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Jonathan McCaslin

This week we feature Calgary drummer Jonathan McCaslin, who is a mainstay on the Western Canadian jazz scene.

Raised in Regina, Jon's interest in music led him to enroll in the Jazz Studies program at McGill University, graduating in 1999. While at McGill, Jon had the opportunity to study with including Gordon Foote, Kevin Dean, Jan Jarcyzk, Joe Sullivan, Remi Bolduc, Chris McCann, Andre White, Michel Lambert, and Dave Laing. He attended the Banff Centre for the Arts in 1997, where he performed with Hugh Fraser, Don Thompson and Kenny Wheeler. In the spring of 2002, McCaslin completed his Master's in Jazz Studies at McGill University where he studied jazz drumming, improvisation and composition.

In 2012 he released his album Sunalta on the Cellar Live jazz record label featuring Brad Turner, Phil Dwyer, Tilden Webb and Jodi Proznick. As a busy sideman, he has performed with such artists as Mulgrew Miller, Peter Bernstein, Ralph Bowen, Hendrik Meurkens, Sean Jones, PJ Perry, Charlie Biddle, Kelly Jefferson, Ian McDougall, Jeff Johnston, Lorraine Desmerais, Chucho Valdes, Uri Caine, Peter Apfelbaum, Wycliffe Gordon, Linda Oh, and Pat LaBarbera.

McCaslin is a Doctoral Candidate through the University of Toronto and is completing his dissertation on the conceptualization of contemporary melodic jazz drumming.

Jonathan took part in the Jazzology program in the fall of 2008. He took time to describe the experience and talk about his recent activities.

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

Larry Green came to our school to speak to us about different aspects of jazz radio programming. It was very interesting to hear about his varied career and how jazz on the airwaves has changed and evolved over the years.

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

Before the on-air interview began, Larry and I were sitting in the front foyer chatting, getting to know each other. The engineer wasn’t ready for us so to kill some time Larry pointed to the far side of the room and challenged me to name all the jazz musicians whose portraits hung on the wall. He was shocked that I named, without hesitation, each one! He was even so impressed that he went to the storage room and presented me with a JAZZ.FM91 t-shirt as a reward. However, I should have kept my mouth shut. I then admitted to him that I actually owned the Gene Lees/John Reeves book “Jazz Portraits” from which all the portraits came from. He was less than impressed (“You cheated!” he shouted at me...) but the front receptionist laughed and was impressed that I got the better of him...

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

Yes I would. I think it’s very important for all artists to speak about their art form, their influences, and articulate their methods, ideas, and opinions behind their craft.

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

This experience was a great introduction to JAZZ.FM91 and their radio programming. I was only vaguely aware of this station before my interview and became an avid listener and supporter from that moment on.

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

Thank you for supporting a dedicated jazz radio station in Canada! Given how jazz music is marginalized in today’s market, initiatives such as JAZZ.FM91 are crucial to helping educate audiences and support local jazz scenes.

6) Why is music education important?

Arts education, overall, is very important as it serves to teach people (young people in particular...) crucial creative thought processes and decision making skills. We need to live in a society where people are able to think for themselves, question the world around them, and use creative means to evaluate and problem-solve for themselves as well as for the greater well-being of society. Music and art education gives us these tools.

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

Since re-locating to Calgary, Alberta in 2009 following my doctoral residency at the University of Toronto I have been active as a freelance jazz drummer and educator across Western Canada. I co-lead a jazz orchestra with saxophonist Mark DeJong called the “Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble” and the “Invertigo Trio” with saxophonist Jim Brenan and bassist Rubim DeToledo. In 2012 I released my second album as a leader Sunalta, a quintet project with Brad Turner, Phil Dwyer, Tilden Webb, and Jodi Proznick. This album was nominated for the 2013 Western Canadian Music Awards “Jazz Album of the Year”. As a freelance artist I have also been very fortunate to have performed with the likes of Oliver Jones, Ralph Bowen, Sean Jones, PJ Perry, Hendrik Meurkens, Peter Bernstein and Mulgrew Miller in addition to many of Canada’s great jazz artists over the course of the past five years.

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

Recently I have been re-visiting the recordings of various groups that Max Roach led following the death of trumpeter Clifford Brown (with Booker Little and George Coleman). I have also have been enjoying some compilation boxsets featuring music from Jackie McLean and a little-known quintet from the late 60s/early 70s co-led by Bobby Hutcherson and Harold Land. I recently performed a concert of Duke Ellington’s music with the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra and have been studying Ellington’s suite “Such Sweet Thunder” and his rare piano trio music. In terms of more recent music, I’ve really been enjoying bassist Christian McBride’s latest big band recording The Good Feeling, People Music with Inside Straight and his trio album Out There.

9) What are your plans for the future?

This spring I will have completed and defended my doctoral dissertation through the University of Toronto on the topic of the contemporary practice of melodic jazz drumming. I am also currently organizing a tour for winter 2015 with vibraphonist Jason Marsalis with a project that will celebrate the music of composer/pianist Herbie Nichols.

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

Since 2009 I have been the author of a regular on-line blog entitled “Four on the Floor” which generally deals with topics related to jazz and jazz drumming (and whatever else catches my attention!)

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®.

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