Edited broadcast from CBC's "Mozart Countdown"

Original Air date January 2006 on CBC Radio 2

Q – This year is the 250th Anniversary of Mozart’s birth. You’ve said “Mozart got you into jazz”, tell us how.

A - To answer that, let's first go back to 1991, the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death - not an event on any normal teenager’s calendar, certainly not mine!  But that changed one Saturday morning driving my little car to work.  I was listening to a radio program called “Morning Mozart”  broadcasting the composer's complete works throughout that anniversary year.  Only half listening, I missed the name of the piece that came on, a pity since that music by Mozart effectively altered the course of my future.  I guess some people like myself are just hardwired to be ignited when certain factors collide, what else could explain a profound shift in a 16-year-old’s interests listening to centuries old music through crappy Chrysler K-Car speakers.  Compelled to immerse myself again in that sublime experience the next day, I went directly to the Hamilton Public Library and maxed out my card with as many musical scores and cassette tapes that my stretchy A&P plastic bags could hold before bursting. I still remember my elevated pulse waiting for the 33-Sanitorium bus, I had to get home to the piano!

I hadn't really played the piano much since my mother allowed me to stop taking lessons from a psycho piano teacher I studied with from ages 3 to 12 - but now, the piano was the essential tool for investigating Mozart's design methods for musical expression.  However, the non-stop deconstruction of his music in the family living room quickly became problematic for the household so my mother's preferred punishment became forbidding me from the piano.  I made Mozart mix-tapes and watched the film “Amadeus” a lot during those periods. 

I was so enthusiastic about Mozart I even tried persuading some classmates to get into him.  For example, another pinnacle moment was December 5, 1991 – through snowy weather I travelled to Toronto to hear the Mozart Requiem. It was the first time I sat in front of a live orchestra and choir. I clearly remember the contrast between the exterior stillness of the audience against my own interior ecstasy exploding from my seat – that very special quiet intensity, superimposed by the company of two gorgeous girls I convinced to come with me was a great moment in my teenage years.

I left that concert hall joyfully kicking through the snow with my two friends, but fully aware internally that I was now in pursuit of a future as a music maker.

My first steps towards that future didn't involve formal training, probably because of PTSD from my first psycho-piano teacher, and, I'm mostly an autodidact.  So instead of lessons I got myself to Ann(e) Foster's Music Store to buy the largest wad of manuscript paper that would still fit into my high school gym bag. Most high school lunch hours I retreated to this cool loft space I discovered above the music room at the old St. Thomas More building on East 5th Street. I started filling in those manuscript papers with pseudo, Mozart-like material.  Deep down I knew the music probably didn’t work but still, the mere act of mimicking and failing seemed both necessary and pleasing. I sensed I was doing something of personal significance so before leaving that building forever, I hid a 10-cent coin in one of the rafters above the entrance to the loft.  I expect it’s still there.

My high school music teacher, Ron Palangio, a jazz guitarist, noticed my unusual interests and eventually said: "Braid... if you like composing, you should play jazz because you can just improvise... that’s like... composing on the spot..."  Until that moment, I hadn't thought about improvisation since my psycho-piano teacher attacked my wrists with her ruler when I apparently improvised in my lessons.  How exciting - Palangio's suggestion was a short-cut into music making so for better or worse, I leapt towards jazz.

To circle back to the original question, how did Mozart get me into jazz His work provided a crystal clear view into perfectly designed music where I could easily extract materials to build with... and the jazz world provided the quickest platform to just start building.   For this reason, I say it was really Mozart that got me into jazz and that makes today, the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, sort of a birth anniversary for me too.

Mozart and David Braid