Home > Events, Interviews > Mike Allen On His New Album Honouring Bob Murphy and His Upcoming Vancouver Island Tour with Miles Black

Mike Allen On His New Album Honouring Bob Murphy and His Upcoming Vancouver Island Tour with Miles Black

January 8, 2017


Vancouver saxophonist Mike Allen releases a new duo album January 10 featuring tunes recorded with Bob Murphy and Miles Black. He’ll be touring Vancouver Island with Miles later this month to promote the album. Island Jazz interviewed Mike by email to learn more about the genesis of Bob’s Piano, his tribute to the late Bob Murphy.

1. How did the new album Bob’s Piano come about? 

I wanted to do something that would honour Bob Murphy, who died rather suddenly in the fall of 2015. He and I enjoyed getting together to play duo at his home. We played together in other groups as well but the duo playing was always especially memorable. He often recorded our sessions and we talked about releasing an album some day. There was a handful of tracks I could release from those sessions but not enough for a full album so with the blessing of Bob’s partner Monique, Miles Black and I recorded for an afternoon on Bob’s piano with the intention of completing what was an unfinished album that was years in the making. The album is a tribute to Bob; it features recordings of him with me playing mostly standards, and me with Miles Black playing mostly Bob’s tunes, and it was all recorded with Bob’s beloved piano. 

2. Did you have a particular vision in mind?

The vision was an album conveying the spirit of our informal playing sessions: loose and uninhibited, taking chances and exploring possibilities.

3.  For readers who might not know too much about Bob can you say a bit about his place on the Canadian jazz scene, the kind of person he was, and what he meant to you personally.

When I arrived in Vancouver in the mid ’90s I learned very quickly that Bob was a highly-regarded artist, a respected musical force. His reputation seemed to involve all the kinds of traits you want to associate with as a serious musician: he was focused, flowing, and always tuned in to the bigger picture; he just loved playing good music and exuded joy when doing it. Being on the west coast he was probably not as widely known as he should have been, but he was revered within the broader jazz community and knowledgable jazz listeners knew he was a treasure.

4. When did you first meet him and play with him? What was that like?

I met him on my very first gig in Vancouver at Carnegie’s where he held down a weekly duo gig. It was a hopping, trendy bar on Broadway but we treated it like we were at the Village Vanguard; we didn’t hold back. We played classic jazz tunes like Stella By Starlight, Autumn Leaves and Body And Soul, repertoire that we could come together on with no rehearsal. Bob was serious and slightly aloof at first – he probably wasn’t sure if I could hang musically at his level. He warmed up to me fairly quickly.

5. What about Miles Black?

While Bob and I played together occasionally, Miles and I have shared a very active and fruitful musical journey that started some months after I met Bob. Miles has been a member of my quartet since 1996, we run a big band together (MMJO) and taught together at Western Washington University from 2010-15 when I was the jazz director there. He is on seven of my albums, we have toured across Canada and in Europe together. Miles is one of the finest collaborators you could ever hope to have.

6. The album features four tunes recorded with Bob and six with Miles. How are they different in their approaches as players and how has that influenced your playing? Can you maybe give an example or two from the album?

The way Bob and I play together is like two swans swimming in circles around each other on a calm pond, aware of each other’s presence, locked together in a dance but independent. Track #7 Stella By Starlight is a good example of how we can do our own thing at the same time and somehow it just works. Miles and I play together very differently – we play the same ideas just offset from one another, leaving more silence for listening. We always seem to find our musical direction through interacting as on track #1 Nothing Changes.

7. You’re touring the island with Miles in January. What should audiences expect?

Naturally we’ll be playing some of the music from the new album. We both like to explore all the facets of duo playing. We take turns leading and following with an ear to balance, texture and dynamics. We always try to support each other in whatever way the music leads us. Audiences can expect to go on a rewarding journey with us – a dialogue in which they will be aware we play with them in mind at all times. I hope listeners will feel uplifted.

Mike Allen and Miles Black appear in Victoria on Thursday, January 26 at 7:30 pm at Tom Lee Music Hall on Millstream Rd. (Tickets: $25 door, $20 in advance, available at Tom Lee Music); in Nanaimo on January 27 at 8pm at the Nanaimo Conservatory of Music (Tickets $25 door, $20 in advance at Arbutus Music and Fascinating Rhythm); in Cumberland on Saturday, January 28 at 8pm at Studio Live (Tickets $25 door, $20 advance at Bop City Records, Courtenay; Rider’s Pizza, Cumberland; Church Street Bakery, Comox ); and in Parksville on Sunday, January 29 at 2:30 pm at the McMillan Arts Centre (Tickets are $20 door/$17 OCAC members, available at the MAC office).

More info at mikeallenjazz.com

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