York showcases musical talent at Toronto’s jazz festival

York students and faculty will join 1,500 musicians heating up 40 city stages at the 20th annual Toronto Jazz Festival this week through July 2.

The performance roster, which features some of the biggest names in jazz, includes the York University Sextet – undergraduate talent harnessed by music instructor and virtuoso saxophonist Mike Murley (left) (BFA ’86). The sextet gives a free concert today from noon to 2pm on the Primus Youth Stage at Oscar Peterson Place (TD Centre, King and York streets).

Billed as “young musicians who will strut their stuff and give ample proof that there will be no shortage of great players in town,” the sextet is led by Murley  and consists of Rob Cappelletto on guitar, George Karounos on trumpet, James McEleney on bass, David Steffan on drums, Michael Tobin on sax and vocalist Felicity Williams. This is the second year McEleney, Karounos and Steffan have played for York at the festival.

York music faculty members are also part of the citywide jazz smorgasbord sponsored by TD Canada Trust. Murley will be playing multiple gigs with his trio and septet and performing with the Rob McConnell Tentet. Barry Elmes (MA 2005), Kelly Jefferson, Lorne Lofsky, David Mott, Roy Patterson (BFA ’84), Kevin Turcotte and Richard Whiteman – each of whom boast major festival and club appearances and recordings – will also be entertaining the crowds.

The York University Sextet will perform original compositions and jazz standards during two 45-minute sets. They will play original works by sextet members Tobin and McEleney, a contemporary arrangement of the folk song “She’s like a Swallow” by vocalist Williams, and pieces by Murley and Artie Roth (BFA ’92), who also teaches jazz at York. Tunes by jazz greats Thelonious Monk, Chris Potter, Kenny Wheeler, John Zorn and others round out the program.

Right from top: David Mott,  Barry Elmes and Lorne Lofsky, Kevin Turcotte and Kelly Jefferson, and Richard Whiteman

Murley has been working with the sextet for a year. “It’s been inspiring to witness their development both in the context of the group and as individual players,” he said. “I believe that all of the musicians in the ensemble have the potential to be important fixtures on the Canadian jazz scene for years to come.”

Sponsored by TD Canada Trust, the Toronto Jazz Festival was recently named Canada’s best at the National Jazz Awards. For these young musicians, representing York at the festival is a chance to showcase their talent in a program shared by such jazz luminaries as singer Etta James, guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli, saxophonist George Coleman, and legendary pianist and York U honorary alumnus Dave Brubeck (LLD ’04).

About the York University Sextet

Fourth-year music student Rob Cappelletto’s musical influences include Bill Frisell, Lorne Lofsky, Marc Ribot and Robben Ford. “Music started to take over my life when I got into rock music around the age of nine. I picked up the guitar then and haven’t really put it down since,” said Cappelletto, who gravitates towards all styles of guitar playing: blues, rock, country, jazz and classical. “I want to absorb it all.”

Trumpet player George Karounos cites John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Chris Potter as major influences. “I absolutely can’t get enough of the trumpet because of its distinctive sound,” Karounos said. The high point of his musical career to date has been playing with local hotshot trumpeter Alexis Baro. “Music is a good emotional outlet for me; it keeps me sane,” remarked the fourth-year music student.

Bassist James McEleney also plays with another York student ensemble, focusing on jazz arrangements and Klezmer melodies. “Charles Mingus is by far my favourite jazz musician and has been my greatest influence, as well as Charlie Haden,” said the fourth-year music student. “The high point of my musical career has been enrolling at York University and meeting and playing with lots of serious musicians, as well as working with amazing professors.”

Third-year music student Michael Tobin, who plays both tenor and alto sax, admires jazz greats Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. “I love Rollins’ imaginative and even humourous sense of direction as an improviser,” said Tobin. “His solos start at A and end at B, and there are these incredible things he does in between those two points. I also love John Coltrane’s ability to take a melodic fragment and play it inside out, sideways, diagonal and every other which way.”

Looking back, Tobin said, “Music became centre stage in my life when I was 10 years old. I picked up a sax for the very first time and it shook me up. I had never felt this feeling before. I don’t find anything else as fun, challenging and pleasing as music.”

Left: Three members of last year’s student quintet are in this year’s sextet:  drummer David Seffen and trumpeter George Karounos (top), and bassist James McEleney  

The other two performers, drummer David Steffan and vocalist Felecity Williams, are also undergraduates in York’s BFA Honours Music program. Steffan has just completed his second year of studies, while Williams has just finished third year.

Toronto Jazz Festival

To find out when York faculty members are performing, visit the Toronto Jazz Festival Web site. 

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