February 26, 2004

Everybody Digs David Braid: Jazz Pianist Wows Canadian Audiences

By Don Griffith, Planet S Magazine

Canada's hottest young jazz musician doesn't watch TV.

In fact, David Braid spends so much of his time practicing and performing, he doesn't even own a television. And forget about watching hockey. Even though he's based in Toronto, the last time the jazz pianist watched a Leaf's game was in 1983.

David Braid lives and breathes jazz.

Thanks to his strong work ethic and talent, Braid has become the fastest rising star to appear in Toronto's thriving jazz scene in years and is in constant demand both as a sideman and as a lead musician. He's been featured in the influential magazine Jazz Report  and on CBC Radio's JazzBeat.  Even jazz heavyweights Rob McConnell and Wynton Marsalis have made a point to check out Braid's live gigs. He's also earned accolades from his work as a composer.

In fact, noted jazz biographer Gene Lees was so impressed with Braid's work that he agreed to write the liner notes for Braid's first CD for free and said "if (noted jazz pianist) Bill Evans were alive, I'd send Braid's CD to him." At last year's National Jazz Awards, his sextet was nominated for Best Acoustic Jazz Ensemble as well as Best Pianist and Best Composer.

So, what is it about David Braid that has everybody talking? Or, to adapt the title of a Bill Evans recording: why is it that "Everybody digs David Braid"? In a recent interview from his Toronto home, a relaxed and gracious Braid offered some insight into the reasons behind his success.

Humble Beginnings,
Braid didn't come from a family of musicial prodigies. In fact, he says "My mother had one piano lesson from a nun who told her not to come back for anymore piano lessons." However, at an early age his parents suspected their son possessed some great musical skill and sent him to a piano teacher to see just how gifted he was. The teacher was impressed and at the tender age of three and a half, Braid began piano lessons.

Things were progressing nicely until he turned eleven, when Braid's piano teacher began insisting that he play exactly what was written on the page. Believing that demand to include emotion, he promptly quite piano lessons. That could have been the end of his musical career, had it not been for a local classical radio station's decision to mark the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death by playing the composer's music every morning. Braid says he was "completely blown away by (Mozart's) creativity and perfection of expression." The sixteen-year-old Braid found it difficult to resit the daily dose of the master's music, and eventually started checking out Mozart scores from the library. He began studying piano again - this time with another teacher.

Braid would have remained a classically trained pianist had it not been for his high school music teacher and his association with a local youth jazz band where he learned some jazz chords and borrowed some recordings. He was soon hooked on jazz's spontaneity and musical freedom.

After 2 years of hard work, Braid was accepted on a full scholarship to the University of Toronto's jazz program. However, he soon discovered that his classmates were much more experienced than he was. "The fact that I got into U of T was nothing short of a miracle, because I was really underdeveloped," he says.

It soon became clear to Braid that if he was going to have a career, he would have to work incredibly hard. Braid began to practice as much as eight hours a day and had no social life for four years. His practice regiment paid off and he graduated magna cum laude  and was nominated for the Goverenor General's medal by the faculty of music.

Then and Now
Five years into his professional career, Braid shows no sign of easing up on his strict practice regimen. A typical day for David Braid generally consists of: practice, breakfast, practice, lunch, one hour to take care of music business, practice, dinner with his wife, practice, and a late night walk!

Braid says his relentless practice schedule flows from his respect for the musical greats of the past. When asked which CDs he would take if stranded on a desert island, Braid chose a recording of Mozart's Requiem Mass and anything by jazz piano virtuoso Art Tatum.

Another reason for Braid's single-minded focus on his craft is the respect he has for the members of his sextet. While Mike Murley, Steve Wallace, Gene Smith, and John MacLeod are all award winning Canadian jazz icons, drummer Terry Clarke is the true superstar of the group. Clarke has had a long and distinguished career with such greats as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Gary Burton, Cleo Laine, the Boss Brass, Gil Evans, and Jim Hall.

Braid says playing with older musicians is never an issue. "They're pretty young at heart. You don't really notice the age difference. In fact, they always refer to me as the most mature guy in the band!"

VIVID: The David Braid Sextet LIVE
Braid just released his second CD, VIVID: The David Braid Sextet Live, recorded during a gig at the Top 'O The Senator in Toronto last March. It's a great disc. The ensemble playing is tight, the solos are all excellent, and it's obvious that the players are enjoying themselves.

However, the most impressive thing about the CD is Braid's carefully crafted compositions. These aren't just 16 or 32 bar tunes acting as springboards to solos. His compositions are intelligent, lyrical, and beautiful. The arrangements are both complex and accessible. In fact, contrast seems to be one of his greatest compositional strengths. Just when you think finally got him figured out, Braid takes off in another direction.

As the interview came to a close, I asked Braid to imagine that the captain of a cruise ship has offered to rescue him from his desert island if he'll agree to play piano in the ship's lounge band. His instant reply was, "Forget it! I have my Mozart and Art Tatum CDs... I'll wait for the next boat."