Sound Analysis

Interview: TRIO Jazz

Brantford’s TRIO Jazz is actually not a trio. The original trio (guitarist Nick Bastian, bassist Joel Banks & trumpet player Kevin Williams) met at Mohawk College’s jazz improvisation program. With the addition of drummer Jon Blaak, the quartet have been refining their unique instrumental sound for the past six years. Jazz standards, show tunes, pop music, and their own compositions are included in their extensive repertoire, which often produces many surprises during a set. On Friday, October 3rd, TRIO Jazz will be performing at the intimate Simcoe Little Theatre (perhaps a sign of things to come for that particular venue). General admission tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door.

TRIO JazzSA: Who are your musical influences?
TJ: My musical influences are really all over the map. As you might expect, I love many of the guitar players from Freddie Green in the 1940’s, right up to the Mike Sterns of today’s scene, and Thelonius Monk was such a character! But overall, I am generally moved and inspired by a good melody, and I have found those just about everywhere. I keep a little pocket radio under my pillow and try to drift off to sleep with “one ear open.” I will admit to having rushed downstairs in the middle of the night to google artist names or track info far too many times.

We started playing the music of Emily Remler in our early days and learned our roles, strengths and weaknesses through her music. That has had a lasting influence.

SA: With the current renewal of interest in jazz music (especially from festivals), where do you think the future of the genre lies?
TJ: I really do think that “Jazz”, with its blend of influences and its improvisational “space” was really 100 years ahead of its time. In today’s developed world, we now have almost a century of recorded music available with the click of a mouse, and have a much wider mix of cultures, so our life has evolved to some degree. I really think that instrumental jazz has a way of transcending and including stuff that other genres don’t, so I think the future of “Jazz” as a genre could be a very, very strong one that will grow and resonate with more and more people… if those playing it manage to include material that touches people and connects.

For example, the chord sequence for the ancient Jazz-standard Autumn Leaves has resurfaced at least once per decade. The song Arthur’s Theme by Christopher Cross is almost the same pattern, as has Selena Gomez’s recent pop hit Like a Love Song. You can still improvise, and approach those tunes from a classic Jazzer’s perspective, but by making only a few small changes and including say, the updated melody, you can reach a whole new age group or audience, capture them and then take them on a journey with you.

I have a colleague who runs a wedding band and they publish an online setlist. Curiously, they list a “Pop” section with hits from 1975 to present stuff, and a separate “Jazz” section – which is all classic fakebook tunes from 80 years ago. Every time I see stuff like that I cringe and ask myself “Why can’t you play a Michael Jackson tune as a “Jazz” piece, or improvised rendition?” Miles Davis did it…y’know?

SA: How much does your setlist vary? Do you have any favourites that regularly make appearances?
TJ: In our early days as a band, we really seemed to rally around the music of Emily Remler. We have a good collection of her music in our set, we have certain comfort with it, and we still really enjoy playing it. You can typically expect to hear a few of her pieces in an evening. We also try to include a surprise or two with twisted arrangements here and there.

I have always considered setlists to be the ebb and flow of the performance, so I spend a good deal of time with them. We have never played the same set twice and we are always tweaking the order, adding new material or substituting pieces.

SA: Despite your name, you’ve previously stated that you’re not a jazz band. How would you explain that?
TJ: Despite our name, we’re not a trio either. I guess we are trying to redefine the genre, bend a few rules and find our place in the world.

SA: Your members initially met in the Mohawk College jazz improvisation program. How much does your education influence your performances today?
TJ: On a personal level, the act of making music will always be the art of reaching inwards. I have been writing music and ideas for as long as I can remember in an attempt to translate of the emotional aspects of my life. As such, my “education” factors little into the process of playing.


We recently played a festival, and it occurred to me afterwards that I had written or transcribed every piece we had played that day. The skill set learned at college turned my ideas into a musical reality that our group could interpret and share with the audience. The common ground and skill set between TRIO Jazz members owes a great deal to the musical education learned at Mohawk College. It has allowed us to interconnect on more levels.

This post was written by Scott


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