Monday, March 6, 2017

In Conversation with Pianists Danae Olano and Jenie Thai

Anyone who has ever sat in front of a piano understands what a charitable instrument it is. Let the hands and fingers drop to the keys and a sound comes upward. Maybe not the most appealing, but something that catches the attention. The piano summarizes the potential of all the instruments in an orchestra and allows you to play in combinations. You can be a big band, a string quartet, a rockin’ rhythm section, a mood changer, accompanist, or a singular artist in control of the most magnificent instrument on the planet! Did I just say that? No offense to all of you lute players out there. Just being a keyboard snob.

I had the good fortune to invite two young women with great skills and deep musicality around the microphone this week at the Bill King Show, CIUT 89.5 FM and talk piano. One comes from the rich Cuban traditions and intense schooling, the other from blues and New Orleans influence. Both are classically trained and focused on their careers.

Danae Olano was born in Havana, Cuba May of 1992. She obtained a Best Bachelor of Arts at the Conservatory of Music Roldan in Havana, then finalized her studies at the Superior Institute of Arts graduating cum laude. She captured a Juno prize in 2015 in the Best Jazz Album category with the band Maqueque, led by saxophonist Jane Bunnett.

Pianist Jenie Thai was born in Chiang Mai Thailand and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. She graduated Grant MacEwan Jazz and Contemporary Music Program as a performance major. After graduation, Thai was offered a part-time teaching position at Grant MacEwan University and gained acceptance into Paul McCartney’s International Music School based in Liverpool. She was nominated “Artist to Watch” 2013 and “Female Artist of the Year” 2014, from the Edmonton Music Awards and 2016 Maple Blues Award nominee as” Best New Artist of the Year”. In their own words.

Around the microphones are three classically trained musicians who have changed course. Jeni, did performing that repretoire live make you uneasy?
Jenie: Yes - much, much stress learning the music. I studied through a campus of music at the University of Alberta and having to learn pages of pages of really difficult repertoire over a few months, then perform.
Is it the performance in front of adjudicators or just an audience that unnerves?
I find with classical music it’s all about the notes on the page and not much room for error. When you are practicing by yourself – by the time you perform, you never really – I think - never really practice enough. By the time I do perform, it’s under high stress to play all of the notes correctly; the tempo – everything as written. With other forms of music, you can play whatever you want.
I must have been sixteen in the Louisville Academy of Music and it’s my first major recital – Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 11 in B flat – it took six months to memorize 28 pages of music. I remember that moment in front of the adjudicators and my head went blank with fear. You talk to yourself. Danae, you gave your first piano recital in Toronto – The Art of Piano – the Cuban Masters. Were you feeling the pressure?
Danae: A little bit. It was my first concert here – Larry Kramer and Jane Bunnett’s idea. They wanted me to play my music and arrangements and classic Cuba piano music. Music from the 19th century to nowadays. Cervantes, Lecouna, and do two pianos with Hilario Duran. In Cuba people, don’t know nothing about pianists like Emilio Grenet. Between jazz and Cuban style. And my music with violinist/vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez and Jane Bunnett.
Two or three days before a test or audition or concert the music plays in my head and I can’t sleep. It wakes me up all night.
Jenie: Or your hands are playing all of the time on your lap. Then you mess up on a run on your lap. By the time, you get to the piano you don’t know it anymore.
I remember seeing a renowned concert pianist on an airplane with just a weighted keyboard, playing away – quietly go through the motions. Then there were masters like Horowitz who wouldn’t play for a decade- sit down and play the repertoire perfectly. That I don’t get! Do you have a daily practice routine?
Jenie: It starts with coffee and read for a bit and do the things I do every day, but rarely in the same order. I’ll be practicing piano and working on some writing. I like to run a lot. I often go for a run during the day. The rest depends if I have a rehearsal or a show or going to a show.
You play at Nawlin’s.
Jenie: Yes, this cool little club I recently started playing at with these great players; JoJo Bowden drums and Collin Barrett bass. I’m playing every Monday night at the Cameron House – it’s a residency with a full band – guitar, bass and drums backing me and every week I have a special guest songwriter.
How long have you been in Toronto?
Jenie: Since mid-October.
And your routine Danae?
Danae: I stay with Jane and Larry and they have a grand piano. I just have to go down the stairs and start to play. My home is in Havana and I have my own piano in my house.
Jenie, how did you come to play that New Orleans, blues style of piano? Did it find you – or you it?
Jenie: Kind of both. I came across some Oscar Peterson transcriptions from the recording Night Train. And some other albums too. I found a transcription of his composition Hymn to Freedom when I was in high school and asked myself, “What is this?” It was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard played in my life. I went to a record store in Edmonton and searched for Night Train and they had one copy left. Since then, I think I’ve gone through eight copies. I love Duke Ellington’s music too. In fact, that got me on this track and leaving Beethoven behind.
We don’t know why a certain music picks us. One day you’re listening to Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Prokofiev and then another music genre seeps in and you are captivated.
Jenie: It keeps changing. What I didn’t like to listen too when I was younger, I’m getting into now. I didn’t understand Thelonious Monk – the weird dissonances. Now, I think it just the cooilest. I’m excited for the next ten years and the stuff people are throwing at me now and what might hit me.
Are their other music genres you love to play Danae?
Yes, after sixteen years studying classical music I decided to get serious with jazz, Cuban music and my own. I try to improve my career as a pianist. I love classical music, but it makes me crazy.
I’ve had this conversation with classical pianists who marvel at the fact other musicians can improvise; free themselves from the written page. In the past, when teaching beginning students, I have them compose from day one.
Jenie: I like that you did that with students. Transitioning from reading music to playing music was very frustrating at the beginning. I knew I had the technique and knowledge how music kind of works. Then when I sat down with a chart in front of me and no other notes, I felt like an amateur and it was frustrating. I knew I could play the piano but didn’t know how to make those other sounds.
You don’t hear much blues in Havana, do you?
Danae: No, we don’t hear it. I listen a lot and read a lot about jazz music because in Cuba we don’t have jazz education in the schools. If you want to learn, you have to learn by yourself. It’s crazy because we have great jazz players but don’t have a program. In Cuba, they give you one audition in a year, for Cuban music. So many Cubans know nothing about our music.
I remember a piano recital in Old Havana a decade or so back of Cuban piano music in a church with doors wide open. I was one of a handful of people who showed up for this. I was astounded listening to the music. It was that connection between late eighteen-hundreds piano literature and the rise of ragtime piano in New Orleans, Kansas City and throughout America. Those syncopation’s and that Spanish influence is undeniable.
Danae: In Cuba, if you are not a superstar that people know about and you are doing a recital, there will be in the theatre like, ten people. All the people know salsa! It’s still one of the richest music’s around the world. When I play with Maqueque we mix all of the music we know. All of the musicians contribute to the arrangements in the band. You learn through the other musicians. Classical training gave me my technique and I apply that.
Does Jane Bunnett still practice all day?is
Danae: All day and all days!
I’m sure whoever stays with Jane does the same – it becomes routine. Jenie are you always exploring – looking to hear music you haven’t heard before?
Jenie: I don’t have to try too hard. There’s so much I haven’t heard. Actually, I’m looking to get a new record going. That’s my next big project. I have a busy summer coming up doing festivals out west and some in Ontario. I’m looking to enjoy Toronto in the summer. Everybody says it’s amazing.
If there is a place and time in history and a pianist, who would you want to sit close by and watch play?
Jenie: It would probably be James Booker. I’d want to ask him what to do with my tiny hands – how do I play 10ths? What would he tell me?
I’m fascinated with his playing and spent considerable time trying to sort out how he gets that tension between right and left hand and then it dawned on me – he plays in a major key with one and minor key in the other – on corresponding chords. Danae?
Danae: It’s a hard question and it depends on the style of music, but for me, one of the greatest pianists in Cuba was Frank Emilio. It’s just amazing. It’s the feeling in the way he plays.

Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843–1924

“The early decades of American popular music are, for most listeners, the dark ages. It wasn't until the mid-1920s that the full spectrum of this music -- black and white, urban and rural, sophisticated and crude -- made it onto records for all to hear. This book brings a forgotten music, hot music, to life by describing how it became the dominant American music -- how it outlasted sentimental waltzes and parlor ballads, symphonic marches and Tin Pan Alley novelty numbers -- and how it became rock 'n' roll. It reveals that the young men and women of that bygone era had the same musical instincts as their descendants Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and even Ozzy Osbourne. In minstrelsy, ragtime, brass bands, early jazz and blues, fiddle music, and many other forms, there was as much stomping and swerving as can be found in the most exciting performances of hot jazz, funk, and rock. Along the way, it explains how the strange combination of African with Scotch and Irish influences made music in the United States vastly different from other African and Caribbean music; shares terrific stories about minstrel shows, 'coon' a motley collection of performers heretofore unknown to all but the most avid musicologists and collectors.” Author David Wondrich…

Recently, I entertained the idea of ordering a DNA kit from National Geographic. A musician friend received the results, and the details were fascinating. Although his roots are in Ireland – there are bits and pieces of him all over Europe. I know my dad’s side of the family is from the Appalachian region of the upper south and my mother’s, Italy. This leads me to believe, musicians, have a deep connection with their earliest ancestral cousins. It’s why we choose the music we play and why some sounds connect with us over others.

Someone posted a request on Facebook recently looking for a good music biography read. Former Globe & Mail jazz columnist Mark Miller posted a few, and others he thought were impeccable reads. Stomp and Swerve by David Wondrich caught my attention. I’m forever caught up in tracing the origins of popular music. Much of what we know and understand is tied to the advent of recording technology of the late 1800’s. Long before, popular music was taking shape in the form of Irish jigs, Mexican and Cuban habaneras, Celtic sounds, and African influence.

The late 1600s saw the beginnings of “chattel slavery” – African blacks designated by race as property – some 12,000,000 shipped through the Americas and Caribbean (the New World). We also witnessed hundreds of thousands of Irish, Scots, English, and German prisoners, - itinerants, orphans, and undesirables, transported for the purpose of; “indentured servitude.” Many arrived in the Carolinas, Virginia, New England, Brazil and the West Indies. The West Indies - the Irish in Antiqua and Montserrat.
Along with the forced re-settlement came new sounds, new music, new language, and customs. You can hear that throughout the south – from Appalachian old-time country music, mountain swing, bluegrass, gospel, African-American blues, and ballad singing – the English ballads, Irish and Scot traditional music and hymns. It was within this melting pot, music would undergo revolutionary change. We began to move away from the waltz kings, the corny warblers, the march kings, and embrace America under the influence of immigrants. A new rhythm based music that borrowed from the brash howls of marching bands, the syncopations of Brazilian and Caribbean music, the poetic writings of authors with a sense of the true human condition, took hold - the poverty, the suffering, the repression, a critical sense of one’s surroundings.

Artists before audio documentation were searching and reveling in cross-rhythms and exotic melodies. The number of ragtime pianists with ample European style flashy chops and original works
extends way beyond the Scott Joplin’s of the era. Many survive on piano roll – the best-recorded technique of the era.

It’s that marriage of all that occurred between 1843 and 1924 I find absolutely fascinating. There is nearly eighty years of incredible musicians, music, and collaborations that got us to the Drakes, Metallica’s, Chick Corea’s and Willie Nelson’s. Wondrich connects the early decades and current times beautifully. Stomp and Swerve is written in such a way that it’s literate, insightful and extremely entertaining. You can find on Amazon or Google.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Conversation with Ted Woloshyn

It was late December 2,010 when I get a call from broadcaster Ted Woloshyn inviting me to bring some of my “singing divas” to his Saturday radio show at NewsTalk 1010, and serve up a bit of holiday cheer. I corralled five singers – the young women from Real Divas and blues singer Shakura S’Aida. At the time, Ted was filling out four-hours of magazine style radio. Through the afternoon we shared plenty laughs and discovered an easy bond between the two of us. A month later Ted calls and asks me to write a theme song for him. That I did – “King City Stomp” – which has endured the past six years. A few additional conversations and I’m music director for Saturday’s with Ted.

Roll ahead to 2017 and Saturday’s with Ted is solidly into year seven, and NewsTalk, soaring in the ratings game.

It’s been a grand ride sitting a few feet away from one of Canada’s broadcasting icons. This has been my doctoral in radio. In some ways, we are like the Odd Couple – a lefty and a righty politically; absent partisan anger. In fact, much has changed since those first car rides to CFRB at St. Clair and Yonge. Ted has stopped hammering ex- premier Dalton McGuinty and former mayor David Miller! In fact, very little politics, and more human interest stories – that up-lifting stuff; fine foods, great music, and positive vibes.

The past years with Ted we have witnessed some compelling stories. The death and memorial service of much beloved political progressive, Jack Layton, the untimely deaths of pop icons Michael Jackson and Prince. The bizarre reign of the Ford brothers – the allegations, investigations, and passing of former mayor, Rob Ford. Ted through it all has been the consummate professional. A Charlie Rose as opposed to Rush Limbaugh.

I’m forever indebted to station head Mike Bendixen and Ted for the half-hour music segment sponsored by Slaight Music – one of a kind in main-stream radio. That’s 300 plus guests, with multiple visits from singer/songwriter Marc Jordan, and Amy Sky, Sylvia Tyson, Ian Thomas, The Lemon Bucket Orchestra, jazz great Roberta Gambarini sings Willie Nelson. Country singer Iris Dement sings the theme from the Cohen Brother film, True Grit. Cuban jazz icon Arturo Sandoval blows jazz trumpet in a taxi; walks off the street straight on air. Local guitarist Donna Grantis drops by for a chat and learns a week or so later Prince and company caught a video of her on YouTube and fly her to Minneapolis. She scores the guitar position next to the great one in 3rdeyegirl. And who the hell gets to play improvised piano selections live on the air, anywhere? Big thanks to Roland Canada for keeping 1010 keyboard friendly.

Saturdays begin early. Ted first dials me when in my territory; the pick-up and a bit of conversation. Honestly, who would do this week after week for six years? Ted! That’s the kind of kind-hearted, honest, thoughtful, humble, and generous soul he is. I get to hear what’s on his mind and a preview of what to expect on the show and am reminded the Green Bay Packers are his team – Aaron Rodgers his quarterback.

Occasionally, we drop by Tom’s Place in Kensington Market, one of Ted’s long-running sponsors, and that’s when you realize the man is the “reluctant celebrity”. Folks line-up to engage Ted and tell him of a devoted family member who has followed him throughout his career and his charitable efforts; possibly a celebrated sports figure, a councilman, or the mayor himself; John Tory. Big respect!

It’s taken a few years to get Ted to say something. I was fortunate to corner him this week. Here’s a bit of that conversation.

Bio facts about Ted Woloshyn. (born December 1953) is a Toronto broadcaster. He hosted The Ted Woloshyn Show, mornings from 5:30 to 8:30 on CFRB-AM in Toronto, Ontario, Canada from 3 November 1996 until 15 December 2006. He currently hosts Saturdays with Ted from 12 to 3 pm on Newstalk1010. He previously worked for Toronto-area stations CFNY-FM, CILQ-FM and CKFM-FM. Woloshyn currently lives in Mississauga, Ontario.

Ted started his radio career in 1974 at CHIC in Brampton. He moved on to work in Peterborough, Montreal, Hamilton, and finally, Toronto. Ted began hosting the CFRB morning show in November 1996, following in the footsteps of the legendary Wally Crouter.

As of September 2016, Woloshyn writes an opinion column in the Toronto Sun Woloshyn hosted Saturday with Ted Woloshyn on NewsTalk 1010 (CFRB-AM) from 2010 and on.

What troubles you the most with the way news is disseminated today?
That depends on who or where it’s coming from.  I think our national broadcasters do a terrific job, whereas at times, some broadcasters are not in full understanding of their stories or their roles and they lack depth. What some people believe should lead a newscast makes me shake my head. The answer could be, you get what you pay for.

How would you describe the Ted Woloshyn Show?
It’s like a weekend newspaper…or what they used to be like; with a combination of news, current affairs, entertainment, food, and some opinion delivered I think in a comfortable style.  But then again, I don’t listen to it, so what do I know.

Have you always had an interest in far-reaching topics?
Yeah, I think so, certainly more so since I started working in talk radio. I’m often amazed at filmmakers who produce documentaries on topics I would never have considered and find them to be fascinating. I think the real trick for me is not so much in finding those far-reaching topics but turning them into compelling radio.

You’ve also tempered your on-air commentaries on political figures you see making a mess out of government. Is the pull-back more to do with accepting there are things beyond your influence and a change in the direction towards advocacy; with a smile and diplomatic touch.
I think that by the time my show rolls around on Saturday those who deserve to be dumped on have been. I don’t think I’ve ever hidden my dislike for what Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne have done to this province.  But, it does get to a point where the audience says, “Ok I got it now, move one.” Diplomacy, I’ll agree on.  Smiling at Wynne not so much. But I’ve probably mellowed.

What is the first section of the newspaper you read in the morning?
I start from page one, unless I’m looking for a specific story or if it’s available the fashion section.

You are a huge sports fan. When your team loses, do you take it to heart?
I used to but not anymore. Now, I take it to my wallet.

Life is complicated and you are always thinking. Are there moments you wish you could shut it all down and sit by yourself on a beach with a beer and a book?
Yeah, an I’m glad for that because if I didn’t I’d probably be living a boring life. And yes, a beach, and a beer and a book work for me. But not necessarily by myself, because then I would get bored.

If so, what would you be reading?
Biographies, mostly because I find people fascinating. How they plan, how they deal with adversity and how they engage with others.

You are strong ties with Toronto’s Ukrainian community and enjoy conversing with those who drop by your show of the same heritage. Are you terrified of the damage the Russians are doing in that area of the world? The Russians interfered in the recent U.S. election – there is evidence they are doing the same in upcoming elections in Germany and France. Do you have a theory what the end game may be for them?
Vladimir Putin is a frightening man with one main goal and that is to reunite the Soviet Union.  Part of that plan includes destabilizing other nations, creating chaos as he did with the Presidential election and as you mentioned, the upcoming elections in Europe. People need to pay attention to him because I think he’s capable of anything. I truly believe he is without a conscience or a soul.

Working next to you the past six plus years, one thing amongst many things that stick with me is your insistence on fact checking. No item should air unless vetted beforehand. Have you always been this principled?
Not in high school, but talk radio audiences contain many a stickler for facts and seem to be waiting for you to screw up and the idea of looking like a complete idiot, is not one I cherish.

When you first entered radio, what was your ambition?
At first, to work in top forty-radio at CHUM.  I never made it there but the old CHUM sign hangs outside our studio, so I guess I came close.

Comedy and you have a lifelong relationship. You have spoken many times you preferred the Johnny Carson style of late-night hosting to that of the politically partisan voices. In this current climate, have you views changed?  
Johnny would take on both sides in a measured way but in the last few years’, late night hosts too often sound like they are shills for the Democrats. I realize Trump is magnetic for comics but where were the Obama jokes all those years.  There weren’t any because the Obama’s were often guests.

Who makes you laugh now?
Chris Rock, Louis CK, Jann Arden are a few but there are so many now that are very good.

You have read extensively about the Kennedy’s and in some way or another researched every aspect of JFK’s presidency, from butlers to mistresses. Why the fascination?
I think it’s more of a fascination of all Presidents and the intricacies of the White House. We’re missing that in Canada I believe, not so much in our leaders but our version of the White House is a topic for a home improvement show.

Tom Mihalik of Tom’s Place and you have a long-running friendship. Tom is a sponsor of your show. The Mihalik’s arrived from Hungary in 1956 during after the Hungarian Revolution. Does the history of the region of the world link both families?
To a certain degree, but I think our friendship has many aspects it to it, especially respect for one another.

Both Tom and you are no strangers to charitable causes. You with the Breakfast Club, golfing event, Sports Hall of Fame, organ donor programs. You always make time for the least vulnerable. Has service to others always been a motivating factor in your life?  
Yes, and I think that anyone who has the great opportunity to be on the radio needs to utilize that opportunity to help others. I think it’s the responsibility of everyone who sits behind a microphone.  It doesn’t matter what the cause may be.

You’ve interviewed the greatest names in sports. Your favourite or best interviews? Red Kelly, Cito Gaston - Don Rickles was a lot nicer than you may think. Dozens and dozens of musicians.  But, I can’t say I have a favourite. I do however have moments in my career that will stay vivid in my mind; like the attacks on the World Trade Centre

I was on the air when the first tower was hit and for weeks after I spoke to witnesses, first responders and one man who was in a group who were split on their decision to leave or take the stairs to the lower level. He left and on his way down heard a man yell from under rubble.  He pulled him out and helped him down to ground level. He was totally beside himself in tears as he told me the story and then went on to say that he and the man he saved had become close friends.

On the first anniversary of the attacks a number of shows were broadcast from New York including the morning show.  We stood outside the Carnegie Deli talking to people on the street about how the last year had been for them. The sun was shining brightly on a beautiful New York morning just as it had been one year ago. Afterward, Mike Bendixen my producer at the time and I went to the Verizon building with its broken windows and twisted metal frame staring out over Ground Zero.  CBS, with whom we were affiliated had taken the second floor and set up a broadcast row for their affiliates, including CFRB along with a main set for Dan Rather and various anchors.  It was surreal to say the least.

I’ve been there when a George Chuvalo, a Sandy Hawley, the late sports broadcaster Bill Stephenson, Cito Gaston, - great baseball, football, boxing, horse racing figures recognize you in a room and they make a point of coming over for the big hug and “how’s Teddy” doing. How does that make you feel?
Very special and honoured to be honest.

You inherited the most difficult job in radio – morning man at CFRB in 1996 replacing icon Wally Crouter, who sat in the seat a good fifty years. You held on for ten. Any regrets?
I’ve always said I didn’t replace Wally, because no one could replace him. I simply followed and it was the greatest honour I could have ever imagined, and he was such a great supporter, as was Bill Stephenson. I’m very appreciative to the Slaight family for the opportunity. As for regrets; I don’t have time for regrets.

How would you describe the Ted Woloshyn show and your biggest champion - the relationship between you and program director Mike Bendixen?
Mike’s a very good friend whom I first met when he was an intern and I guess about 20 years old. To see what he has accomplished makes me very happy, but I’m not surprised.  He claims I did him a favour because I pushed for him to be my producer, but honestly, I did it for my own good and the good of the show. I could tell this guy was going to do well. I believe he possesses a great radio mind. And I don’t think that’s a very large club.

With nearly a half century in radio approaching – how would you like to see the years ahead play out for you?
It is literally something I’ve wanted to do since I was about nine years old and playing radio with a Seabreeze turntable and the base of a lamp without a bulb that I pretended was a microphone. I think I’ll always want to have some involvement in radio, it’s a very special place for me.