Jazzing it up in T.O.

This year’s Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival promises to be the best ever because of the variety of talent and the international recognition for excellence the event has earned. As usual, it features an impressive array of local and international talent, including –  for the first time –  faculty and student jazz ensembles from York University.


The York University Faculty Jazz Ensemble brings a wealth of talent and experience to the main stage at Nathan Phillips Square as part of the finale from 5 to 7pm on Sunday, July 4. Band members include Barry Elmes (drums), Al Henderson (bass), Lorne Lofsky (guitar) and Mike Malone (trumpet). Each member of the ensemble has experience performing in other major festivals and clubs, and all have a number of jazz recordings to their credit.  

The York University Student Jazz Ensemble will be “delivering the goods” from 5 to 7pm, June 27, at Nathan Phillips Square. This dynamic quintet features Jeff Graville (drums), Michael Davidson (vibes), James McEleny (bass), Martyn Skrzypczyk (guitar) and Jason Murray (trumpet). They will entertain audiences with a potpourri of jazz standards, plus some of their own compositions.

Both groups will be performing in bouts of full-tilt, all-out ensemble playing, punctuated by solo spots.

For the student ensemble, representing York University at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival is an exciting opportunity to showcase their talent on a playbill shared by some of the biggest names in jazz today.

Drummer Graville will be starting a masters degree in composition at York University this fall. His performance credits range from the Canadian Walk of Fame Awards to playing for three years with the “velvety crooner”, popular York alumnus Matt Dusk (BFA 2002). Graville says, “There was always music playing in our house and I grew up listening to a lot of New Orleans jazz. I’ve always admired musicians like Gene Krupa and Quincy Jones who not only play great music, but have managed to reach a lot of people.” The multi-talented Graville also plays piano, trombone and double bass.

Vibes player Michael Davidson will be starting his fourth year in the BFA Honours Music program this fall. In response to the ritual question, “Why vibes?”, Davidson explains, “I’m originally a jazz drummer/pianist and classical percussionist. When I arrived at York, I began to study classical percussion with John Brownell and was introduced to the vibraphone and marimba. I immediately felt a strong connection to both of these instruments.” He is currently part of a trio which plays highly improvised music.

Bass player James McEleny has just completed his first year in the BFA Honours Music program. “Charles Mingus is by far my favourite jazz musician and has been my greatest influence, as well as Charlie Haden,” says McEleny. He plays with another York student ensemble, focusing on jazz arrangements and Klezmer melodies. “The high point of my musical career is enrolling at York University and meeting and playing with lots of serious musicians, as well as working with amazing professors,” says McEleny.

Guitarist Martyn Skrzypczyk graduated this spring from the BFA Honours Music program. “In my opinion, the guitar is at home in any setting. I love all kinds of music and my influences range from Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis,” says Skrzypczyk. The high point of his musical career to date has been recording an album with his rock band J’s Basement. “Since music is the most important part of my life, I would say that my life influences my music rather than vice-versa.”

Trumpet player Jason Murray will be completing his Bachelor of Arts degree in spring 2005. “I fell in love with the trumpet after listening to jazz greats and now seek to master it,” says Murray, adding, “Studying music has given me an appreciation for the arts as a whole, and has helped me to improve my focus and discipline in other studies.” Influenced by his high school teacher and band director, he would eventually like to teach music at the secondary school level.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the jazz program at York University, which pioneered university-level jazz studies in Canada and continues to enjoy a national reputation as one of the country’s leading jazz schools.

A measure of the program’s success is reflected in its illustrious graduates, many of whom are the leading lights of Canada’s jazz scene and frequent headliners at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival. Alumni include multiple Juno Award-winning saxophonist Mike Murley; Aaron Davis, composer and pianist with the Holly Cole Trio; guitarist Michael Occhipinti and pianist Paul Neufeld, leaders of the award-winning big band NOJO; National Guitar champion Don Ross; and Shuffle Demons Richard Underhill and Stich Wynston.

Admission to the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival is free. For more information, click here.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena, communications, Faculty of Fine Arts.