The TD Edmonton International Jazz Festival swings into shape with some fantastic local and global acts
By Liam Newbigging | June 28, 2023
We reached out to some local acts performing at this year’s Jazz Festival and asked them about their work, their sounds, and who they’re most excited to see this year. We also got a hold of Reid Anderson from the American jazz quartet, The Bad Plus, who answered some of our burning questions.
What do you guys like most about playing in a quartet? Not being a trio.
What are your favourite venues to play and why? Anywhere where the audience is engaged and listening and the sound is good.
What are you most looking forward to about the Edmonton Jazz Festival? Going to the beach and watching the sunset.
What piece of advice would you give to an upcoming jazz musician? Be authentic and use your imagination.
What can we expect at your performance? Lots of pyrotechnics and lasers.
If you had to describe your sound in one sentence, what would it be? Our sound.
Who: Jacob Do
With: Jacob Do Quartet
When and Where: July 1 Chateau Lacombe’s JazzClub
How did you first get started with music? I studied classical piano for about 10 years, from the age of four. Although that’s not the route I decided to pursue, it was during that time that I fell in love with practicing and also learned a deep appreciation for different types of music. I’m grateful to my parents for making me learn an instrument from a young age!
How would you describe your sound? That’s always a difficult question for a saxophone player! Of course, I have an ideal sound I hear in my head that I am constantly working towards. In my opinion, sound is the most important aspect of music — it’s the first thing someone hears when they walk into the room. I have found that my sound has continued to change throughout the years, but one thing that I hope has remained constant is a sense of human connection. As long as my sound helps tell a story or convey an emotion, I’m happy.
Which international act are you most excited to see this year? Why? In true jazz-fan fashion, I’m definitely most excited to hear the Emmet Cohen Trio. His connection to the tradition of Black American Music is so distinctly clear in his sound, yet he has his own clear identity in the music. His music is just so swinging!
Are there any connections between playing saxophone and rock climbing? That’s a great question for some of my peers, who are both exceptional musicians and impressive rock climbers. I would definitely consider myself a hobbyist when it comes to climbing, only going a couple times a month. However, in my little experience, a connection I can draw between the two are learning the basic moves and then finding new, creative ways to solve climbing problems (breaking the beta, as we call it!). In jazz, it’s a lot like studying the tradition and then taking what you’ve learned to craft your own unique improvised solos.
You spent some time in Montreal recently — how has that impacted your music? That’s right, I completed my degree in April 2021 at McGill University. Although I spent the last year online, it was definitely one of the most enriching musical periods of my life. I learned so much not only from my mentors and teachers but a great amount from the peers who I was so privileged to study alongside. Montreal has a deep appreciation for the arts, and being there gave me plenty of opportunities to write, arrange and perform my own music with some really fantastic musicians. I’m fortunate to have used that period of my life to experience being an original artist, and I continue to use what I learned in my career today. I still visit a couple of times a year and participate in some musical projects. I miss Montreal a lot!
Who: Ethan Tonack
When and Where: June 29 at Chateau Lacombe’s JazzClub
How did you first get started with music? My parents both listened to a bunch of eclectic music at home. I started taking piano lessons as a kid. Then a little later, I got a guitar, and some lessons on that. And I took band class as an option at school. I feel lucky I had many great teachers who helped guide me to begin making my own music.
How would you describe your sound? We’re playing original pieces. It’s all instrumental music, and it features some riffs and some improvisation. Writing it, my inspiration was both rock and jazz stuff. So it might sound a bit like Fugazi and a bit like Charlie Parker — if I’m lucky.
Which international act are you most excited to see this year? Why? I really love The Bad Plus. Actually, I have seen them in Edmonton before, but since then, they have evolved from a trio with piano to a quartet with guitar. And I’m a sucker for guitar.
Can you tell me about the Blue Chair Café and its role in the Edmonton jazz scene? The Blue Chair is a really excellent venue. It’s great to have a place like that in Edmonton, with music most nights, year-round. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to perform at a venue like that.
Your group is called Whiling. What does that name mean and where did it come from? The literal meaning is just “to pass away the time.” I’d like to leave that open to some interpretation. And besides the literal meaning, I like the sound of the word when you say it aloud.
Who: Alex Moxon
With: Alex Moxon Quartet
When and Where: June 30 at Chateau Lacombe’s Jazz Club
How did you first get started with music? I come from a musical family — my father is a drummer, so he got me started early. There were always musical instruments lying around the house and great music on the stereo — all kinds of music. There were really no barriers.
I don’t remember exactly how or when it began, but I was young, and I think I just absorbed everything going on around me and it went from there. When I got to high school I had a number of friends who were into playing jazz, which is maybe the most communal form of music that I’m aware of. Playing with them established a core social dynamic to it all, driven by the people I was playing with, and which still sticks with me to this day.
How would you describe your sound? I feel I should answer this in two ways — broadly and specifically.
Broadly: I have been shaped by playing a bit of everything over the years as a sideman, jazz, blues, rock, classical, dub, funk, folk, hip hop, electronica, Cuban styles, Brazilian styles, klezmer, etc… and this has all made a mark. I would never claim to be the most authentic player of some of these styles, but my mindset in writing and playing draws from this sweep of forms and cultural mindsets that I have been lucky enough to have participated in. I definitely play more jazz (whatever that means in the 21st century) than anything else, but I don’t feel obliged to conform to the stylistic expectations of one style of music or another. Music is all one big thing to me.
More specifically, though, in the music that I write and perform, rhythm and pocket are backbone elements. It needs to feel good, as a first principle. I like to combine elements that are fixed with elements that are wide open. I hate the postmodernist tendency to create art that comments directly on other art. I think that is a dead end and is not something I deal in whatsoever— I prefer to make music that explores and (ideally) enriches the human experience. Since 2018 I have been making a conscious effort to write music that avoids traditional harmonic movement but gives off a feeling of joyfulness and tells a story with a narrative arc of brightening and uplifting. The band interprets the course that I write in its own way. The album I’m currently writing centres directly around this approach.
Which international act are you most excited to see this year? Why? Probably The Bad Plus. I got into their records when I was in high school. Because they were mining contemporary tunes and refracting them into jazz, I found them to be an easy “in” to this style of music. They didn’t pull any punches either, those records are pretty heavy, and they hold up on repeat listens years later.
A point of interest about this year’s concert is that they have a relatively new lineup — the original pianist Ethan Iverson is gone, and the band has been filled out as of late by Ben Monder and Chris Cheek (monster musicians both). Ben is a guitarist who I’m always eager to check out, and I am curious to hear him play in this context with these musicians.
You got your start with music in Ottawa — how has the Edmonton scene been different? I’d say there are definitely some things that are lateral. The size of the scenes seems to be more or less the same (modest relative to hubs like NYC, Toronto, LA, Paris etc), and there are world-class players in both. It does seem to me that there are more robust niches in Edmonton — people who make a good living specializing in just one genre or another. Some people play jazz exclusively, pop exclusively, country exclusively, gospel exclusively, and so on. In Ottawa, I’m more used to more cross-pollination between music scenes and players who wear a lot of hats, so to speak. I don’t think this is a good or a bad thing — just a factoid I’ve noticed.
What is your favourite thing to do in Edmonton? Eating while driving across town? Well, maybe that’s just my newest hobby that I seem to be practicing every other day. Playing music? That’d be true regardless of where I am in the world.
In Edmonton, lately, I have been pouring a lot of time and energy into a new weekly Thursday night series I’m running at The Commercial with an all-star band. We call ourselves The Strathcona Royales, and we are doing a mix of instrumental and vocal tunes in the RnB and Soul direction. We started in May with a tribute to The Meters, playing the albums The Meters and Look Ka Py Py. In June, we’ve explored the music of Stevie Wonder. Each month we rotate the guest artist. In July, we’ll be doing two sets of the music of Tina Turner featuring the excellent and powerful Riwo Egor, with an opening instrumental set by the house band.