"who got me into jazz...?"
Transcription from "The Mozart Countdown", aired on CBC Radio 2, Jan 28 2006.
"I was driving in a 1988 Chrystler K-Car enroute to the little part-time job I had in High School. I was 16. It was 1991 and the 200 hundredth anniversary of Mozart's death so although there were tributes going on all around me, I was oblivious because I had no real affinity to any style of music at that time. I was driving east along Fennell Avenue in Hamilton approaching Upper Wentworth. I remember reaching over to turn on the radio. The first thing I heard was an announcer on a show called 'Morning Mozart' talking about how the station would broadcast the composer's complete works throughout the year. I'm certain there was no introduction to the composition he played next because I would have remembered the name of the piece at such a critical moment in my life. I must have been hardwired to be so profoundly moved by the sounds that followed. When the music started, I felt like I was struck by a lightening bolt! I had no understanding about what I was listening to, let alone why I found it so compelling... all I remember feeling was 'this is the greatest music i have ever heard in my entire life!'
The following day I went directly to the Public Library to max out my card with his scores... I found Symphonies, Concertos, Sonatas, Operas, the Requiem... I didn't know what any of those words meant, I remember wondering what the heck was a Di-ver-ti-men-to........ but I left none behind. Stretched plastic bags overstuffed with scores didn't slow me down as I rushed home on the Sanatorium express busline. With my rusty piano hands and elevated pulse, I began plucking through the scores, line by line. It was wonderful how every line or instrumental part in the score could stand alone as an independent melody. I couldn't get enough of it... so I even tried singing the Opera parts. Each piece struck me as so incredibly ingenious. I couldn't find a work that didn't amaze me in how perfectly balanced all the materials of the composition were laid out - like this artist had discovered an algorithm to turn out music with the perfect ratio between tension and release. I found particular joy in the way Mozart finessed his way through different keys centers so easily.. modulations were so melodic, it made me laugh out loud. So my 16 year old life took on an eccentric twist. I couldn't get enough of this guy: I taped every program of Morning Mozart, I looked at books, letters, photocopied pictures, made many more trips to the library, and watched the movie Amadeus at least 300 times. I even tried to get my high school friends into him, in fact, another pinnacle moment was Dec 5, 1991: through a snowstorm, I traveled to Toronto for the first time to hear the Mozart Requiem at Roy Thompson Hall. It was one of the first times I heard a live orchestra. I sat really close. The audience was still but i was in absolute ecstacy... to experience the beauty of this music live for the first time, superimposed by the company of two gorgeous girls I convinced to come with me was a great moment in my teenage adolescence. But most of all, more than enjoying the snowy trip home with a sweet girl in each arm, I desired more to write music that sounded like Mozart's music.
So I tried.
Being completely unstudied at composition, I had no idea how to start or what to do... so I just played and wrote whatever came to mind and hoped for the best. Unbenownst to me, this process was my entry into the jazz world.
I would stuff my so-called compositions into my gym bag and bring them to school. I discovered a loft above the stage at my old High School music room where I would retreat every lunch hour to work.
I'm certain that my high school music teacher, Ron Palangio, must have thought I was completely out of my mind. About a year later, he said to me, "if you like composing music, you should play jazz because you improvise in jazz - as if you're composing on the spot." I think that was the first time I heard the word 'jazz', and to be honest, I really didn't know what 'improvise' meant either... But the concept of 'improvisation as spontaneous composition' had a fundamental impact on me and effects the style of jazz I play today.
I often get asked the question.. "who first got you into jazz?" While many people might say, my father's record collection, or hearing a classic jazz album for the first time, my honest answer is "Mozart got me into jazz" which makes this anniversary of Mozart's birth, sort of an anniversary for me too."