I’m in love. No, the fact that I’m happily married is not news. I’m in love with the jazz community in my home city of Vancouver, BC.
If you figure I’ve been in love with Vancouver jazz continuously since I was 15, thank you sincerely for this flattering assumption. It’s similar to how recent Capilano University B.Mus graduates ask me which year I graduated (spoiler alert: never did).
I had a massive crush on Vancouver jazz as a teenager. Then, I called the whole thing off. But now, I know it’s love.
Let’s talk about belonging to a music community that you love.
The crush phase
Music began for me in high school, and it began like a crush.
My high-school crushes and I held hands, texted, got fast-food together, covered some songs, and presented or discussed many emotions. That's about it. We didn't involve each other in the depths of what moved us, and we didn't truly help each other. Blame primarily me.
Whenever I saw an opportunity to play jazz, I volunteered. Playing jazz was how I made friends, and I spent all my free time trying to become a better instrumentalist. This enthusiasm got me a healthy variety of little gigs as a teenager. But I used to look at those gigs as being all about me: how I was developing, how I could get some money, how I could win the respect of the established jazz musicians through my talent. I put no effort into getting to know anyone, so we didn’t truly help each other. Exclusively blame me.
It doesn’t matter that I wrote probably 50 compositions and earned a year’s worth of tuition from little gigs by age 17: I played jazz in high school like I was crushing on someone. I didn’t care about the people, so I was wrong in the way that several teenagers are.
My lack of care made it easy for me to rationalize walking away from all of those people, which I briefly did at around age 20. I left Vancouver jazz and thought that it would leave me behind too. It felt like burning bridges.
What did I try to do instead, and what ended up happening?
The relationship between me and Vancouver jazz was on-again, off-again by the time I decided to walk away.
First, I had dropped out of the mainstream outlet for the community’s coming-of-age culture: Capilano University. I had done so with a chip on my shoulder. After dropping out, I took advantage of circumstances and the needs of my student friends to continue hanging around campus. I attended several student-only masterclasses for free and eventually earned the ire of some faculty. My bad!
For work, I started performing folk music in a whole new community, and that had its own ups and downs. I definitely used my shift to folk as a blanket to cover my weak retreat from Vancouver jazz.
Then, I really bombed on some jazz gigs despite still getting hired for them. At the time I was devastated, but now I feel lucky to have made lots of professional blunders while the stakes were relatively low. If you want to hear the full story of one of these gigs, write to me and I’ll seek the chance to finally discuss it.
I packed my bags for Europe so that I could run away from my troubles for a few months. However, before I left, I brought together three friends and recorded my tunes for the first time in a studio. I did it again when I came back.
After Europe, I had enough work in folk music to keep hiding from the jazz community for about three years. Then I woke up.
No matter how much I thought I had messed up, the music community I grew up in was still there. My jazz friends were still my close friends, and I still went to their gigs and knew everyone else who went. On top of that, I remember hanging out at, say, Bridge Brewing and having my friends ask me if I wanted to play jazz again.
That’s wonderful, but the shock came from having new encounters with Vancouver jazz musicians I had never met - and we had great times!
I couldn’t believe it. People used to be opaque boxes that I could transact with, in my stupid teenage eyes, but now they were endlessly fascinating. If only you could go to every single gig and take it all in, learning about these artists and personalities. Is this what growing up always feels like?
When people asked me what my favourite part of performing music was, I would answer the intermission and after-show time when you could walk around and talk to everyone. An inconceivable answer just a year or two ago for me!
I don’t know why I got the grace of social enjoyment for the first time around 2019, but it was life-saving.
Since then, everywhere I looked in Vancouver jazz I saw friends, people trying to make it, and opportunities. I belonged, and hiding wasn’t the thing to do anymore. It never was.
So, I’m releasing my first solo album in 2020.
My first album will be a love letter to Vancouver jazz and will tell this story through music.
Did you catch my mention of recording my tunes during the on-again, off-again part?
I cared so little in those days that, while changing from one laptop to another, I didn’t even back up the audio files from those studio dates. I had to go hat-in-hand to my friend at the studio just to get them back!
But I got them back at the start of 2020, and during the pandemic I finally produced them into an album. That took optimism, editing, mixing, manufacturing, hiring service professionals, and much more.
I don’t have it ready to share with you quite yet, but we’re embarking on the journey soon. You’ll get the most personal look into an album release that you’ve ever had—one that we can look back on later when I’m a jazz veteran.
I thought I had messed up forever and could never work again in the Vancouver scene because of teenage mishaps. But I’m here, as Francis Henson would say, with a little bit of grace (thank you for inspiring us!) and complete ownership over this album. No grants, no debts, no label, no manager, no agent, just me and you.
That means that we can have a wide-open conversation about the making of this album and where it can take us. It’ll take us somewhere together as essential partners: makers and appreciators of art. I’m nothing without a music community to belong to, and in Vancouver jazz, I found one that I love.