Mike Allen On His New Album Honouring Bob Murphy and His Upcoming Vancouver Island Tour with Miles Black
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
“An extraordinary pianist […] Marianne Trudel is one of the most respected jazz musicians in Quebec…” — CBC
“Ingrid (Jensen) plays trumpet and flugelhorn with all the brilliance and fire of a true virtuoso, following the spirit of the muse as she creates… …warm, sensitive, exciting and totally honest…” – Marian McPartland
Renowned Quebec pianist Marianne Trudel performs in four Island centres this week with her JUNO nominated project La vie commence ici – Life Begins Here, featuring Nanaimo-born, New-York-based trumpet virtuoso Ingrid Jensen. The quartet includes gifted bassist Rémi-Jean Leblanc and powerhouse drummer Rich Irwin.
This is a not-to-miss show with two of Canada’s most gifted and passionate musicians. Here are the dates:
Wednesday, June 22 : Nanaimo – SIMONHOLT (Quartet feat. Ingrid Jensen) 7:30 pm – 6582 Applecross Rd. 250-933-3338, Tickets $25
Thursday, June 23 : Tofino- Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre (Trio) 8 pm-380 Campbell, 250-266-0133– $20
Leftover Dreams Brings Their Unique Mix of “Moody Ballads, Jumping Swingers and Unabashedly Romantic Love Songs” to Hermann’s.
If you like well arranged jazz vocals and richly textured solo jazz guitar then you’ll enjoy Leftover Dreams, a unique Canadian-American duo performing at Hermann’s this Wednesday evening (May 18).
Leftover Dreams is the brainchild of longtime Bay Area musician-vocalist Tony Marcus and former Victoria singer-songwriter-harpist Patrice Haan.
Marcus and Haan have put their own stamp on the great American songbook (and the occasional original tune) by creating complex vocal arrangements that swing to the compelling chord-melody guitar work of Marcus who, it must be said, knows his way around a fingerboard.
Leftover Dreams was recently featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, winning the weekly listener’s poll with their version of Teach Me Tonight. The show is part of a northwest tour that will take them through Washington and Oregon. A must-see!
Doors at 5:30, show at 7:30. Tickets $15.
The Devil’s Horn: The History and Curse of the Saxophone to Play May 6,7,8 in Victoria. Island Jazz Readers Can Win a Free Pair of Passes.
The Devils’ Horn: The History and Curse of the Saxophone, the latest documentary by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Larry Weinstein (Inside Hana’s Suitcase and Our Man in Tehran) is coming to the Vic Theatre in Victoria for a limited three-day engagement (May 6,7,8) and Island Jazz readers have the chance to win a pair of free passes.
Weinstein, who has made films about classical music in his twenty-year career, has had a longstanding interest in jazz and got the idea for The Devil’s Horn after reading the 2005 book of the same title by Michael Segell. He told Toronto film critic Andrew Parker in a recent interview that “I thought there was a fabulous idea for a film in there because he [Segell] touches on this notion of a curse behind the sax.”
The idea of the curse goes back to the Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), the inventor of the saxophone, who, it is said, led a cursed life (he suffered seven near-death experiences in childhood, went mad and died in poverty).
The devil’s involvement seems to be connected with the Catholic Church which banned the instrument in 1903. The Nazis not only banned it but also burned saxophones and saxophone recordings.Even the communists got in on the act, routinely imprisoning saxophonists. And then there’s the tragic lives of some of its greatest exponents, mostly in the jazz world.
Weinstein’s film explores this storied history but more important, it examines the soulful and seductive power of the instrument said to be the closest to the human voice and at the very heart of modern jazz. The film features interviews with a number of saxophonists including the legendary Jimmy Heath.
If you’d like your name included in the draw, email me at gibrickATgmailDOTcom and write “ticket draw” in the subject line. Include your full name and telephone number in the body of the email. I must receive your entry no later than Wednesday, May 4 at 12 noon. The draw takes place on Thursday.
Movie times are 7pm on Friday, May 6; 4pm on Saturday, May 7; and 7pm on Sunday, May 8. You can view the trailer here.