are not as appreciative as their new-found fans in The Jazz Room.

As the director of IBEAM, Drye oversees the performance, rehearsal and teaching space in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn for established and emerging artists.  The organization aims to create a community of musicians, educators and students based out of the space at 168 7th St in Brooklyn . It is outfitted with a Schimmel Concert Grand Piano, a vintage set of Gretsch drums and a state of the art sound system.

It sounds a lot like The Jazz Room, which has created a tight and growing community of artists, fans and music students that gather twice a week in the club to hear live shows, and attend Saturday workshops to learm from some of the best jazz musicians playing today - Loren Lofsky, Matt Brubeck, Ingid Jenson, among others.  The next workshop is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 15th with the Torontlo-based sax player and composer Tara Davidson. 

The standing ovation on Saturday was only the fourth one in The Jazz Room since it opened more than three years ago. Cancura's band now keeps company with the Spike Wilner Trio (based out of Smalls in the West Village), and Johnny O'Neil (also New York based) in getting The Jazz Room fans on their feet clapping and hollering for more.

Cancura played tenor sax and banjo, Richie Barshay played drums, Garth Stevenson played bass and Kirk Knuffke played coronet during three sets that trawled the deep-wide river of America's music, fusing Mississippi blues, the second lines of New Orleans and urban jazz. Cancura wrote all the music for Down Home, which won Jazz Recording of the Year at the Independent Music Awards and was nominated for a Juno Award.

Nobody in The Jazz Room on Saturday ever heard anything quite like the music Cancura wrote for Down Home.  Cancura's stories behind the music took the audience to the Otha Turner Family Goat Roast and Picnic in Senatobia Country, Mississippi.  It was August 2010, the cops sold booze in that dry county.  Goat meat roasted on the barbecues and loaves of Wonder Bread were on hand for making sandwiches.  Blues musicians from the Mississippi Delta and the Hill Country played on the back of a flat-bed truck. The sounds took Cancura back to his musical roots in Eastern Europe -- gypsy jazz.

"We have really enjoyed playing The Jazz Room, thank you so much, you have been a great audience," Cancura says near the end of Saturday's show.  "We would love to come back."

And the club would love to have them back.

The band was fresh from a gig and workshop at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and Saturday's show in The Jazz Room was the second stop on its Canadian tour.  Drye says he's crossed Canada several times with Cancura in the past, and never had a reception like the one at The Jazz Room on Saturday.  Today, the band plays The Rex Hotel, that yappy bar on Queen Street West in Toronto where world-class jazz competes with loud-mouth patrons to be heard.

Cancura and Down Home also play the Ironworks in Vancouver Nov. 6th, the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton Nov. 7th, and Jazz YYC Canadian Jazz Festival in Calgary Nov. 9th.  Western Canadian jazz fans are in for a special treat.  Do not miss this band if it plays anwhere near you. It is a musical phenom like no other that is bound for something very, very special.