The world needs more Canada, as the saying has it. The May 2022 European tour by the seven-piece Canadian Jazz Collective will give a rare opportunity to hear seven of Canada’s top jazz musicians in an exciting new venture. They span the generations and between them have won multiple awards and worked with everyone from Oscar Peterson to Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor. Their gig at Ronnie Scott’s (11 May) concludes this European Tour, which will also take in a recording session at the MPS Studios in the Black Forest. Preview by Alison Bentley.
This new 7-piece band is made up of three leaders who are both composers and performers. “Derrick Gardner (trumpet), Lorne Lofsky (guitar) and myself are all represented by Judith Humenick,” says saxophonist Kirk MacDonald. “She had the idea of putting the three of us together with a group to bring us to Europe. I’ve been working with Lorne for well over 40 years and I’ve had the opportunity to work with Derrick over a number of years, so the idea was very well received by all of us – there’s a bit of a mutual admiration society going on! We all are composers so welcomed the opportunity to put this together and form a collective.”
MacDonald has worked with a Who’s Who of jazz musicians, from Rosemary Clooney to Ben Monder. “I’ve had the chance to work with Kenny Wheeler quite a bit over here in Canada and we’ve done a few records together. Kenny was a huge influence on many of the musicians in Canada in my generation – I certainly regard him as a major influence on my composition. Through Kenny I met John Taylor and we did some tours together. Someone else I did a lot of work with over the last six or seven years was Harold Mabern, and I’ve also had a long association with the great saxophonist Pat LaBarbera who was just recently honoured as a Canadian Jazz Master.”
His enthusiasm for his fellow band members is palpable. “Lorne Lofsky is one of Canada’s great guitarists. I suppose one of his most high profile gigs was working with the Oscar Peterson quartet for a number of years. He’s worked with a lot of really legendary players and recorded and performed with Chet Baker.
“I first heard Derrick Gardner with the Count Basie band – he was one of the really outstanding soloists to my ears. He was also part of the Harry Connick band for a long time.” He has his own big band as well.
“Neil Swainson is just a world class great bassist – he spent almost 20 years working with George Shearing’s groups, and he also spent a lot of time with Woody Shaw back in the 80s and 90s. Drummer Bernd Reiter is our European connection, and he spends his time between Paris and Austria. I first met him working in Italy with Harold Mabern and Eric Alexander. I’m so happy he’s joining us. Brian Dickinson is a fantastic pianist – somebody else I’ve been working with for about 40 years. He also played with Kenny Wheeler quite a bit over the years, and he’s done some fantastic work of his own as a great composer. My daughter Virginia MacDonald is a phenomenon on the clarinet – she’s really coming into her own and making a name for herself, and she recently won the International Clarinetist Corona Competition. We also have a project together called the Generations Quartet, and she leads groups of her own.”
MacDonald feels there’s a strong connection in jazz between composing and performing and all the band members are accomplished in both, though they’ll focus on the compositions of the three leaders – “a meeting place for great musicians.”
“One helps shape the other. I think of people like John Coltrane, who wrote specifically with their own playing in mind, but also people like Cedar Walton, Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and even going back to the bebop players – Charlie Parker and Bud Powell were writing their own lines on existing standards. So it’s a way of continuing to have the language evolve.” He’s arranged some of his own pieces for this particular tour. “I really had to think about what colours to use; thinking about registers of instruments, what’s going to speak in a live situation…I just really thought about it with the players in mind and how the voices are going to speak in the ensemble.
“I think that all of us approach composition with certain flexibility so we know that the compositions work. It’s a nice balance both compositionally and instrumentally – it’s a great group of musicians and all are capable of going in a number of different directions musically. I think the chemistry is going to be really quite beautiful.”
In the middle of the tour, the band will be recording at the iconic MPS studios in the Black Forest, and the Ronnie’s gig is the final date. MacDonald says: “We’ll be putting our best foot forward for sure – save the best for last!”
4 May Duc des Lombards Paris, France
5 May Canadian Cultural Centre Paris¸ France
6 May Birdland Jazz Club Neuburg, Germany
7 May Villingen Jazz Club Villingen, Germany
8 May MPS Studio- Recording Session Villingen, Germany
9 May Jazzland Vienna, Austria
10 May Jazzland Vienna, Austria
11 May Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club London, UK
Interview with Ronnie Scott’s Radio to be broadcast on 6 May
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LINK: Ronnie Scott’s Bookings