My Musical Background

Music’s been a big part of my life since the middle of seventh grade, when I decided that if my sisters could play the flute (and get a lot of attention that way) then I could bloody well do as well on some instrument. My mother rejected my first instrument choices (drums, electric guitar, bagpipes) and finally, after hearing the horn player in INXS, I settled on saxophone. I wanted to be a rock’n’roll sax player because damn, I was sure that women were crazy about that guyÖ

My first sax teacher (not counting a year of band lessons with a nutty band director named Michael Scholfield) was a guy named Rick Harris. He was sometimes very odd, but he was a pretty good teacher. I took lessons from him every week, even though I lived in a different city from him. My old man used to drive me to his house every Sunday, one and a half hours each way. It was enough to make me want to quit, but instead I started to practice. Rick laughed off my idea of learning to play rock sax, explaining that most rock sax players were only good because they cut their chops learning jazz first, and played rock for money. So, he gave me a compilation of Miles Davis hits entitled Tallest Trees, and bam, there was no turning back after that. My tape of it changed my life. I think there’s still a copy of it in a box somewhere.
After that, it was jazz jazz jazz for years. I spent ages playing scales and 7th chord arpeggios, learning to make my way through myriad chord changes. After a bunch of years, I gave up on the whole tonal system, mainly for two reasons: laziness, and a mild dislike of a lot of what came out of it. I was far more interested in playing with sound itself, and listening to people like John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, and Cecil Taylor got me to thinking, hell, I could do this too. So I did. Once I got to university I started making bands with my high school friends, people like Jackie Kwan (ex-saxophonist, last I heard) and Andrew Thompson (guitarist, and a damn fine one at that). I have only a few recordings from those days, but I’ll make what I can available on this site as soon as I can.
All the while, playing in local big bands like the Jazz Society’s Junior Big Band and the University Jazz Ensemble, while playing contrabass with a local Youth String Orchestra and the University String Orchestra, and studying music theory and composition I retained an interest in screwing around with all kinds of musical traditions and materials. I composed several pieces of some interest, messing around with minimalism and eclecticism. Some of the best pieces I wrote were a very warped “fugue” for the piano; a piece for chamber orchestra and six voices; an homage to H.P. Lovecraft written for electric guitar and detuned harpsichord; and a piece for two pianos and electric guitar. Samples will be added to this site when possible.
Near the end of my undergraduate degree, at the behest of my friend Mike, a DJ who hosted local raves in Saskatoon, I formed a band with Marie Vasquez (a vocalist who doubled on percussion a little), and two DJs, Philip Greer and Keenan Gauthier. We played what we called Live Ambient, a mixture of ambient tracks, samples, and effects-heavy live performance by myself and Vasquez. I read some poems, occasionally sang, and played a lot sax and some percussion; she mostly sang and read poems, did a little percussion as well. (We recorded a live performance, and it was produced and mastered by a friend of Keenan’s whose name I don’t know. The recording is available below.)
During grad school I took a break from saxophone, and didn’t practice for three years. But when I got to Korea, I was bright enough to bring along one of my saxes (not both, the soprano hadn’t fit into my luggage, unfortunately, and had to be brought over by a teacher friend in return for a favour). After jamming with some great local musicians at a local Iksan nightclub called In The Mood, the group split up for the advent of the school year. So I ended up bandless, and at that time one of the guys I was working with invited me to jam with the band he played drums in.
I was skeptical about what I could do in a rock band, but it turned out I could do quite a bit. The result is the band I’m playing in nowÖ Dabang. We’ve done a lot, made a CD and performed at a major national rock festival here in Korea (the Ssamzie Rock Festival), sharing the stage with some of Korea’s most popular young musicians; a recording of that show was aired on national TV a few times, and one of our Korean-language songs, Bet Norae (Boat Song) has been played on both local and national radio a few times. It was pretty cool, kind of, undescribable, to play to an audience of thousands of people. You feel like some kind of silly rock god and at the same time you see how silly it is to feel that way. But it’s a hell of a rush. If you want to see the live performance we made, here’s a link.
In the future, I’m looking forward to writing some stuff for the next Dabang album. I also want to work on my flute playing (I’m a poor flautist now, but maybe with practice I could improveÖ but I need to buy a flute first). I’d love to get a project band going that combined elements of traditional Korean music with jazz – especially working with a player of kayagum (a koto-like instrument) or a sameul nori ensmble (a group of people who play 4 types of percussion). I’m also writing some new music for violin and piano, and will probably continue to compose slowly and patiently, one piece at a time.

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