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

September 20, 2017 2 comments


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

Trumpet Star Bria Skonberg Headlines 12th Annual Friends of Nanaimo Jazz Society Fundraiser

May 24, 2017 Comments off

Bria Skonberg_PR1_C.Palmgren2017 Juno Winner and trumpet/vocal star Bria Skonberg will be the featured performer at “Jazz Affair,” the Friends of Nanaimo Jazz Society’s annual fundraiser for local student music programs, this Friday, May 26th, at the Coast Bastion Hotel.

The Chilliwack, BC, native has made a name for herself in New York and recently won the 2017 Juno for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year for her self-titled Sony Music release Bria. In its citation the Juno Awards said, “Elite jazz chops, artfully mixed with worldly rhythms and contemporary songwriting, result in a sophisticated pop sound closely resembling that of Michael Bublé, Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr.”

Skonberg has received accolades from The Wall Street Journal, Downbeat, Vanity Affair and Jazz at Lincoln Center. The Wall Street Journal  described her as one of the “most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation.”

The evening includes a dinner, concert performances, silent auction, and raffles. Tickets are $60 per person and are available through the Port Theatre box office at 125 Front Street, Nanaimo. 250-754-8550. Doors open at 6 pm.

If you haven’t heard Skonberg before, with her sophisticated vocals and elegant trumpet lines, she’s definitely worth a listen.


Categories: Events

Celebrated Pianist Larry Fuller Plays Victoria and Salt Spring

May 17, 2017 Comments off

Larry Fuller May 19 17NYC Pianist Larry Fuller, who has worked with everyone from Ray Brown to John Legend, plays three shows this week in Victoria and on Salt Spring Island. He appears with drummer Kelby MacNayr and bassist John Lee in MacNayr’s Art of the Trio Series on Friday, May 19th at Hermann’s (8pm) and on Saturday, May 20th (7:30pm) at Salt Spring United Church.

On Sunday , May 21st (7pm) he returns to Hermann’s as part of a quintet that includes Chris Davis on trumpet and Ryan Oliver on sax. The trio shows celebrate the legacy of Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson, while the quintet show will explore the work of Cannonball Adderley, Duke Ellington and Ray Brown.

Categories: Events

The Anton Schwartz Quintet, Earshot’s Acoustic Jazz Ensemble of the Year, Comes to Hermann’s.

April 27, 2017 Comments off

AntonIntenseProfile-160The Anton Schwartz Quintet, recently named the Northwest Acoustic Jazz Ensemble of the Year by Earshot, the Seattle Jazz organization, plays Hermann’s on Sunday , May 7, as part of a western Canadian mini-tour that will also take them to Edmonton and Vancouver.

The Seattle-based group will feature material from Flash Mob, their most recent CD that enjoyed many weeks atop the jazz charts and received a four star review in Downbeat when it was named one of the best albums of 2014.

Schwartz has headlined top venues throughout the U.S., including the Blue Note in NYC, Yoshi’s in Oakland, and Jazz Alley in Seattle. This is a rare Canadian appearance.

You can visit Anton Schwartz’s website for more info and listen to music samples here. Check the Hermann’s website for ticket info.

Categories: Events

NMA Big Band 50th Anniversary: Exclusive Interview with Bryan Stovell

March 5, 2017 Comments off



The Nanaimo Musician’s Association Big Band will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Sunday, March 12th, 2017 from 2–4 pm at the Branch 256 Legion Hall on Wellington Rd. in Nanaimo. Island Jazz interviewed Bryan Stovell, mentor to Phil Dwyer, Ingrid and Christine Jensen and Diana Krall to understand better how central Vancouver Island has produced so many great players.

1. The Nanaimo area and the Island in general have produced some amazing players who have gone on to international fame. Is it something in the water? 

Not the water, but the coal, discovered in the 1850s. The Nanaimo musical ethos began with the Nanaimo Concert Band which formed in 1873, comprised of colliery band musicians from Britain. The NCB is in its 145th continuous year. In 1931, during the Swing Era, the iconic Pygmy Ballroom was built and touring bands of Louis Armstrong, Harry James, and the Dorsey Brothers played there. When Rock music killed Swing in the late 50s, Read more…

Categories: Events
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