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.”

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