Passed with Honours

Some of the CBEREA visiting the Bella

This past week, the Bella Concert Hall was examined by some lifelong masters of assessment… retired teachers.

Forty-five former teachers met with MRU Conservatory Director Elaine Danelesko for a private tour of the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts, with a special focus on the Bella herself. By all accounts, she passed with flying colours.

Teachers are always ‘classy’

The Calgary Board of Education Retired Employees Association (CBEREA) provides members with various experiences and activities. Regular bowling and golf tournaments, bridge groups and luncheons are among the featured offerings. There is also a walkers and hikers division of the group who chose to end their trek in the lobby of the Bella.

Elaine Danelesko, who radiates with pride as she introduces all guests to the MRU Conservatory facilities, effortlessly spoke about the programs offered, the private studios’ acoustic treatment and the merits of the state-of-the-art practice rooms capable of accommodating worldwide private lessons through Skype to a responsive audience.

The reactions to the facilities, the programming and the design all made the grade.

These teachers gave the Bella an exemplary grade

Having just opened in the fall, it was a new experience for most, “Today I realized that there is a wonderful opportunity not far from home that has not been on my radar.”says Sharon Terray, retired Social Studies teacher who last taught at Lord Beaverbrook High School. Terray, who helped arrange the tour for the group, continues, “Because of what I saw today, I hope to be aware of programming and upcoming events, and thanks to free Sunday parking, take advantage of what the Conservatory has to offer the public.”

Seeing how it might directly affect the group’s demographic, Terray’s friend and co-walker Barbara Hongisto chimes in, “The facilities provide super opportunities for parents and grandparents to offer musical programs to young ones!”

Terray assess the Bella. “All the attention to detail both from an aesthetic and an acoustic point of view means that there is always more to take in; you have to sit there for a while to really appreciate it all.”CONS_blog_insiders_button_250x125-rev2

Sharon’s husband Dr. John Terray, who is the retired chairman of Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering, MRU, has an eye for quality, “I was very impressed with the architecture and design of the building. “ Of the Bella herself, he claims, “The concert hall conveyed a sense of quality with warmth.”

The offering that seemed to achieve bonus marks from this gathering is the outreach that MRU Conservatory is building within the education community in our Calgary school boards.

In discussion at the back of the class while the group hiked through the Music with Your Baby area and the Atelier Room, Dr. Terray sums up, “The tour informed me of the many opportunities the MRU Conservatory provides to the citizens of Calgary.”

Congrats to the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts on an inspiring spring report card.

  • by JLove


Team Player – James Ehnes

CONS_S16_WyattSeries_JamesEhnes_omnivex_v2The New York Times reported that, “superb violinist Christian Tetzlaff pulled out of an important concert at Carnegie Hall.” It was for an arguably more important occasion as he flew home to Germany to welcome a new addition to his family. The remaining trio of Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Tabea Zimmermann (viola) and Clemens Hagen (cello) were left without a premiere violinist to play Brahms’ three piano quartets on the famed stage.CONS_blog_insiders_button_250x125-rev2

Enter Canadian violinist James Ehnes.

Ehnes, who will be appearing at the Bella Concert Hall as a part of the Wyatt Concert Series on May 13th, 2016 describes his last minute substitution as “quick, crazy and fun.” The Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini thoroughly praised the fill-in’s contribution, “Mr. Ehnes’s velvety sound and sensitivity fit well with the vibrant playing of his colleagues on this night.” There’s no doubt his notable contribution was appreciated by his esteemed collaborators and the audience alike.

Now back home with his family in Florida, Ehnes takes a breath to reflect on the quartet’s shows which included performances at Chapel Hill, North Carolina and at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. He also has a moment to acknowledge his recent Juno win for Classical Album of the Year which was announced here in Calgary. “We work so hard on these albums, it’s nice to be recognized.” A humble comment for an artist who has now won eleven of the coveted prizes.

“The genesis for each (album) is different,” he explains. “Andrew Armstrong and I have pieces we’ve played a lot over the years. When you work with a collaborator, at some point, you get to where you feel like everything is clicking. If you have the opportunity to record at that point… that’s when you want to. We were having our moment,” he continues, siting his accompanist Andrew Armstrong who he has collaborated with since 2001 and will be joining him onstage at the Bella, “There was no P.R. plan. It was just the two of us saying we like these pieces… let’s record them.”

James Ehnes and “The Marsick”

Calgarians will rejoice to see the pair tackle works by Brahms, Handel, Beethoven and Canadian composer Bramwell Tovey, but that’s not the only partnership they’ll witness. Ehnes’ oldest collaborator is The Marsick, the Stradivarius violin crafted in 1715 and named after a Belgian violinist of the late 1800s. “It’s been like a family member,” Ehnes says. He first saw and heard the instrument in 1996 at age 20. He imagines the life of the instrument in context, “It’s incredible to think that you’re only a custodian for a short period,” his respect for the Stradivarius is unwavering, “I’d love to think when it leaves my hands it’s no worse off than when it came in my hands.”

His whole family will be joining him for this leg of his 40th birthday tour. For his children, whom are Canadian but live in the U.S., this drive from Vancouver to Winnipeg with concert stops along the way is a great way for them to experience their homeland. “I wanted them to see all these places across Canada that have been good to me.” Ehnes reflects with both patriotic and paternal pride. “I want them to see the scale.”james-ehnes-4557-5x7

Their family tour will be documented by filmmaker and close friend Nate Bauer who will be shooting footage from the road and backstage. As to what the collected documentary clips are used for, time will tell. Until then, it’s a marvellous family video.

Expect to see the cameras rolling as Ehnes and Armstrong take the stage at the Bella on May 13th, 2016. It will be their debut at this venue and Ehnes is excited. “I’ve been hearing wonderful things about it,” he admits, “lots of people have said it’s a great sounding hall.”

As he prepares to return to Calgary to team up with Armstrong and The Marsick at the Bella, there’s no doubt he’s glad he got to play Carnegie Hall to warm up for it.

-by JLove





Ralph Maier: Renaissance Man



ce_mini_poster_ralphmaierI don’t know many vihuela (vee-HWAY-la) players.

In fact, I know one. Ralph Maier… and if I knew many more, he’d likely still be my favourite vihuela player. The instrument, he explains to me, “is the Spanish equivalent of a lute…except it’s shaped like a guitar.”  A gifted guitarist, he touts, “Over the last ten years, I’ve gotten into doing things on period instruments.”

Maier is not only an expert to those who have the privilege of hearing him, he’s backed it up with the academic research, he finished a Musicology PhD in Spanish Renaissance Music in vihuela. So, for those who are interested in hearing a master at work, check out his upcoming recital Ralph Maier & Friends on Sunday, May 1st, 2016 from 2-3pm in the TransAlta Pavilion of the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts.

Ralph Maier’s CD: Variations

Not only will he be strumming a vihuela, Maier’s program includes some pieces on the Baroque guitar, which is a five-course instrument meaning it has five pairings of strings to strum. The strumming, traditionally, was meant to accompany dancing, so there are a series of universal chord progressions known to many players of the time; much like a Blues progression today.  The progression, Maier says,“became a staple. Then, composers would write a variation on it.” Among those composers, he lists Bach, who added his own touch to the Spanish plucking tradition. Maier’s study of the form has led him to complete his latest CD, aptly titled “Variations” which is available on both iTunes and CD Baby.

CONS_blog_insiders_button_250x125-rev2Musically speaking, he gets history. My personal history, having known Ralph for nearly two decades, is that there’s nothing he can’t play on a guitar. Tim Brady is a contemporary composer who wrote a piece for 20 electric guitars.  Maier was one of the twenty.  He was so inspired by this composition that he recorded it for his latest CD, playing all twenty parts multi-tracked. After recording it, he sent his interpretation to the composer.  His reaction, according to Maier, was, “he liked it and that was very reassuring.”

Recently, in addition to his teaching at MRU Conservatory he has been teaching university classes like The History of Led Zepplin, Progressive Rock Music and The History of Heavy Metal. “I’m all over the place, musically.”

Oberon Guitar Trio

Maier will be reuniting with the Oberon Guitar Trio (Brad Mahon & Murray Visscher) as well as teaming up with flutist Tim Janz for this program.  As to what era their contributions might represent, it’s anybody’s guess.

When I asked directly what we could expect in this Spotlight Series Concert, his answer was confidently nebulous. “I’m not absolutely sure.”

Such is the secret of a true modern Renaissance man.


Jazz Hands Around the World





On April 30th, 2016, you’ll find Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall and Sting at the White House.  There will also be some jazz music featured in Bologna, Italy in the Jazz 4 Peace Celebration, and in the Quartet Diminished in Concert show at Niavaran Hall in Tehran, Iran.

Jazz music brings together the improvised solo expressions of individual instruments into an artistic whole in a combo.  That’s the message of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, celebrated this year on April 30, 2016.

“UNESCO (United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared this day a day that celebrates creativity and diversity of Jazz music,” says in-the-know saxophonist Mark DeJong.

DeJong, who’s the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory, has composed a special something to celebrate at the TransAlta Pavilion, “We are celebrating some of our renowned jazz alumni. We’re featuring a great local vocalist by the name of Aimee-Jo Benoit. She has a great following with indie bands like Woodpigeon. Joining her are some former grads of the Jazz Program.”

The program is made up of some jazz standards, “She’s going to dive in to the American Songbook for those ‘tin pan alley’ chestnuts.” DeJong continues, “then some jazz originals and really creative interpretations of some of her favourite Canadian icons like Joni Mitchell and Neil young.” No matter what the source inspiration is, DeJong insists that Benoit promises to, “breathe new life into them.”

He would know first hand.

DeJong is among the esteemed alumni joining Benoit onstage with saxophone in hand. “This is my first presentation as the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory.” he says, “One of the things I wanted to do was be involved in the early shows both as a programmer and on the ground on the stage.”

jan 15 jazzonthewingsmall
Tim Tamashiro – host of Tonic on CBC Radio 2

As a unique UNESCO moment, DeJong and the combo are excited to have CBC’s Tim Tamashiro take the stage as guest emcee. “Anyone who’s a jazz fan in Canada knows Tim… not only with his incredible career as a jazz vocalist, but as the host of CBC Radio 2’s Tonic.” The ‘drinky’ jazz crooner will be on hand to spread the harmonious message to the jazz community, “he’s such an energetic and creative personality,” DeJong says, “We’re really delighted that he’s able to join us.”

Benoit, DeJong and Tamashiro are warming their chops for April 30th. To celebrate UNESCO International Jazz Day with the rest of the world, click here, or head to the White House.

  • by JLove

Painting Postcards

CONS_blog_insiders_button_250x125-rev2Akiko Tominaga is an artistic tour guide.  The worldly pianist, featured in the Spotlight Series from 2-3pm on Sunday, April 24th in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts’ TransAlta Pavilion, called the program “Postcards from Afar” to take the audience on a musical journey. The best part is, they don’t even have to leave their seats.

Tominaga herself has experienced many cultures and their sounds.  Born in Japan, she grew up moving to the varied musical landscapes of Singapore and the United States, she’s traveled to Europe and Asia and makes her home here in Canada.  Along the way, she’s picked up sonic souvenirs that she’ll present to her audience. “Postcards from Afar” is based on pieces inspired from these different cultures,” she notes, citing specific references to Asian, Spanish and French influences. “Through the music, people can experience different cultures.”

Akiko Tominaga

Much like travel, the program selections are a feast for all senses. “You can blend and paint with sound,” she states. Highlighting works by French master Debussy, Spanish rhythmist Albeniz and Japanese minimalist Takemitsu, she couldn’t select a wider variety of cultural palates to paint with. “Music goes into the visual arts (in one’s mind)” she nods. “We experience it through audio, but we can feel the temperature, texture and tonality.”

Each culture has evolved in its own musical influences. The listening ear can place the hint of an Asian-influenced scale compared to a more western aesthetic.   Tominaga suggests that accessing it starts on the page. “It all comes from the score.” She attests, noting composers’ own interpretive descriptions like ‘celestial light’ and ‘joyously’ on the printed page.  “I analyze and study the score, then reflect on what the composer wrote.  I see the images.  I hear it. I see shimmering gold. By envisioning it, I can play it.”

This particular program has, itself, traveled.  Tominaga played it in recital as a part of Roland Graham’s Master Piano Recital Series in Ottawa last month. As it travels, it evolves. “It’s never the same,” she expresses, “The whole dynamic performance experience is exciting.  It can only be created in that moment. That unique experience is what attracts me to live music.”

Take the trip with Akiko Tominaga.  All travel yields memorable experiences.  But, unlike most jaunts abroad, this Spotlight Series show is by donation only and includes one thing you won’t find at any airport… free parking.

Please RSVP if you’re attending the concert on Sunday, April 24.

-by JLove

She’s Come a Long Way

Rose Bowl
Ciara Hager & the Medicine Hat Rotary Music Festival Rose Bowl

Many musicians spend a lot of time on the road. Ciara Hager is getting a taste of that… and she’s still in high school.

Hager is the violinist who was just awarded the Medicine Hat Rotary Music Festival’s top prize, The Rose Bowl.   It’s an honour she shares with the Medicine Hat College Girls’ Choir.

This illustrious success hasn’t been without its significant sacrifices. “Since I live in Medicine Hat, I drive to Calgary about every second week to attend the program, and stay from Saturday until Monday night.” she explains.  “Mr. Van der Sloot offers me two 1.5 hour lessons while I am there, to make up for two weeks of lessons,” she says. An accommodation that, according to her violin instructor Bill van der Sloot, is well worth the effort. “On the outside,” he states, “one would question the immense sacrifice that Ciara and her parents make so that she can participate in MRU’s programs.  But, when one becomes familiar with the great love, hard work, and huge growth and achievement that has taken place, it is all well worth the investment!”Ciara Hager

Aside from the highway time, Hager is committed to the craft, “I try to practice a minimum of three hours everyday regardless of anything else I have going on in my life.”  To earn the coveted prize, she played the Concerto in E minor by Julius Conus. “I love the concerto, and feel like it really shows off the talents specific to my playing.”

With poise, she describes the victory, “I am honoured to have my name put on the trophy, along with all of the other talented performers who won it before me, including my instructor, Bill van der Sloot. It’s really exciting to know that the future winners will look back on the trophy and notice my name on it as well.

Van der Sloot agrees, It’s like the Stanley Cup…it gets taller and taller as year go by. If Ciara’s name is at the bottom of the trophy, you can find mine somewhere near the top!  That’s pretty cool for both Ciara and me.”

Despite the dedication, it was only recently that she started looking at the violin as a career choice. “I wasn’t sure of my decision until about a year ago.”

That decision was shaped, in part, by the Academy Program at MRU Conservatory.  Hager paints the picture, “I play in the program with so many other talented musicians, and it’s interesting to see how they overcome their struggles and how I can apply their improvements to my own playing.” She also mentions the positive reaction she has received from her Academy colleagues at this recent win, “We are all really supportive of each other.” She admits.

On the horizon, she’s excited for a masterclass with visiting Wyatt Series artist James Ehnes and another year in the Academy program.“I’m looking forward to focusing completely on music without the additional pressures of high school.” Beyond that, the road ahead hasn’t been charted, “I would love to teach violin, or to be part of an orchestra. I always listen to the orchestra parts and the different instruments showcased in movies, and could picture myself doing something like that.” Rose Bowl 7

And for those who are not as far down the musical road, “I would advise them not to give up even if they don’t succeed at first. If violin is something that they enjoy, performing as much as possible will lead to success.”

Success can seem like a long road, but Hager is certainly well on her way.

-by JLove

What’s in a Name?

Sherwood Squeakspeare

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

T. S. Eliot

… but how many names must a mouse have?

As it turns out… two.

Jennifer Orr, Speech Arts and Drama Instructor and Program Coordinator at MRU Conservatory, was pleased to announce the official name(s) of the character formerly referred to as ‘the Speech Mouse. “Introducing Sherwood Squeakspeare!” she proclaimed, with the appropriate amount of theatricality.

This is the official news that over 300 entrants had been awaiting for weeks. But for some, like Orr, the wait has been much longer. Created by graphic designer David Soltess to promote the A.C.T. (August Childrens’ Theatre) program, “the mouse has been a symbol to promote Speech and Drama programs for over 20 years.” she admits. Though the program has evolved, the mouse has remained a smiling presence, ready to tread-the-boards with another generation of dramatic performers.

“Lately,” Orr states, “he’s been used to promote our Presentation MRU non-competitive Speech Arts and Drama Festival.” In fact, it was at Presentation MRU in early March that the final entries were submitted.

Among the names that were passed over, some favourites emerged including:

Speechy Gonzalez


Dr. Moustus (after Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus)

Nybalt (a cross between ‘nibble’ & ‘Tybalt’ from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet)



Sir Peter Patter

Sir Squeakums

And Julius Cheeser

“Squeakspeare made sense.” Orr begins, noting that there were three student submissions that were entered into the draw for the prize, a $50 voucher to the MRU Conservatory. “He’s a mouse, who obviously recites Shakespeare.”

His first name isn’t quite as obvious a link.

Who is the eponym for this dubious title? Orr explains,“Sherwood was suggested by a parent in the program. She was inspired by the portrait of Mary Belle Taylor (after whom the Bella Concert Hall was named). As luck would have it, her maiden name was ‘Sherwood’.”

Orr, who had the honour of going through all submissions herself before consulting with colleagues on the final name, indicates, “Sherwood resonated with me right away. I thought it gave an echo of Robin Hood. He does look a little like a merry man with the feather in his cap.” And adds, ”But, I really liked the nod to the Bella and the Taylor family.”

“We were going to name him Sir Sherwood Squeakspeare, but that’s too many sibilants.” A clear thought well-spoken by this Speech Arts instructor.

For a mouse, he’s always been a bit unique. “He doesn’t have a tail.” She remarks of his illustration omission. “It was probably lost in battle.”

Tail or not, at least he now has a story.

-by JLove

The Legend Behind More Rocky Mountain Fairies

Bluefairy“Come away, O human child!

…With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

– William Butler Yeats

Yeats’ verse on the Celtic fairy culture inspires wonder, adventure and strong emotions.

Samantha Whelan (Kotkas), an equally inspiring writer, uses these notions to explore the fairies here in Alberta in her production More Rocky Mountain Fairies, playing at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University on May 15th at 2pm.5x5yellow

“I was at the Banff Centre for a year as an artist in residence.” She begins. “I met Dave Duret, a double bass player from California.” She goes on to explain that Duret, a magical storyteller in his own right, might not be ‘of this world’. “I told him I wanted to start creating some great art for kids, but I didn’t know how to get into it.” She relays his response, “Oh Sam… he said. Don’t you know that there’s fairies that live up in the meadow behind the mountains in Canmore?” And with that idea, the Rocky Mountain Fairies were born.

Once she found the fairies, she began to write.

She found that the fairies had unique colours.

She discovered the fairies had voices that could be embodied by musical instruments.

She heard their music.

It was jazz.

5x5blue“I was looking for a composer.” She identified, “and Tyler (Hornby) had worked with me out at the Children’s Festival in Canmore as a marimbist on one of my classical concerts said he’d be interested.”

“I put lipstick on to meet him.” she confides. “If I show up at a meeting with lipstick on… I want something.”

Samantha Whelan Kotkas

The story of their collaboration was a fairy tale match-up, mostly because, as it’s known in the music community in Calgary, Samantha Whelan Kotkas is impossible to say ‘no’ to.

“It was a much bigger project than he thought it was going to be.” She admitted.

“Writing music for stories is kind of like writing movie music.” She notes, with the instruments of the compositions personifying the emotions of the colourful fairies in the text.


One of the key things she teaches is music. “Between each of the stories is a tune to showcase the (instrumental) music with no voice.” she describes. “The kids are drawn to the story, but I like to keep them connected to the music.”

“I have the kids listen to the order of the instruments playing. They’re having conversations.” she explains. “Sometimes, it’s between the guitar and the bass, sometimes the piano and the saxophone.”


The reaction Samantha gets lets her know that the teaching is getting through to her audience, “Even some of the adults come up afterwards telling me that they never knew it was a conversation with the instruments. They didn’t know that they weren’t reading their parts…that they were made-up and improvised.” Then, with the magic of a fairy who has cast the spell and solved the mystery, she disappears into the wings, getting set for another show.

Little did she know, when creating these Rocky Mountain Fairies that they would ‘take her by the hand’ to adventures in concert halls across Canada and the United States. Just thinking of it, Samantha Whelan Kotkas rolls her eyes and, with a mischievous smile, laughs, “It took someone from California to show me what was happening in my own backyard.”


-by JLove



More Rocky Mountain Fairies


Samantha Whelan Kotkas – Narrator

Tyler Hornby – Percussion

Aaron Young – Guitar

Jim Brenan – Saxophone

Rubim de Toledo – Bass

Mark DeJong – Soprano Saxophone

Pat Belliveau – Baritone Saxophone

Chris Andrew – Piano


A Sound Choice for a Juno

AM Static – Juno Nominee for Best Electronic Album of the Year

Right now, Calgary-based Juno-nominated band AM Static is working-in a new bass player. “The project (album) is studio-based,” founding member Nils Mikkelsen says, “We played DJ-style for a while. But, it’s not as much fun playing with a computer.”

There’s no substitute for live sound, and no one knows that better than Mikkelsen, whose ‘day job’ is with Event Theatre Services at the Bella Concert Hall at MRU.

Nils recently became an audio/visual technician at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts. “Working there has offered insight into the technical aspect of music and live production,” he says. His musical know-how mixed with his studio prowess makes him the perfect addition to the venue’s exceptional backstage production team. But, with where this Juno may lead him, the venue might not be able to keep him here for long.

AM Static is a collaborative project between Mikkelsen and Chris Austman. The partnership began in 2011. They fuse R&B and electronic influences into a self-described beat-driven vocal dark pop fantasy. A Life Well Lived is their first full-length album, garnering their first Juno nomination for Best Electronic Album of the Year.

AM Static: Nils Mikkelsen & Chris Austman

Despite their commitment to their partnership, this whole Juno thing came as a bit of a surprise. “The record was made in my bedroom,” Mikkelsen undercuts, “when I think of things nominated for awards, I think of people with bigger budgets.” The general sense of a possible Juno nomination between the pair was, “That would be really awesome, but it didn’t seem to be on the horizon in the near future.”
The band had just been passed over for the Sled Island line-up when the Juno announcement came out. “I was in a doctor’s office reading a Douglas MacArthur biography,” Mikkelsen recalls, “Chris (Austman) texted me that he had found out (about the nomination) from one of his wife’s friends.”

Recalling his reaction to the good news, Mikkelsen smiles, “the moment it hits you, you’ll always remember it. Like trauma.” “We weren’t able to accept it. It took a while to sink in.”

Now that the news is post-traumatic, they’re able to observe the new landscape as a Juno nominated band with national attention. “You’re always fighting to be heard over the ground noise,” he identifies. “This nomination helps to get people more interested in our music than before.”

And people are interested online and at shows. “We’ve seen a spike in our online analytics over our social media.” He cautiously admits. They are currently working on the follow up album to A Life Well Lived, which will be released, he estimates, in 2017. With the type of notoriety a Juno win brings, let’s hope that new bass player works out. They’ll need him.

As to what they’re looking forward to at the Junos themselves, “We’re going to go meet as many people as we can. Excited to see all the cream of the crop of Canadian talent.”

So says one of them.



It’s About Time… Indeed

Legendary trumpet player Al Muirhead is nominated for a Juno.

Al Muirhead: It’s About Time

Yes… that same Al Muirhead who, for over 60 years has played countless studio sessions, appeared on innumerable stages and accompanied award-winners like Ian Tyson, Rosemary Clooney and Diana Krall, has finally stepped into the spotlight and recorded his own album… at age 80.

That album is nominated for the 2016 Jazz Album of the Year Juno Award and the reaction from the community is, “It’s About Time.” Which, ironically, is the title of the release.

Bassist Kodi Hutchinson (Chronograph Records) was the one to persuade Muirhead to do it. So, he called long-time friends and collaborators P. J. Perry and Tommy Banks to join him. MRU drum and jazz clinician Tyler Hornby also appeared on the album.

As for which of the encyclopaedia of jazz standards they know between them they were going to include, “We went into the studio with nothing prepared,” Muirhead starts, “No lead sheets. Nothing. It was right off the top of our heads.”

I just loved the freedom of it all

This organic process is reminiscent of what brought Muirhead to jazz in the first place, “I was playing in the orchestra and military band. Then the music coming out of New York after the war… I just loved the freedom of it all.”

As to how he got into the genre, “I learned by ear,” he confesses. “You heard most of the stuff on the radio and you couldn’t afford the ‘78s of them. So, people would get together at a barn dance and give their own interpretation of them.”

Muirhead, who spends a good deal of time at the MRU Conservatory teaching workshops and clinics to lucky young trumpet players and jazz enthusiasts, thinks that jazz has evolved, and not just always for the better. “Melody seems to be a thing of the past,” he recounts, “what’s important now are the time changes and key changes. It’s an academic pursuit.”

Back in the days when jazz standards were the pop tunes of the broadcast world, “when Louis (Armstrong) was out there – everyone loves Louis – you didn’t have to be a jazz fan to love Louis. That was when everyone listened with their ears, not their eyes.”

This accessibility is something that his debut album brings back, but it’s not intended only to please the public. “Hopefully (on the album) I have the goods, but this is me. Hope you like it. That’s it.”

Al Muirhead: MRU Conservatory Trumpet Clinician

He even writes a couple original tunes on the recording. One in particular is close to his heart as it was penned for and named after his wife of forty-two years “Ida Mae.” This is one of the rare gems that features Al Muirhead’s singing voice. His assessment of his crooning track, “The guys played really well,” and, “The ladies love it.”

His wife ‘Ida Mae’ was excited about embracing the Juno announcement, but for Muirhead, “It took me a while,” he admits graciously. “It’s not something I was working towards. It’s never been my goal.”

But, Juno judges and fans alike are celebrating this nomination by echoing the sentiment of his debut offering, “It’s About Time.”

  • By (Not-yet-Juno-Nominated) JLove