PhD candidate and faculty member releases retro jazz album

When York PhD candidate and faculty member Mike Cadó first heard the music of Nimmons ‘n’ Nine, a 1950s and 1960s jazz ensemble, he was blown away with the freshness and complexity of the sound along with its accessibility. The music so impressed Cadó that he formed his own group, Nimmons ‘n’ Nine…Now: The Mike Cadó Tentet, to recapture the sound. The band has now cut its first CD, a self-titled debut, featuring scores from the original ensemble along with new arrangements and compositions from members of the new group.

Composer, arranger and musician Phil Nimmons led the original 10-member jazz ensemble Nimmons ‘n’ Nine from 1953 to 1965. It began as a rehearsal group for Nimmons’ compositions, but soon grew into a band in its own right comprised mainly of musicians working at CBC Radio. The group played at concerts and festivals around the world and had a long association with CBC Radio – performing on several shows over a 23-year period – and television.

“I was intrigued by the fact that the music, 40 years later, still sounds very fresh and modern to me. So I can imagine 40 years ago, Phil was pushing musical boundaries with some of his compositions and I thought if I get a band together we could do the same, push the same musical boundaries Phil was pushing 40 years ago,” says Cadó, who currently teaches in York’s Department of Music, co-directs with Professor Alan Henderson the undergraduate York University Jazz Orchestra and heads up the University’s Rhythm & Blues Ensemble, a venture Cadó says responds to the additional musical tastes of students and adds to the wide variety of choices already available.

So in 2003, while Cadó was working on his master’s degree in music composition at York, The Mike Cadó Tentet was born. “I started off just interviewing Phil Nimmons and it became a friendship where he lent me a lot of the scores that I analyzed for my master’s work,” says Cadó, a guitarist and composer. That’s when the idea of forming a band to play some of the old arrangements first struck Cadó. “A lot of the music hadn’t been heard. A lot of it had never been released because they were CBC performances so they were played once.”

Although The Mike Cadó Tentet started as more of a tribute band, a kind of retrospective of Nimmons’ work, like Nimmons’ group it has become so much more. The focus has shifted from playing solely Nimmons’ work to including new pieces composed by members of tentet.

Left: Mike Cadó performing in The Mike Cadó Tentet

The group’s new CD features half of Nimmons’ arrangements while the other half is new arrangements and compositions that Cadó says fit with Nimmons’ pieces. “It’s a nice balance between the old and the new. It’s still rooted in tradition, but we try to push physical musical boundaries and do some more contemporary and modern things. Phil really enjoys it and that’s the main thing. He said it brings back a sense of nostalgia to hear some of the compositions he played over 40 years ago and a sense of joy that we basically took his ensemble and put a modern spin on it with new material,” says Cadó. The new ensemble, like the original, is not a standard jazz ensemble. The Mike Cadó Tentet retained the original instrumentation and that includes an accordion.

The tentet, which includes York faculty – Professor David Mott, baritone saxophone; Anthony Michelli, drums; and Kelly Jefferson, tenor saxophone – began by playing Nimmons’ original arrangements at various jazz festivals and clubs along with band members John MacMurchy, clarinet; Andy Ballantyne, alto saxophone; Jason Logue, trumpet; William Carn, trombone; Andrew Downing, bass; and Tom Szczesniak, accordion.

Word got around about the band and Jazz.FM91 in Toronto asked The Mike Cadó Tentet to perform for its Sound of Jazz Concert Series in 2003, which ended up commemorating Nimmons’ 80th birthday. “That sort of got everything rolling,” says Cadó, who is now looking at how CBC Radio influenced the composition and the performance of jazz in Toronto during the jazz heyday of the 1950s and 1960s for his ethnomusicology doctoral dissertation, which naturally includes Nimmons ‘n’ Nine, one of the most important and influential jazz bands of the time. Nimmons went on to form Nimmons ‘n’ Nine Plus Six, which won the first Juno Award for best jazz album in 1977 for The Atlantic Suite. The Mike Cadó Tentet accordion player, Szczesniak, played keyboards for Nimmons ‘n’ Nine Plus Six.

“It’s been a labour of love that’s for sure. It’s really hard to run a 10-piece jazz ensemble,” says Cadó. “All the musicians in it are the top musicians in the city, so their schedules are all over the place.”

But Cadó’s interests don’t end there. He also leads his own blues combo, which has performed everything from Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray at blues and jazz festivals and events. In addition, he leads MC & Company, a musical ensemble which performs at private and corporate functions. In 2005, Cadó collaborated with jazz vocalist Sherie Marshall, a jazz vocal instructor at York, to create the CD The Sweetest Sounds, a unique interpretation of jazz standards and lesser-known compositions.

Cadó says despite appearances, his taste in music swings wide and is not limited to jazz, rhythm and blues. He is also a huge Earth, Wind & Fire fan.

To watch a YouTube video of The Mike Cadó Tentet performing at the Sound of Jazz Concert Series, click here. Nimmons ‘n’ Nine…Now: The Mike Cadó Tentet was partially funded through an Ontario Arts Council grant.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer