Polaris performer prepped by Conservatory pro

Violinist Jesse Zubot is a former student of Bill van der Sloot. His live performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Polaris Music Prize gala is turning heads. Photo: Victoria Johnson
Violinist Jesse Zubot is a former student of the Conservatory’s Bill van der Sloot. The noted improviser’s live performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Polaris Music Prize gala is turning heads. Photo: Victoria Johnson

People are still talking about Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s Polaris Music Prize gala performance last week. But take a closer look on stage: that’s violinist Jesse Zubot. Did you know he got his start taking lessons from our Academy for Gifted Youth manager Bill van der Sloot? Zubot began playing violin at age four and studied with van der Sloot until he was 16.

Mount Royal Conservatory's Academy manager Bill van der Sloot
Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy manager Bill van der Sloot

(His brother Joshua Zubot also studied at the Conservatory.)

Zubot, who now calls Britannia Beach, B.C., home where he runs the critically acclaimed creative music label Drip Audio, is part of three Juno Award-winning acts: the acoustic-roots ensemble Zubot & Dawson, The Great Uncles of the Revolution and Fond of Tigers.

He came back to the Conservatory as a guest artist for the Academy a few years back.

We caught up with Zubot to learn more about his Conservatory experience.

Jesse Zubot: One of the best things I got through the teachings from Bill was learning very clean and precise technique. This saved me a lot of time once I became a professional musician. As an adult musician, I could concentrate more on composing and creating exciting performances instead of having to spend all my time keeping my playing together.

Question: Your incredible work with Tanya Tagaq was a joy to hear and to watch during the Sept. 22 live performance at the Polaris gala. What do you think audiences took away from your performance? What was the experience like for you?

Jesse Zubot: I think the audience at the Polaris took away that it’s OK to be musically free…  I think they may have sensed some form of spiritual awakening almost.  Working with Tanya is all about being in the moment and letting the music guide you. We pretty much do 100 per cent improvised performances so it is very real and can even be overwhelming for some listeners as we aren’t afraid to raise the roof with extreme volume or intense emotions. Hopefully the Canadian music industry will be more open to supporting more artistic live musical performances in the future at award shows. The experience was great for me. It was good to actually really do what we do instead of conforming to an arranged piece of music that is the same as the actual recording, like most others did. It felt great to get some recognition for our work. We’ve been touring hard for the last six or seven years.

Question: Looking back, what was the best advice you received as a young musician that you carry with you today?

Jesse Zubot: I would say having fun and being committed is very important. If you make the decision to be a musician you really have to honour that decision and go for it 100 per cent.  It can be a hard life, but if you give it all you got, you will be rewarded greatly.

And here’s what Bill has to say about Jesse Zubot:

“The interesting thing about Jesse is that his imagination is boundless. He defies description as an artist. He has the facility and skills of an accomplished classical musician and that’s what makes him so amazing. He’s invented his own style of playing violin, that’s his imagination. There’s no one in the world that plays like him.”

And here’s a favourite memory: “I remember when he was 12, we couldn’t find him to go on stage to play a Paganini violin concerto in D major. We found him on a stage ramp riding his new skateboard while wearing his tux!”

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 2, 2014

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