Music performance has been an important part of my life since my early teenage years, although its importance has waxed and waned as other priorities have taken precedence at various times.
Although piano was my first instrument, at the age of 11 I started to play the trombone, and it rapidly became my main vehicle for musical expression. Although in retrospect I never gave my musical talents quite the attention they merited, I did have a somewhat prodigious teenage career as a trombonist, primarily in jazz.
Shortly after my 14th birthday I successfully auditioned for the All-Southern California high school jazz ensemble, which probably still qualifies as the most pleasant surprise I’ve received in my life! Although we’ve been out of touch for many decades at this point, one of the friends I made during my two years in that honor band has gone on to enjoy a great career in jazz music: when I knew him he was an alto saxophonist named Evan Kunst, but as an adult he’s known success as clarinetist Evan Christopher.
We moved back to Canada before my senior year of high school, where I had the pleasure of playing in two wonderful civic organizations that are still active a quarter-century later, the Hamilton All-Star Jazz Band and the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.
After high school I went to Queen’s University to major in mathematics, although one of the reasons I favored Queen’s was that it afforded non-music majors every opportunity to participate in its musical ensembles. I spent three of the next four years playing lead trombone in the Queen’s University Jazz Ensemble, where one of my contemporaries was a non-music major who (unlike me) has gone on to make jazz music his vocation: saxophonist/composer Andrew Rathbun. As it happens, both Andrew and I took sabbaticals from QUJE in our junior years; he went to Toronto to study music at Humber College, while I went on exchange at the University of Glasgow. While that esteemed institution did not then have a jazz ensemble, I managed to stumble my way into joining the Strathclyde University Big Band while I was in town.
The trombone sat in my closet for my first two years as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, as there was no jazz ensemble there at the time. However, in the fall of 1994 signs went up advertising auditions for a newly-created ensemble, under the direction of the then-President of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Mwata Bowden. The story of the early days of the University of Chicago Jazz X-Tet deserves its own blog post, so I won’t go into further reminiscences here.
I played in the X-Tet for its first four years – two while I was still in graduate school and two more after I was a working stiff – culminating in the 1997 recording of the X-Tet’s first CD, In Retrospect ’97. Two of that CD’s six pieces were contributed by me: one a (rigidly faithful) orchestration of the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band’s “Gorby Chief”; and the other a medley of my original composition “Platitudes” with Tom Varner’s composition “Fool’s Oasis”. One of my X-Tet bandmates for all 4 of those years has gone on to enjoy a noteworthy career in jazz music: guitarist Nate Radley. (And, in what is a massively interesting coincidence to me, Nate has ended up a member of Andrew Rathbun’s band on at least two of Andrew’s CDs!)
By the time I reached my late twenties, however, my trombone-playing days were essentially behind me, due largely to the pressures of “normal adult life”.
In more recent years, I’ve been able to indulge an interest that was always on the backburner during my youth: choral singing. From 2010 through 2015 I had the pleasure to sing with a community-based amateur choir that has nevertheless managed to produce a near-professional level of performances – the Oak Park Concert Chorale. Singing in OPCC has renewed my interest in musical composition. In 2014 OPCC premiered the first (and so far only) piece I’ve written for unaccompanied chorus, an arrangement of the Canadian Christmas hymn “Huron Carol”: