Home > Events > Saxophonist Mike Allen Tours Vancouver Island to Celebrate Canadian Guitar Legend Sonny Greenwich

Saxophonist Mike Allen Tours Vancouver Island to Celebrate Canadian Guitar Legend Sonny Greenwich

September 20, 2017

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The Mike Allen Quartet (with Miles Black-piano, Steve Holy-bass and Dave Robbins-drums) will be performing new and vintage compositions by Canadian jazz guitarist Sonny Greenwich as well as new compositions by Allen and his bandmates on a tour of shows on Vancouver Island from Sept 29 to Oct 8 which includes stops in Cumberland, Mill Bay, Nanaimo, Parksville and Gabriola Island.

Mike’s band will be heading into the studio to record later this fall; the new album entitled Mike Allen Quartet: Celebrating Sonny Greenwich is scheduled for release in early 2018.

In this exclusive Island Jazz interview Mike talks about his unique association with Greenwich and the tour. 

For specific dates and times see below.

Mike, how did you first meet Sonny Greenwich?
My first time hearing Sonny play live was in 1984 at the Kingston Jazz Society. I had just started to get deep into Coltrane, and coincidently was writing a paper on improvisation in Western music as part of my music degree at Queen’s University. My assignment provided the impetus to go up and talk with Sonny after the gig and in passing he offered the following golden words that I’ve never forgotten and still live by. He said “there are no mistakes in jazz, only opportunities for more beauty”.

After I moved to Montreal in 1985, I was able to attend several of Sonny’s quartet shows at Club 2080, the local jazz hot spot of the day. His playing was like magic to my ears; that particular incarnation of his band (with Fred Henke-piano, Ron Sequin-bass and Andre White-drums) was superb. At some point as I was developing and making a name for myself on the Montreal scene, Sonny must have heard a recording or heard from someone else that we shared a certain aesthetic in our musical choices. Along with John Coltrane, Sonny was my major musical influence; I was definitely trying to follow in his footsteps. Out of the blue, he called up on the telephone in 1989 to ask if I’d be interested in doing a recording and some performances. We hadn’t spoken again since that first time in Kingston, I was absolutely floored and honoured to be the first tenor saxophonist invited to join his group in over a decade. Of course I said yes.

You were in his band for several years. What was that like?

From 1989 to 1995 his eight-piece and five-piece groups were pretty active, recording and performing at clubs and jazz festivals. Sonny doesn’t fly due to a childhood bout of double-pneumonia so international and cross-country travel was not possible; we played regionally and locally. In those bands the repertoire was his originals. I became very familiar with his style of composing and band leading and developed an affinity for both. Fortunately Sonny enjoyed rehearsing and imparting advice on how he wanted the music to be played, so I got invaluable training during my time with his bands. We continue to perform and record together since I left for New York and then Vancouver in 1995; I’ve returned on a few occasions to record with Sonny in Montreal and Toronto.
You’ve called him “my Miles Davis.” Why?

I believe Sonny is a musical genius. Soon after I joined his band I started to notice that we react to musical moments in similar ways. It became obvious that we are kindred spirits despite his 30-year head start. The way he is able to “sing” a melody on the guitar completely fascinates me. He has inspired and shaped my musical focus more than anyone else. Learning from being on stage and in studio with him is the greatest education I will ever receive as a musician. For me, he is the Miles Davis of the guitar – when he isn’t being the John Coltrane of the guitar! When we talk on the phone, I mostly listen.

What inspired you to embark on this tour?

Sonny started composing some new tunes recently and has been sending them to me to check out. The new ones are stunning, just like his older tunes and I feel that they deserve to be heard, now that he is not performing as much (he is 81). With his blessing I’m thrilled to share some of my favourite SG tunes with people on the west coast. And helping to draw some attention to the incredible musical legacy of my mentor is just icing on the cake.

What can folks expect in the workshop and the show?

The workshop will be engaging and interactive; we encourage everyone to bring their instruments. We have arrangements with simple transposed parts and some improvising sections that allow people of all levels to experience what it feels like to play with us. We also do a short rhythm workshop led by Dave Robbins which involves clapping patterns and weaving polyrhythms. There will be a short Q&A if time permits. Afterwards in the club, we will have a whiskey, fire it up and let loose on Sonny’s tunes, some originals of mine, and a few jazz standards.

The Mike Allen Quartet will be at Studio Live (Cumberland) on Sept 29 at 8pm, Phoenix Auditorium At The Haven (Gabriola Island) on Sept 30 at 7:30pm, Lighthouse Bistro (Nanaimo) on Oct 1 at 7:30pm, Hermann’s Jazz Club (Victoria) on Oct 6 at 8pm, Sylvan United Church (Mill Bay) on Oct 7 at 7pm, Char’s Landing (Port Alberni) on Oct 8 at 2:30pm, and McMillan Arts Centre (Parksville) on Oct 8 at 7pm. 

Note: The Victoria show at Hermann’s will include a workshop at 6 pm. Participants are encouraged to bring their instruments. Admission is $10. 

MAQ 2017 VI Tour-Hermann's and workshop

Categories: Events
  1. September 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    great review rick! i love sonny greenwich’s music and am looking forward to seeing this group play some of it.. thanks – james

  2. Arnold van KLaveren
    September 20, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Hi Rick,
    I have Mike Allen doing a phone interview with me on Oct.2,2017. Topic of discussion will be Mike’s association with Sonny Greenwich.

    Also have Ryan Oliver coming into the studio on Sept. 25 to talk about the VJO Africa Brass presentation as well as Ryan’s gig on Sept 30 at Hermann’s, celebrating John Coltrane’s birthday with Ken Lister(b) Hans Verhoven(d) and Tony Genge(keys) Ryan on(ts).

    All on CFUV 101.9fm or online at cfuv.ca . 6-8pm Monday evenings

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