Monday, October 19, 2015

Morgan Childs "On The Street of Dreams"

I've really been enjoying Toronto Jazz drummer Morgan Childs' latest offering over the past few months, a hard swinging and very enjoyable quartet outing featuring Childs on drums with several of my favourite Canadian Jazz artists including Kelly Jefferson on tenor saxophone, Dave Restivo on piano and Jon Maharaj on bass.

Morgan was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his latest project and his music:
1) How did this recording project come about?

It actually started as a touring project more than a recording project. I had survived a “down” winter in 2011 with less gigs than I would have liked in the months of January and February, and when it looked like 2012 was going to be the same, I resolved to work hard to have something to do the next year. I started working on a tour for a band with personnel to be decided as it came together, and got some nice gigs on the calendar for 2013… gigs at the Yukon Arts Centre, Cellar Jazz Club, Hermann’s, Vernon Jazz Club, Columbia Valley Arts Council, Fernie Arts Station, Yardbird Suite etc… it grew and grew and I was lucky enough to get a Canada Council touring grant. I decided to record the gigs at the Cellar and Yardbird, because those were rooms I had recorded in before and always felt really comfortable playing in. It took awhile for me to decide whether or not I was going to release it—I tend to agonize over the quality of my own playing, which slows the process down. 

2) What's the overall concept for this album?

Since the album was recorded on live dates and nobody knew that it was going to become a record, there’s a sort of freedom to how we’re playing and a looseness… maybe a lack of pressure, the kind of pressure you put on yourself in a recording studio to get the “perfect” take. I like that. I like that the guys stretched out and expressed themselves. When I put the tracks in order for the disc, I thought about what I personally really enjoy as a listener, and tried to put everything in the order to represent what you might hear if you came to hear one really good set at one of these clubs. It comes in a little longer than a lot of records, but if you think about what you might hear in one set at a really great club with great acoustics like the Cellar or Yardbird, I think it is representational of that sound. I suppose the overall concept is intimacy; the sounds on the record are exactly how everything was played in the moment. There isn’t a single edit on the record. 

3) Why/how did you choose the musicians you played with? What unique qualities do they bring to your music?

When I moved to Toronto in 2009, I had kind of a mental list of people I hadn’t played much with but had always really admired and wanted to play with, and Kelly, Jon and David were all high up on that list! I started out playing saxophone trio gigs at the Rex with Kelly and Jon in the winter of 2010, which I loved, but some of the music I was hearing in my head I thought would sound really great with a pianist. Later that year, I toured with the great saxophonist Richard Underhill with a really nice quintet with David on piano and I really felt like we had instant rapport that developed really naturally. Kelly, David and Jon are all superb listeners. It’s really gratifying to play with people who truly listen to what everybody is doing, and make their next musical choice based on that empathetic approach. Of course they are all virtuosos on their individual instruments, but that is less important to me than that sense of musical unity and empathy. I value compelling musical statements above all else, and all these guys are so committed to getting the most out of everything they play. 

4) You begin the album with a beautiful ballad (this is rare....and takes serious guts!) What can you say about this choice and the other standards you chose to record?

Thanks for noticing! I’ve gotten a few compliments on my choice of opener, the title track being the Victor Young tune “On The Street of Dreams”. I like to think of ways to be unconventional… to maybe go against the grain of what would be de rigueur for compiling a set or album order. Many jazz albums (including many of my favourite jazz albums, I should mention) start with a track that functions as an “I can play” statement. I wanted something subtle to draw people into a mood. 

I think about how I can create a sense of flow and balance within a set, not just from tune to tune. Did I play brushes in time on the last ballad? Maybe on this one I will play mallets and play out of time, for example. Did the drums trade 8s in the last tune we played? Maybe this tune, the saxophone and piano can trade with each other instead, or solo at the same time and have that be a mood for a part of the set. Maybe the pianist could play something unaccompanied. Maybe I could play a solo with my bare hands, or play tambourine (actually that’s probably not a good idea!). These are not particularly original ideas (and one has to be careful not to become gimmicky), but every set can be a different, original musical statement because of how you choose to control the texture and pacing of a set of music. Those are important decisions as a leader. Some personal abstraction tends to translate to the listener as being intriguing, which I think is a desirable goal. 

5) Half of the tunes represented on this recording are your own original compositions. Can you speak to your influences and a process as a composer?

 I usually sing little ideas into my voice memo app on my iPhone, and then when I have the chance to write and flesh them out, I think a lot about what kind of song it might become and who is going to play it (or who I would like to play it). I think about how Ellington wrote for the individual voices of a Bubber Miley or Cat Anderson or Ray Nance or Johnny Hodges. I try to find interesting inner voices or basslines to accompany core ideas that I hope are strong melodically. I try to have each piece create a specific effect for me as a listener, and once I’ve achieved that by including some details, I hope that the people I’ve chosen to play it bring it to life with their individual voices and input… that’s very important to me. With everything I write, I try to make the melody the most important thing. The idea of harmony is, for me, something that is there to add nuance and colour to the melodic line. 

6) Any future plans/recordings for this group? 

It’s been awhile since I released a record so I am taking it slow and just trying to get people to hear it and enjoy it and hopefully I will be able to tour these guys again one day. I would like to take them overseas somewhere maybe. I have never played on any other continent, so that remains a goal of mine. 

7) What other projects do you have on the go at the moment?

I am on a new record by Amanda Tosoff called “Words” which is an extraordinary album I’m really excited for people to hear. I have a tour with the Griffith/Hiltz trio in November (Nathan Hiltz: Guitar, synthesizers, bass pedals, Johnny Griffith: Saxophones, bass clarinet, synthesizers), subbing for my good friend Sly Juhas. There is the organ group with Bernie Senensky, Nathan Hiltz and Ryan Oliver that plays every week. I did an August tour with saxophonist David French, Hiltz and bassist Jon Meyer that yielded a crop of new material (no originals, but many cool tunes), we’ll see if that band gets some more work at some point, I’d sure like to play with those guys again. I’m going into the studio with the great guitarist Lee Wallace to record some new material next week. Finally, I have immensely enjoyed the addition to the Toronto scene of organist/pianist Jeff McLeod and guitarist Ben Bishop and I think we will be planning to do more playing together in various contexts in the near future. 

8) Can you speak to your influences as a drummer these days? What kinds of things are you practicing?

I have just started writing out all the possible permutations of all the numbered rolls in the context of snare/bass drum combinations (assigning L to your left hand and R to your bass drum, for example) against the ride cymbal. When I say “all possible” permutations, I mean in every metric context that I could think would be useful, mainly ¼, 1/4note triplets, 8th notes (for the 3-beat rudiments, phrased over the barline until you reach 1 again in bar 4), 16th notes (again, for the 3 beat rudiments, phrasing them across the barline). The idea is that it starts very simple and gets more and more complex, with the feel of each phrase being a unique permutation against the ride cymbal beat. I continue to work on solos from the Wilcoxin book “Modern Rudimental Swing Solos”, and some of the Kenny Clarke book (I think I sent you that stuff?... the Renversements and triple paradiddle pages). My biggest influence lately has been early New Orleans funk music… Lee Dorsey, James Black, Neville Brothers, The Meters etc. 


To learn more about Morgan's music check out his website and buy his album at

No comments:

Post a Comment