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Q&A: Jon Tobin

Jonathan Tobin is a pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, studying Jazz Piano at Capilano University in North Vancouver. He graduated from Mennonite Educational Institute in Abbotsford and was active throughout high school in the Abbotsford music scene, playing in venues around town such as Gourmet Gallery, Go Go Beans, City Blends, the Jam In Jubilee summer concert series, and the Olympic Live Site.

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By Alexei C. Summers (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 30, 2011

Jonathan Tobin is a pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, studying Jazz Piano at Capilano University in North Vancouver. He graduated from Mennonite Educational Institute in Abbotsford and was active throughout high school in the Abbotsford music scene, playing in venues around town such as Gourmet Gallery, Go Go Beans, City Blends, the Jam In Jubilee summer concert series, and the Olympic Live Site. He plays a variety of genres from rock and funk to jazz, and has performed with a plethora of bands, such as Capilano’s 6 O’Clock big band, the TD Jazz Intensive big band, and the Casino Jazz Trio. For his composition and playing work, he has received awards from the Vancouver Jazz Festival, the Envision Jazz Festival, and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, to name a few. His latest post-highschool projects include a rock band, a jazz quartet, and a piano-bass duo. 

What does your musical creative process look like? 

My musical creative process usually involves me sitting down at a piano and just playing. I guess I don’t usually tend to plan out what I’m going to do when I create music this way. I sit down and play whatever I’m feeling. I’ve written quite a few songs that way actually. Other times I’ll have a motif or a theme in mind and I’ll elaborate on those ideas when I sit down to play. One other way that I create is by playing with others and bouncing ideas around with them. For example, the guitarist in my band will play a riff and I build a chord progression off that riff. We’ve written quite a lot of material. The key is just to write often. I used to find myself being overly strict with myself from a compositional standpoint, and it becomes limiting when you’re so hard on yourself. Lately I’ve begun to just write whatever comes out – as bad or awkward as I may think it sounds. It’s better to write a ton and a larger number of great songs than to just write a little bit and have only several.

What are your favourite genres?

[Laughs] It’s really hard to nail down my favourite genres. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz and ambient/alternative music (Jon Hopkins, Coldplay, Mutemath, U2, etc). It all really depends on my mood. I’m particularly fond of what I like to label “indie-style jazz” stuff. Like Bad Plus or Esbjorn Svensson Trio, or Darcy James Argue. That sort of modern thing that doesn’t really sound the way that jazz traditionally does.

What is your favourite venue to play at?

Well I’d have to say I don’t have one to be honest. I just moved out of Abbotsford a few months ago and I’m starting to get involved in small bits with the scene in North Vancouver/Vancouver. I feel like I’m still on the verge of finding my favourite place to play at. I did quite a few fun gigs when I lived in Abbotsford but none of them were more favourite-y than the others.

What’s the most rewarding thing about music to you?

There are so many rewarding things about music. For me I really enjoy the transcendent spiritual aura of grandeur emitted in lightwaves from the music. Connecting with an audience’s consciousness is important. Make sense? [Laughs] No, New Age stuff aside, I do really appreciate the spiritual aspects of music. You don’t even have to believe in God or anything to see the spiritual aspect to music, and I really love how music is so universal. People can have a shared experience and it really has unifying powers. It also is able to strike emotion in people and that’s a rewarding thing that I find for myself, just that ability to touch people in a powerful way. Sometimes music can express things more strongly than simply saying them.

What’s next for you? 

Musically speaking I’m involved in quite a few things. I’m working with a band playing a wide range of music from rock, soul, blues, and funk to jazz, fusion, and progressive metal. We rearrange ourselves to play various venues, such as in a jazz trio format, or a quartet with a vocalist. We’ve written a lot of original tunes and I’m excited to see where it heads. The main rock band is called Under The Weather and I’m planning to do a bunch of side projects out of that and branch out with other musicians. Mainly I just don’t want to be constricted to one band or one style.

Who put the “bomp” in the “bomp a lomp a lomp”? Who put the “ram” in the “ram a lam a ding dong”?

That would be Big Bertie Golson. First white rapper. I remember buying that album on vinyl actually. “Stompin’ At The Savoy (feat. Benny Goodman)” was a smash hit.

What’s on your iTunes playlist these days?

Well as I said before, it’s an eclectic mix of things. Going to music school (and specifically studying jazz all the time) I got tired of jazz the last while but I’m getting back into it. I’ve been listening to a lot of local musicians – Steve Kaldestad, Tyler Summers, Brad Turner, etc. there’s a really talented bunch of players in the Vancouver jazz scene and I’m lucky to be attending a school that many of them teach at. =

Quick! Think fast! You have three seconds to name three things that are not Jackie Chan! 

Umm umm, okay, let’s see. Bruce Willis. John Williams. Ravioli. Do I win?

What are your musical inspirations?

This question’s almost as bad as the “favourite genre” question. There’s so much I’m inspired by. And almost anything I have listened to has influenced me in some way or another. In terms of actual inspiration, my biggest one right now would actually have to be my piano teacher, Ross Taggart. He’s a pretty big figure on the Canadian jazz scene as a pianist and a saxophonist and I’m super blessed to be taking lessons from him. He’s got a really warm touch on the piano, and his playing is just downright fun to listen to. It leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering which new turn he’ll take. My inspirations change on a regular basis so ask me next month and you might just get a completely different answer.

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