Interview with Jon McCaslin
The following is from Jon McCaslin’s blog:
1) Can you tell us about your musical background? How did you learn to play jazz?
I came to jazz by happy accident. I have spent most of my musical life in the classical realm. I started piano lessons in grade school, moved through the Royal Conservatory exam system and went on to do Bachelorʼs and Masterʼs degrees in piano performance at the University of Alberta. Right after graduating I moved with my husband to the Middle East for a couple of years and there had amazing opportunities to play with local and visiting musicians from all over the world, as well as teaching. After coming back to Canada, I taught at both Alberta College and Mount Royal College Conservatory and worked as a free-lance accompanist.
In 2003 I was preparing for a solo recital after a hiatus from playing, and…this story is such a cliché Iʼm embarrassed to tell it…I did too much too soon and ended up with tendinitis. So after taking some time off and still in the process of recovering, I started taking jazz lessons with Derek Stoll, on a lark, really. I hadnʼt tried improvisation before, but Derek is an inspiring teacher. I was instantly completely hooked. Since then I have taken lessons with local players, attended the Mount Royal College summer jazz camp, the Jamey Aebersold summer jazz program and this summer I went to New York for lessons and lots of listening. Also jam sessions and gigs often have the potential to be free lessons, and I am grateful for the generosity and support of the local musical community.
2) Who are your musical influences and why?
I did my Masterʼs degree with a great Canadian classical pianist, Stéphane Lemelin, and I have to say that even though Iʼm doing something very different now and itʼs many years later, I can still hear his voice in my head! And his playing is a standard I aspire to. Francois Bourrassaʼs quartet was one of the first jazz events I attended. I still go every time heʼs here and listen to his CDʼs regularly. I love Bill Evans. I remember one of my lessons with Derek–he played a montuno with a left hand tumbao–ok, I had really lived in a tiny musical bubble up to this point–and I remember it grabbing my brain. So I started listening to Latin jazz. Chucho Valdes, Michel Camilo, Rubalcaba, Danilo Perez–all favourites.
3) Name your top 5 favourite albums and how they have influenced you.
Top five is impossible, but hereʼs five that come quickly to mind. The only jazz album I owned up until about 7 years ago was Kind of Blue. Those tunes were floating around in my head before I understood anything. Anything Bill Evans. Chucho Valdes, New Conceptions, Mstislav Rostropovich, Bach solo cello suites. I keep coming back to this one. Right now Iʼm listening to Danilo Perez, Central Avenue, and really enjoying it.
4) What sort of things are you practicing or developing musically these days?
My lessons in New York this summer (with Peter Zak and Michael Weiss) made me think about voicings more carefully than I had been. Itʼs like a big puzzle and I can sit for hours trying to figure things out. Also, transcribing wasnʼt a part of my training and it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out what the fuss was about. Now Iʼm trying to exercise that (weak!) musical muscle because I realize itʼs key. Also I was fortunate enough to get involved in the salsa scene in Calgary recently, so Iʼve been working really hard at that. And then by extension, figuring out how that can feed into jazz.
5) What interesting projects do you have on the go at the moment?
Iʼm involved in a new Latin jazz quintet project, Quinteto Alegría. So much fun!
6) You are in a unique position by having such extensive training as a classical pianist that also plays jazz music. How would you describe how your classical training has influenced your jazz training and vice versa?
OK, so I havenʼt figured this out yet. Is is cheesily quoting “Fũr Elise” in solos? (Yes, guilty.) Or just letting the subconscious stew of all past musical experiences come out how they will? I will keep you posted. And when I play classical music now, I now have a greater appreciation for and insight into the composerʼs mind.
7) Favourite place to eat in Calgary.
Una Pizza on 17th has amazing gluten-free pizzas.