The Whole Story

I have been playing music throughout my entire life. Well, OK, not exactly my ENTIRE life – I began piano lessons at the age of five. I grew up in Montreal in a home where the arts, and music in particular, were treated with great love and respect. Thanks to my mother, Doris May, I was exposed to all sorts of music through her record collection, which included such things as “Walkin’” by Miles Davis, “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane, and many other great jazz artists. I was also brought out to see and hear live shows as often as possible. I can still remember, as a young child, the night when we went to hear “Jazz at the Philharmonic” at Place Des Arts! Imagine – long before I would realize that jazz would play a central theme in my life, I was in the presence of so many legendary jazz stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Coleman Hawkins, Paul Gonsalves, Clark Terry, and more. It seems as though the seeds were being planted back then for what was to come.

As a young teenager, I played trumpet for four years in the West Hill High School band program, which actually brought me to Scotland, England, Wales, Belgium, Holland and France, all inside of three weeks time! My first concert tour as a performing musician, and I hadn’t yet discovered that music would be my life’s path.

It was during that trip to Europe, in fact, that there would be an unexpected turning point in my life – one of several that would lead me to where I am today.

I was looking at a display of musical instruments in the window of a music store in Brussels when a particular instrument caught my attention. It was a tenor recorder – something I had never seen before. I, like most people, thought that recorders were something very small – something for young kids to blow into for the sole purpose of driving other people crazy.

I had about $50 spending money for the trip, and I hadn’t yet used any of it up, so I went into the store and asked if I could blow into this mysterious instrument. Upon doing just that, I experienced a shift within me, and shortly thereafter walked out of the store with a piece of wood in my hands that would change my life forever, and all this for a mere $20.

During my teen-aged years I studied classical guitar, and one might say that this was my true first love, as far as musical instruments are concerned. I believe that the love affair began at summer camp, when I was probably around 12-14 years of age, where I would listen to my camp counselor (Russ Kelley) play his nylon-string guitar and sing songs in the style of Peter, Paul & Mary, and I would be completely spell-bound by his soothing voice and guitar playing. I soon after began taking classical guitar lessons, first with Louis Spritzer, who had introduced the classical guitar as a valid “serious” instrument to the Faculty of Music at McGill University, and then with my friend Peter McCutcheon, student of the great Alexander LaGoya, internationally acclaimed classical guitar virtuoso. Peter went on to receive the esteemed “Premier Prix” from the Conservatoire in Paris, France, and is currently teaching at La Faculté de Musique at L’Université de Montréal.

The classical guitar, my first love, continued to be my primary focus in music, until I attended a summer French Language Program at McGill University, where I met and befriended Simon Stone, one of Canada’s finest saxophone players to this date, who also currently teaches Jazz Studies and saxophone at La Faculté de Musique at L’Université de Montréal. Simon was the first person I had ever met that made me realize that, yes, you can actually do music as your main thing in life! A brand new concept for my then18-year-old brain, and one that has managed to stick to me like glue, ah, but what a lovely glue it is!

With Simon as my new friend, I become interested in learning the flute – I absolutely loved the sound that came from that instrument, and very soon found myself studying flute with the late Wolfgang Kander, then principal flautist with the MSO. What a dear man he was, and to this day, I am entirely indebted to him for forming my flute embouchure, which was no simple task! I clearly remember that it took one and a half years until I was getting anything close to a clear tone on my flute!

Around this time I registered for courses at Dawson College in the Music Department, which was indeed very new at the time, and I was fortunate enough to obtain private lessons from Barry Crago, another “disciple” of the great Alexander LaGoya. With Barry’s guidance, I established a strong classical technique on the guitar, which has also served me well to this day.

More to come...

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