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Jacob Damelin

This week’s featured artist is pianist and composer Jacob Damelin. Born in Toronto, Jacob attended the Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. He was very active in their music programs and had the opportunity to perform across North America, most notably with an ensemble that performed at Levon Helm’s “Midnight Ramble” in 2009.
Damelin attended the Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music, studying with Danilo Perez, George Garzone, John Patitucci, and Joe Lovano. Outside of the classroom Damelin played in bands performing anything from country to hip-hop.

Returning to Toronto after graduating in 2013, Damelin has established himself in the music scene, performing with Pat LaBarbera, the Toronto Art Orchestra, Dear Sister, and Sam Cash. He has been also working with world-renowned hip-hop producer Skratch Bastid as an instrumental arranger.  In addition to teaching piano privately, Jacob also leads his own quartet featuring saxophonist Leland Whitty, bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes, and drummer Evan Cartwright.

Jacob participated in the Youth Big Band program in 2008-9. We asked him to describe his experiences with the group and to tell us about his recent activities. Here is what he had to say:

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

It was an honour to be a part of the Youth Big Band. It was run in a fun but professional manner. Jules Estrin was a fantastic director. Through his attention to detail, constructive criticism, and emphasis on accountability he taught me what it meant to be an honorable member of a band.

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

We rehearsed at the JAZZ.FM91 studio on Saturdays and every week we had a 10-15 minute break in the middle of practice. Although Jules wanted us to take the time to relax and recharge, many of us would continue jamming. It was inspiring to be around musicians that were so hungry to improve that they simply would not stop playing.

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

I would highly recommend the Youth Big Band. There are many strong music programs in Toronto high schools. However, it’s tough for young jazz musicians to surround themselves with peers who are all pursuing this music at a high level of intensity. The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band creates that environment.

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

I formed some long-lasting friendships with my peers in the program. The experience taught me the importance of being reliable and supportive not only as a musician, but as a person, in all aspects of life. Professionally, the Youth Big Band improved my sight-reading and improvisational skills immensely. We were constantly given gradually more difficult pieces that challenged both areas.

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?

I would thank them for recognizing the various benefits of music education. By allowing kids to explore this art form they are preserving the tradition and culture of jazz. They are also fostering the development of this ever-evolving music by supporting the next generation of composers and performers.

6) Why is music education important?

Music education is important because it exercises multiple areas of the brain. It creates a symbiotic relationship between analytical and creative thinking. By utilizing these parts of the mind simultaneously, students learn the importance of understanding as well as invention. Whether a child wants to become a musician, a scientist or a lawyer, these skills are essential.

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

After the JAZZ.FM91 FM Youth Big Band, I attended Berklee College of Music on scholarship. I was admitted into the Berklee Global Jazz Institute directed by Danilo Perez. In this program I had the privilege of studying and performing with fantastic musicians such as George Garzone, John Patitucci, Joe Lovano and Ben Street. Since graduating from Berklee in 2013 I have recorded my first EP entitled Perspective that will be released later this year. I have also worked with Canadian hip-hop producer Skratch Bastid as an instrumental arranger. This summer, I will be teaching at the Global Music Institute in New Delhi, India.

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

The solo piano works of Debussy have inspired my own compositions. I love the way he creates imagery through atmospheric, almost ambient writing.

9) What are your plans for the future?

I plan to do some touring in the fall to promote my album. I want to continue to build my cliental as a private piano teacher. I am also excited for a new band I’m starting when I return from India that will feature jazz and country musicians. One of my long-term goals is to run my own extra-curricular music school that would also serve as a concert venue.

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

You can find out about my upcoming gigs and collaborations in the following ways:

11) Is there anything else that you want to add?

Thanks again to the JAZZ.FM91 community for supporting the development of young musicians!

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