York performers set to make their mark at 2005 Junos

York’s Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Arts, is no stranger to the Juno Awards, the annual ceremony honouring musicians and members of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, now in its 34th year. When the winners are announced in Winnipeg on April 3, several performers with connections to York will be among those waiting to hear the results. Many of this year’s nominees are past Juno winners with solid careers, especially the graduates of York’s renowned Jazz Program, now in it’s 31st year. York pioneered university-level jazz studies in Canada and continues to enjoy a national reputation as one of the country’s leading jazz schools.

Here, in no particular order, are this year’s York Juno nominees.

Matat DuskMatt Dusk (BFA ’02)
New Artist of the Year

The 25-year-old Toronto crooner’s career took a turn for the stars after his recurring role on the TV series Casino and the release of his first major label recording Two Shots (Decca Universal) in 2004. Now he’s up for a 2005 Juno award as New Artist of the Year. Dusk, a graduate of York’s Music Program, was YorkU magazine’s cover story in the Feb. 2005 issue.

Dusk embarked on his first US tour in September, starting in New York City, after recording his latest album in Toronto, Miami and Abbey Road Studios in London, England, where he did a slow cover of the Beatles pop hit “Please Please Me”.

AutorickshawSuba Sankaran (BFA ’97, MFA ’02)
World Music Album of the Year

Sankaran (far right) is a vocalist, pianist and percussionist with the group Autorickshaw, whose second album Four Higher (Tala-Wallah Festival) has been nominated for the World Music Album of the Year. The group has also been nominated for next week’s Canadian Independent Music Award as Favourite World Artist/Group. Sankaran and her fellow band members blend Indian music with jazz. In keeping with their “world” focus, they most recently performed in the Indian Ocean Disaster Benefit Concert at Toronto’s Lula Lounge. Suba is the daughter of York music professor and famed drummer Trichy Sankaran.

Sankaran studied jazz at York with Carol Welsman, Lisa Martinelli, Bob Mover, Don Thompson, Barry Elmes and Al Henderson, many of whom are also past Juno nominees. She has studied South Indian classical vocal music with Sankari Krishnan, T. Vishwanathan, K.Subramaniam and N. Ramani, percussion with Glen Velez, Sal Ferreras and Russell Hartenberger, and piano with Casey Sokol and Francine Kay.

Along with her Autorickshaw gigs, she regularly performs world music with ensemble Trichy’s Trio, Renaissance vocal music with Voyces Past, jazz with the FreePlay Duo and sings a cappella ‘80s hits with Retrocity. She currently directs choirs at York, the Royal Conservatory of Music and Earl Haig Secondary School. As well as conducting workshops, Suba is in demand as a private teacher and as an arranger for various choirs in Canada.

Jane BunnettJane Bunnett (Jazz Program, 1978)
Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year

Nominated for Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year, Bunnett switched from classical music studies to begin her jazz education at York in 1978 along with Larry Cramer, her future husband and fellow performer. The pair took a vacation to Cuba in 1982 where Bunnett discovered the musical traditions that launched her solo career and brought her international acclaim. A soprano saxophonist, flutist and bandleader who’s music is described as Cuban-jazz fusion, Bunnett has twice been nominated for a Grammy Award and is a fixture at the Junos, having been nominated 10 times since 1989, winning in 1996 and 2003 for her first Cuban album, Spirits of Havana. Bunnett’s 2005-nominated album, Red Dragon’Fly, is a selection of tunes from a half dozen nations, backed by the Penderecki String Quartet and performed by Bunnett’s own band.

Oscar PetersonOscar Peterson (Former Chancellor & Instructor)
Music DVD of the Year

Montreal-born pianist Oscar Peterson has more than 80 albums to his credit in a long career. Peterson is a member of the Juno Hall of Fame and inspired many York musicians,  including most of those nominated for a Juno this year, when he taught here as adjunct professor throughout the ’90s. His latest recording, A Night in Vienna (Universal Music Canada), filmed at a concert in Austria in 2004, is nominated for Music DVD of the Year.

Right: Oscar Peterson; photo courtesy 2005 Juno Awards

According to York alumnus and fellow nominee Matt Dusk, Peterson’s recollections of working with such jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, were a jaw-dropping staple of his classes in York’s Department of Music. In 1997 Peterson received a Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement and he is also a Companion of the Order of Canada.

mike murleyMichael Murley (BFA ’86, Instructor)
Traditional Jazz Album of the Year

Nominated for best Traditional Jazz Album of the Year for his latest release, Extra Time, saxophonist/composer and York instructor Mike Murley has already appeared on eight Juno-winning albums, both as a bandleader and solo artist as well as a member of Metalwood and the Rob McConnell Tentet. Extra Time is based around his own inventive compositions and features accompaniment from fellow ace musicians John Macleod, Dave Restivo, Jim Vivian and Ted Warren. Murley has also toured and recorded with York-connected groups NOJO, Time Warp, the Barry Elmes Quintet, as well as Stich Wynston’s Modern Surfaces and guitarist David Occhipinti.

Murley has emerged as one of the country’s finest jazz artists since moving to Toronto from his native Nova Scotia in 1981. Since his first Juno award in 1991, Murley has appeared on seven other Juno award-winning recordings, including four in the past five years, and was part of the 2002 Grammy-nominated Rob McConnell Tenet.

NOJONOJO with Sam Rivers
Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year

Led by pianist Paul Neufeld (BFA ’92) and guitarist Michael Occhipinti (BFA ’92), 16-piece jazz orchestra NOJO first won a Juno in 1996 and followed that success with nominations in 1997, 1999 and 2003. On the highly-praised recording City Of Neighbourhoods they recruited American free jazz legend Sam Rivers, whose playing inspires this multi-talented big band to new creative heights. Their fifth album, City Of Neighbourhoods has just secured a US release. The band includes percussionist and York alumnus John Obercian (BA ’94), who studied anthropology and geography and won a jazz scholarship in 1992, and often includes tenor saxophonist and York instructor Michael Murley (see above).

This year’s Juno Awards ceremony will be broadcast live on CTV April 3. For a complete list of nominees, visit the 2005 Juno Awards Web site.