Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Weeks In Banff

And....we're back !

Well, it's been a long time off here at Four on The Floor as I've been quite busy attending the inaugural TD Jazz & Creative Residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff, Alberta for the past few weeks.

I was fortunate to be chosen along with 12 other emerging jazz artists to attend a two-week residency at the Banff Centre (sponsored by TD bank) spending time writing new music, collaborating with the other resident artists and learning from a world-class faculty of artists that included:

Dafnis Prieto (drums)

Peter Apfelbaum (saxophone)

Uri Caine (piano)

Phil Dwyer (saxophone)

For those of you not aware of the amazing opportunities afforded to artists and musicians at the Banff Centre (and jazz artists specifically), you can check that out here:

I'm enjoying a couple days off at home in Calgary before I head back to the Banff Centre until the end of the month where I plan to get alot of work done on the vibraphone and on my dissertation. It's been an intense two weeks !

The level of musicianship amongst the participants was extremely high. The musicians came from all over Canada, the U.S. and Europe and here's a list of the outstanding artists who participated:

Patrick Boyle - trumpet

Greg Sinibaldi - saxophone

Jon McCaslin (me) - drums

David Ryshpan - piano and melodica

Curtis MacDonald - saxophone

Chris Jennings - bass

The Amanda Tosoff Quartet (from Vancouver/Toronto):

Amanda Tosoff - piano

Evan Artzen - saxophone

Sean Cronin - bass

Morgan Childs - drums

The Park X Trio (From Montreal):

Mark Nelson - drums

Gabriel Vinuela-Pelletier - piano

Alexandre Lefaivre - bass

The workshop basically consisted of two pre-existing ensembles (these were REAL bands - groups that have played together tons, recorded and gone on the road. They even had their tunes memorized. WOW - not something you see all that often. Very impressive...

Also, a few other high profile jazz artists were also lurking around working towards their own residencies and contributed to the immense amount of creativity that was abundant around the Music & Sound building for the past few weeks. Those artists included:

Christine Jensen (saxophone)

Joel Miller (saxophone)

Ellen Rowe (piano)

David Occhipinti (guitar)

Christine and Joel both presented recitals of their music and impressed all with their ingenuity.

A few of my own personal highlights of the past two weeks' activities included:

- Performing with Peter Apfelbaum's "Banff Hieroglyphics" ensemble. This was a large ensemble that basically included everybody in the workshop ! (very much "Hugh Fraser'ish", I thought!) We played several tunes down in The Club, to conclude the Sunday evening jazz concert where all the groups played for a very enthusiastic (and patient) audience. We performed David Ryshpan's arrangement of Ornette Coleman's "School Work", two of Apfelbaum's pieces (wow - where is this guy coming from ? When you hear his music, it's like he's got the whole wide world going on in there!) and I was honored to have my arrangement of Don Cherry's classic anthem "Mopti" performed to finish off the evening. Thanks to Peter I now how many different ways to think about playing in seven.

- Dafnis Prieto shared his unique approach to fusing traditional folkloric Afro-Cuban rhythms with modern Jazz improvisation. I truly think that in the future Dafnis will be recognized as one of the BIG innovators of this music and someone who took the drums to another level. His coordination and independence skills are ridiculous !!!

- Indian sitar player Kartik Seshadri gave a series of masterclasses on North Indian music. He is a great teacher and very effectively explained (to a group of classical and Jazz musicians) many basic rhythmic, melodic and harmonic principles central to North Indian music. I also hung out with Kartik and Dafnis while they jammed on a few improtu ragas. After that, I could have sworn that nearby Mount Rundle shifted a few centimeters !!! Those were some heavy grooves...

- Peter Apfelbaum shared some insightful stories about his experiences working with Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Karl Berger. He is one genuine spirit and I sure hope more people are exposed to Peter's music (and Peter the person) in the future.

- It was very inspiring to hear my fellow drummer's Morgan Childs and Mark Nelson play on a daily basis. These guys are playing great and check them out in Toronto and Montreal whenever you get the chance.

- My main workshop/rehearsal/performing group was with trumpeter Patrick Boyle and Seattle saxophonist Greg Sinibaldi. Patrick was constantly on his phone during his stay here (haha) so we named our trio "The Jazz Text Messengers". Very clever I must say....This group was really a highlight for me as we explored a format and approach to improvising that I had long been interested in but not dedicated serious time to. This was a chance to do a lot of "Free playing" (I actually prefer Jim Lewis's term "Open playing" myself). Patrick is forever searching for new formats and arrangements to improvise within and Greg contributed some wild textures with his EWI and effects pedals. For one late night session I assembled every gong I could find in the percussion studio (there were many!) and incorporated them into our improvisations. Our final performance at the Beatniq Jazz Club in Calgary was easily the highlight of my two weeks playing with these cats.

- Uri Caine inspired me with his deep knowledge of ALL music ! His experience with 20th Century composers such as Bartok, Webern, Berg and Shoenberg was humbling - and then of course he could turn around, swing like mad on the piano and talk about his days hanging with Philly Joe Jones and Mickey Roker. His discography is quite remarkable and the guy has released a new album almost every year since 1993 !!! He was also very generous with his time, music and information. In fact, I'd say all the faculty members saw things that way. This really made me realize the spirit and idea of mentorship and how they learned to play music and how this music is passed on to future generations and all those who want to learn about it. Schools are important.....but that is just one part of the puzzle and only one stop in a musician's journey. We really have to hang with people who have already been there and done it before.

- Phil Dwyer and I got along great from the first note we played together and managed to play quite a bit during his time here. The guy plays every note with drive and energy. He's a real drummer's tenor player !

All in all, this was a great time and I consider myself lucky to have been included in this workshop. If I can think of other things that changed my life here over the past two weeks, I'll add them in as I think of them !


  1. Jon,

    It was a wonderful fortnight of fun. Here's hoping the Text Messengers will live to text again.

    In the spirit of vinyl siding,


    p.s. I love your blog.

  2. you rock Dr. John. sorry I didn't get a chance to session with you! next time...