INTERVIEW: Kirk MacDonald – Canadian saxophonist, Juno Prize-winner (UK Debut, Pizza Pheasantry, EFG London Jazz Festival, 14/15 Nov)

Kirk MacDonald. Photo credit: Don Vickery

THE EFG London Jazz Festival brings artists to London who are rarely seen here. Canadian saxophonist KIRK MACDONALD, a revered figure in Canadian jazz is  – finally – making his UK debut. Sebastian interviewed him by email:

LondonJazz News: This is a rare trip to the UK – when was the last time you played here?

Kirk Macdonald: This will actually be my first appearance in the UK. I spend most of my time performing in Canada. I live in Toronto and perform regularly in the city, and throughout the country, I also do some touring abroad and hold a fulltime teaching position at Humber College in Toronto.

Kirk MacDonald with Harold Mabern

LJN: I believe you work regularly with pianist Harold Mabern?

KM: I have done a few tours recently with Harold in Canada, a combination of Quartet and duo performances and also a number of educational things. We also have worked together recently in New York at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center (on video). Harold and I will be out again on tour for about 10 days in March in Central and Eastern Canada.

LJN: And you lead  and run a big band?

KM: I do have a big band that is dedicated to performing my music. It’s more of a project oriented band than a regular working band. Most of the members are from Toronto but a few members are from different parts of Canada and the US so most of our performances have been around special concerts or in preparation for recordings. The book has grown to include over 35 of my compositions and I have a few great writer/arrangers (Joe Sullivan from Montreal and Terry Promane from Toronto) for the band who have really helped shape it’s sound over the past decade. We have just released our third CD “Common Ground” which features the arrangements of Joe Sullivan. Our first CD with the group ”Deep Shadows” received a Juno Nomination for Best Mainstream Jazz Recording in Canada a few years back.

LJN: And you have recently been winning awards – one for your most recent CD ?

KM: 2015 was a great year of recognition for me in Canada. I received the Juno Award for Best Jazz Recording by a Solo Artist in 2015 for my CD “Vista Obscura “ which features Harold Mabern , Neil Swainson, Andre White and Pat LaBarbera. That was my second Juno Award to go along with six nominations for other recordings I have done previously as a leader.

I also received an East Coast Music Award for Best Jazz Recording for my CD “Symmetry” which features Tom Harrell, Neil Swainson, Brian Dickinson and Dennis Mackrel. The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians Association and the SOCAN Award for Excellence in the genre of Jazz.

LJN:  When I hear you play on record or video I hear that powerful presence… the influence of Joe Henderson perhaps – or am I dreaming?

KM: I’ll take that as a compliment. Joe Henderson is one of the great exponents of the tenor saxophone and I love his playing and music. I have listened heavily to and have been influenced by so many great players and bands, as well as many things outside of music. Other saxophonists that I’ve listen to and admire are plentiful. I could really go on forever as there are so many great players who have graced this music and who’s music has touched me  in one way or another. I think when asked that question I always go back to my initial influences when I was first starting to play, in that context  the big three for me on the saxophone were Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins. All three  along with so many others have helped me find and shape my own conception and voice on the saxophone I’m eternally grateful for their contributions to music and humanity.

LJN: You knew Kenny Wheeler ?

  KM: I’ve had the honour of working with Kenny on a number of occasions. I believe the first time was in the early nineties in Toronto for the Toronto Jazz Festival. They brought Kenny over to perform his Suite Time Suite. The band was mostly Toronto players, with Joe LaBarbera on drums and Kenny brought over Norma Winstone , who as you know is one of the greatest singers out there and an integral part of Kenny’s music. There were also a few recordings and performances with the Maritime Jazz Orchestra “Sirens Song” and  “Now and Now Again” in the mid and late nineties with Kenny, Norma and John Taylor as the featured soloists. In in the intervening years a handful of performances here and there. It was through the recordings and performances with the Maritime jazz Orchestra that I met John Taylor .

LJN: John Taylor … tell more… 

KM: I had the good fortune of playing with John on a few tours that I had set up in Canada and the US shortly after the Maritime Jazz Orchestra recordings. The first one was in 2001 which was a combination of quartet and duo performances with Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke. During this tour we recorded a CD with the quartet for Justin Time records called “Pure and Simple”. John and I did another tour together in 2003, again a combination of duo and quartet performances. To this day I recall those experiences as real musical highlights for me. John Taylor was an absolutely brilliant musician, it saddened and shocked me greatly when I heard of his passing ,he was such a vital force.

LJN: Who are you bringing to London?

KM: I am performing with Duncan Hopkins who is a bassist living in Belgium but is Canadian and has lived in Toronto for close to twenty years, so we have played together over the years in a number of different situations most recently in Bremen at Jazz Ahead in the spring of this year.( Duncan has worked quite a bit in London with pianist Nikki Iles among others, and has done some teaching at the Royal Academy). Fabio Miano is a pianist who resides in Alicante Spain whom I have worked with many times over the past twenty years we have done numerous tours together throughout Spain. Both are great seasoned musicians with a wealth of experience.

LJN: What will be the repertoire ?

KM: We will be playing some of my original repertoire and standard repertoire as well. This will be a first time we will be playing as a group so come on out and witness history in the making. I’m really looking forward to performing at the Pizza Express.

LINKS: Tickets for November 14th and 15th
Kirk MacDonald website

Categories: miscellaneous

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