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Ali Berkok

This week we feature pianist and composer Ali Berkok, who participated in Jazzology in 2009.

After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in music from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ali relocated to Toronto and completed his Master’s degree from the University of Toronto, where he is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree under the instruction of David Braid.

His musical mentors have included Dave Barton, Greg Runions, Mark Eisenman, and Don Thompson, and he has shared the stage with David Buchbinder, Jane Bunnett, Alex Dean, Andrew Downing, Kurt Elling, Nick Fraser, Mike Murley, Don Palmer, and the Toronto Jazz Orchestra.

Berkok is a founding member of Aurochs which, along with bassist Pete Johnston and drummer Jake Oelrichs, recently released their debut album Rational Animals. He also leads Arkana, a five piece modern jazz outfit that has released two recordings: Hyprovisation (2007) and Kaleidoscope (2009). Ali has collaborated with musician Mike Smith as a member of the group Muskox and as part of the Wildlife Movies project, which was featured in the 2014 Somewhere There Festival.

His latest project is solo piano music, which ranges from originals to interpretations of PJ Harvery to interventions on Cole Porter.

Ali discusses his experience with the Jazzology program while he was a master’s student at the University of Toronto and outlines his more recent musical activities:

1) Describe your experience with the Jazzology program. What was your favourite aspect?

It was great to be able to select tracks that influenced me and be a DJ of my own musical past.

2) What is your strongest memory of the Jazzology program? Are there any funny stories or incidents that come to mind?

As soon as Larry Green got wind of my jazz being less than traditional, he gave me a knowing look and repeated: “Steve Ward?? Steve Ward??” Steve is an avant-garde trombonist with a prolific performance profile. Though I have tons of respect for Steve, we don’t really do the same sort of thing. That enthusiastic lumping together of Steve and I is something I thrive on as a fan of comedy-of-the-awkward shows like “The Office.”

3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians?

Any chance to reflect is good. I *would* caution any artist against putting too much stock in any narrative of their own career, however.

4) How has this experience helped in your personal and professional development?

Intrinsic motivations for doing what we do need to be in place and nourished, but it helps to have an opportunity to be heard! Looking at what influenced me helped shed some light on what may have been lacking in my musical diet.

5) This program is made possible by our generous donors and sponsors who strongly believe in the importance of arts education initiatives. If you had the opportunity to thank them in person, what would you say?

There’s little conventional wisdom or solid evidence that says money put into arts education provides a return on investment. Thank you for having the courage to think unconventionally.

6) Why is music education important?

The potential recruiting of many systems (mind, body and soul) in music problem solving makes it one of the most effective forms of learning!

7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing?

I am a student in the Doctor of Musical Arts program at the University of Toronto, where I have studied piano with David Braid. He has aided and encouraged me to undertake a solo piano project which will go on the road in 2015. I also perform monthly at the Tranzac with my trio “Aurochs,” the likes of which you haven’t heard before. We just released our first album Rational Animals.

I am also proud to teach at the Music Studio in Etobicoke where my private students continue to impress and entertain.

8) What music are you listening to at the moment that you find particularly inspiring?

I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I don’t yet know how inspired I am by it (I have a problem with that word “inspiration” if the feeling doesn’t connect to action, doesn’t actually inspire me towards something) but it doesn’t sound like he was trying to make a good record… it just sounds like he was doing exactly what he felt like.

9) What are your plans for the future?

I’ve never managed to do a proper tour. I would love to tour the country with Aurochs.

10) How can people learn more about you and your activities?

You can check out and my Twitter handle is @aliberkok.

Jazzology is proudly sponsored by RBC Emerging Artists Project.


About RBC and the Arts
RBC sponsors a wide-range of grassroots and local initiatives that contribute to the cultural fabric of our communities. Proud to support events and passions that resonate with our clients and all Canadians, RBC provides opportunities for up-and-coming artists through programs such as the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, one of the largest competitions of its kind in the world; and the RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition, part of our commitment as the Official Bank and major sponsor of the world’s top public film festival – the Toronto International Film Festival®.

Learn More about the RBC Emerging Artists Project


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