Steve Wallace shares the love
Posted by Steve Wallace

imageU of T Jazz faculty bassist Steve Wallace shares the love in the current issue of Whole Note Magazine, with a tribute to recently departed jazz greats Nancy Wilson and Urbie Green, and glowing reviews of some U of T Jazz students who have come across his radar.

READ THE ARTICLE ON THE WHOLE NOTE WEBSITE

The following is excerpted with permission from an article by Steve Wallace, published in Whole Note Magazine.

Arrivals

Losses are inevitable in jazz as in life, but are assuaged by the knowledge that jazz keeps looking forward and new talent continues to arrive. What follows is a cross-section profile of young musicians in the U of T jazz program who have impressed me lately, either from playing/working with them as a teacher or hearing them perform, or both. It is by no means complete (there are at least three other post-secondary jazz programs in our catchment area)! These are simply some I’ve grown aware of in the last few months, and they’re just beginning to emerge. We’ll begin with three young women.

Jenna Marie Pinard, vocalist:
Jenna hails from Montreal and at 25, is a little older than most U of students. She’s been performing since the age of seven and confesses to still having severe nerves before a performance, but one would never guess it. She has the gift of converting this anxiety into positive energy on stage. She has a big voice, a fearless delivery, an ebullient sense of rhythm and bubbles with humour, yet there is also an attractive introversion in her, as in a recent performance of her own ballad, Green Eyes. She has a flair for song-writing, both on her own and in collaboration with her close friend, pianist-singer Hannah Barstow.

Maddy (Madeleine) Ertel, trumpet:
Maddy, 20, hails from Kelowna, B.C and is in her third year. I’ve heard her several times now in a variety of ensembles and have been impressed by the following: first, her sound, which is clear and centred, a real brass sound; second, her concentration and composure: she’s always entirely focused on the music at hand, always plays with musicality. Most of all, she’s a thoughtful, lyrical player not given to technical display or running a bunch of notes, she means what she plays. She’s also very open to a number of styles without seeming to be beholden to any particular one.

Charlotte McAfee-Brunner, trombone:
There have been very few female trombonists in jazz and this continues even as there are more and more women entering the fray. Charlotte, just 18 and in her first year at U of T, may change this on the local scene, if not beyond. I heard her recently for the first time and it was immediately apparent that she is intimately acquainted with early jazz styles. It showed in her big, extroverted sound and blustery, gutsy delivery using plunger and mutes with a vocalism echoing trombonists of the 30s, yet she acquitted herself very well in this ensemble playing contemporary jazz. She’s from the Toronto area and learned to improvise while busking in a Dixieland band called The Eighth Street Orchestra. Best of all she’s something of a live wire who shows a natural joy in playing jazz. This cannot be taught and will serve her well in the future.

Next, three young pianists brimming with potential:

Anthony D’Alessandro:
Anthony, 21 and from Toronto, is a protégé of Mark Eisenman and he shares many of the older pianist’s virtues: a natural feeling for swing and groove, the blues vocabulary, and making a rhythm section happy with buoyant comping. He has a scintillating technique and a penchant for such feel-good pianists as Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly and Monty Alexander. He also has a knack for arranging tunes for a piano trio with attention to detail.

Noah Franche-Nolan:
Noah is 21, from Vancouver and in his third year. I’ve heard the name for a while now, but heard him recently for the first time at The Rex and was very impressed by his originality and abandon. He’s sturdily built and plays the piano with a crunchy percussiveness and physicality which recalls Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and the recently departed Randy Weston. He has plenty of technique but seems delighted to throw it all out the window in the pursuit of spontaneity. He’s also a gifted composer, as evidenced by his tune Hey Booboo, which also is redolent of Monk, without being derivative.

Ben Isenstein:
Ben, from Calgary, is 20 and also in third year. He’s in my small jazz ensemble and I’ve yet to hear him apart from playing with him, which provides a special window. He has radar ears, is a very quick study and has a stylistic openness ranging from Phineas Newborn to Chick Corea and more contemporary players. He also loves the blues and has real jazz time, which can’t be taught.

And two bassists to watch:

Evan Gratham:
Evan, 20, is from Vancouver and (conflict declared) a private student of mine. He already has a thorough enough technical grounding on the bass that you feed him raw information and it comes out sounding like music almost immediately. I recently heard him play an arrangement that involved playing Scrapple From the Apple at a brisk tempo but up a fifth in the key of C. He negotiated it so easily I wanted to cut off his hands. Enough said.

Leighton Harrell:
Leighton, 19, hails from North Carolina and is in second year. I heard him for the first time recently and he sounds like a bass player – rock-solid time and sound with a natural feel for groove and the blues. I was also impressed with his tune Cook Out, based on Sonny Rollins’ Doxy. He also delivered some effective bow work on a Dave Holland piece.

As a bassist, I pay particular attention to drummers; you sink or swim with them. One of the most heartening aspects of the local scene is the recent influx of talented young drummers, starting with, but by no means limited to, these three:

Nick Donovan:
Nick is 22 and in fourth year. He’s slightly built but powerful, and extremely versatile in his approach. I’ve heard him play very musically with everything from straight-ahead piano trios to larger scale ensembles playing ambitious music.

Jacob Slous:
Jacob is 19 and in second year; he comes from Toronto but his family also spent some time in New York. I played with him in my ensemble last year and was impressed, but he has only improved since then, very strong in a small group or a big band, and he’s a talented composer to boot.

Keith Barstow:
Keith, the younger brother of the aforementioned Hannah Barstow, is 19 and from Napanee. Already at a professional level, he’s a very serious, contained player with no flies on him, meaning he gets the time off the ground straight away.

I used to worry about where all this young talent will play and whether they’ll be able to make a living, but not so much anymore. For one thing, that’s out of my hands. Having made the commitment to pursue jazz, all I can do is support them and make people more aware of them, as here. But more importantly, I’ve come to recognize that these are smart, dedicated, resourceful young people. I have faith that they’ll figure it out just like I had to, so long ago.

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