York alumni up for several Juno nominations

Several York alumni are basking in the glow of Juno nominations this year, including Suba Sankaran (BFA ‘97, MFA ‘02), who leads the Toronto Indo-jazz fusion ensemble autorickshaw, nominated for Music Album of the Year for So the Journey Goes. The group is also launching its 2008 Toronto concert series tonight, Feb. 19, at the Lula Lounge.

Right: Album cover for autorickshaw’s So the Journey Goes with Suba Sankaran on the front

The doors open at 7pm and the concert begins at 8:30pm featuring autorickshaw’s new repertoire. The Lula Lounge is at 1585 Dundas St. West, Toronto. Tickets are $12. York alumnus Dylan Bell (BFA ‘95) – listed as a special guest on the So the Journey Goes album for mixing it and playing the Wurlitzer electric piano – is a special guest at tonight’s concert. Ed Hanley, Rich Brown and Patrick Graham complete the ensemble.

"It feels great to be nominated once again," says Sankaran. "While we don’t make music with the sole purpose of being showered with accolades, it is most certainly an honour just being nominated and being recognized."

York PhD candidate and lecturer Matt Brubeck (see YFile Jan. 15, 2008 issue) received a Juno nomination along with Juno Award-winner David Braid for Twotet/Deuxtet in the Traditional Jazz Album of the Year category. Twotet/Deuxtet was also nominated for a National Jazz Award. Brubeck, primarily a cellist and composer, also plays jazz piano and bass. He has played with a wide-range of musicians over the years, including his dad – jazz icon Dave Brubeck, Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow, David Mott and Natalie MacMaster.

Brubeck says he realizes the cello is still viewed as a bit unusual in jazz. "I started out on piano at about age five and still love to play. However, there was a pretty good jazz pianist in my family already, so when I was ten I decided to add the cello. Little did I know at the time what a challenge that decision would be. While jazz cellists have been playing and recording since 1947, they have mostly flown under the proverbial radar. So, I am excited and honoured by both the award nominations Brubeck Braid has received."

There are many wonderful jazz musicians in Canada that could have been chosen, says Brubeck. "I feel tremendously encouraged and validated by the acceptance of the cello as a jazz instrument that these nominations represent."

Right: Brubeck Braid duo, Dave Braid (left) and Matt Brubeck. Photo courtesy of Matt Brubeck.

The award nominations are not all that Brubeck is excited about. "The forward-looking music department at York has added private instruction in Jazz Strings as a new course, beginning in the fall of 2008. Finally, the string students at York, who have been asking me to teach them jazz, will have that opportunity. I wish I had been able to study jazz on the cello when I was at Yale a few millions years ago, so I am thrilled to be able to do that at York."

In addition to playing with pianist Braid, Brubeck also plays with the jazz trio Ugly Beauties as well as Tallboys. Brubeck Braid will tour China this spring, while Ugly Beauties will soon be recording their first CD.

York alumnus Michael Occhipinti (BFA ‘92) and Creation Dream are up for a Juno Award for Chasing After Light. A guitarist and composer with a modern approach to jazz, Occhipinti has garnered a large following. Chasing After Light is the follow-up to Creation Dream – The Songs of Bruce Cockburn. Occhipinti is the winner of the 2002 National Jazz Award for Guitarist of the Year and a six-time Juno Award nominee for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

Right: Michael Occhipinti

For autorickshaw, this is the second time in five years the group has been up for a Juno Award, the first nomination was in 2004. The group won the 2007 Ontario Independent Music Award for Best Jazz and received two Canadian Folk Music Award nominations in 2007 for the categories of Best World Group and Pushing the Boundaries, for the album So the Journey Goes – a sonic alchemy of traditional South Indian music, jazz-influenced originals along with a dash of vintage Bollywood. The album was also listed on several year-end best-of lists, including those of Texas Public Radio and Olympia, Washington’s Spin the Globe. Ed Hanley, Rich Brown and Patrick Graham are the other three members that make up autorichshaw in addition to Sankaran. The band was named one of Toronto Life magazine’s Five Best Jazz Acts of 2007.

Bell is a long-time collaborator with autorickshaw having had a hand in all three of its albums. He co-produced, engineered, mixed and played some bass on autorickshaw’s self-titled first album, sang and beatboxed on the second album Four Higher, and mixed and played Wurlitzer on the final track of So The Journey Goes. He is also a regular sub on bass.

As a kid, Bell studied piano, violin and cello, but after hearing Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, turned those instruments in for an electric bass, guitar, a drum set and starting singing and playing jazz.

Left: Dylan Bell

Sankaran (see YFile Feb. 28, 2005 issue) is a vocalist, pianist and percussionist. Her training in South Indian classical music started early in life with her father, York music Professor Trichy Sankaran – a master drummer who is listed as a special guest on the Juno-nominated album. She has directed a number of choirs, including York’s Wibijazz’n’, the University of Toronto Jazz Ensemble and the Royal Conservatory of Music Adult Jazz Choir, and is in demand as a choral director, arranger, adjudicator and composer.

"When you step back and realize that you were one of five albums chosen for the biggest Canadian music award, and in the World Music category no less, you recognize that the music spoke to the people, and in turn, those people understood the labour of love and creation, blood, sweat and tears that went into the making of that album," says Sankaran.

Her love of music has allowed Sankaran to compose, record, engineer and produce music for radio, theatre, film and dance. She has performed widely across Canada, the US, Europe and India with a wide range of artists, including Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana (Global Divas), chittraveena player Ravikiran, David Mott, Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, George Koller, Kevin Breit, Maza Meze, Hampton Avenue, and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, where she performed for Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Peter Gabriel.

Right: Trichy Sankaran

Sankaran’s father (see YFile Sept. 8, 2006 issue) composed the song Nalina Kanthi on the album and plays mrdangam and kanjira – two traditional Indian instruments, as well as performs solkattu (vocal percussion). This York professor is a world-renowned percussion virtuoso, Indian music scholar and composer who has performed in India, South-East Asia, Europe, Australia and North America. In his more than 50 years of concert experience in Carnatic music, he has accompanied all top rank artists of India. In addition to his usual traditional settings, he has performed with gamelan, jazz, electronic, African music ensembles, and world drums. For more on the father-daughter duo, see "Roots Music" in YorkU magazine, December 2007.

autorickshaw will also play at the Lula Lounge on May 29, with feature guest hurdy-gurdy player and electronic artist Ben Grossman, and Sept. 25, with feature guest York PhD candidate Gordon Sheard, a pianist and accordionist.

For information and reservations for autorickshaw’s concert at the Lula Lounge, call 416-588-0307 or visit infor@lula.ca.

The Juno Awards will air on CTV on Sunday, April 6, in Calgary, Alberta.