CBC’s jazz community continues its mission to compile a list of 10 essential Canadian jazz albums with a little help from its friends.

Today’s guest contributor is Paul Novotny, a well respected, Toronto-based bassist, composer, arranger and producer. Novotny’s credits include his longstanding duo with Joe Sealy. He’s worked with the Dave McMurdo Jazz OrchestraCedar WaltonJunior Mance and many other Canadian and international artists. Novotny’s composition credits include music for CBC’s The National and The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos. As well as performing, Novotny teaches atHumber College in Toronto.

I really had to think about this for a bit, since I've never categorized my "favourite music" into geographic boundaries. I have chosen one classic and two recent contributions from the Canadian jazz landscape. The classic selection has proven itself to be timeless and I believe these two new contributions will, over time as well, be timelessly compelling.

Oscar PetersonCanadiana Suite (1964)

This music is the first jazz that I remember. I was only about seven years old when I first heard this record. I was already studying piano but had not yet realised that music was to be a calling. What really affected me was Oscar’s composition, “Wheatland.” It was music that stimulated me visually of what I imagined the prairies to be like. “Wheatland” also spoke to me on an emotional level through Oscar’s delicate touch. In retrospect it was one of the first signs that music was to be a big part of my life ahead.

Phil Dwyer Orchestra featuring Mark Fewer, Changing Seasons (2011)

This is some of the most incredible music I've ever heard. This is art music that touches emotions on so many levels, thus it connects with me. I love music that stimulates me visually. Just listen to the intro of “Winter.” For me, it is so cinematic and it leads me to create a picture in my mind of the sky, clouds and landscape. I can even feel the speed of the wind and the temperature of the air with the orchestration of that wonderful unison saxophone line. There are so many other examples of extraordinary creativity on this recording, such [as] Phil's harmonic choices and the stellar performances by every musician. This is not easy music to play and contains surprises around every corner. I will never tire of listening to Phil's writing and playing.

Tom Szczesniak, Waltz for Bill (2011)

I think Tom is currently Canada's best jazz arranger/orchestrator. His writing for strings is always so breathtaking. His harmony is evocative and pulls at the heart strings in such a natural way. “All The Things You Are” is a beautiful example of that. Tom has been an influential musician since hearing him play for the first time with Peter Appleyard on electric bass in 1974. I've also heard him play as a pianist with Phil Nimmons. Waltz for Bill touched me on many levels. “What Is This Thing Called Love” has so much honest jazz trio energy. Bob McClaren and Scott Alexander's bursting quarter note combines with Tom's masterful piano touch to create a unique rhythm section chemistry. Michael Stuart sings and plays beautifully on “I Wish I Knew,” and it's wonderful to hear Doug Mallory sing “I'll be Seeing You.” A very refreshing listening experience!

I also must say that in choosing these three recordings it pains me to not mention Phil Nimmons or Don Thompson, as they are both musical heroes for me.

Now that you’ve read Novotny’s recommendations, what would you suggest for our list of essential Canadian jazz albums? Email jazz@cbc.ca or comment below.

posted by Kinzey Posen on Mar 05, 2012

Waltz for Bill
Tom Szczesniak
Independent SZC-27426-27 (www.tomszcz.com)

Waltz for Bill is veteran Toronto session player and arranger, Tom Szczesniak’s, love letter to the genius of Bill Evans. It is also the title of his very first CD under his own name after 40 years in the industry playing with everyone from Anne Murray to Thad Jones. Evans isn’t the only piano player to be honoured by Szczesniak, as the late and much-missed Doug Riley (Dr. Music) is remembered here both with a tribute song and a cover of one of his compositions, Dinosaurus. The progressive rock/bop fusion number is a bit of an incongruity, but a palate-cleanser amidst all the ear butterscotch that comes before and after. The disc is steeped in standards and even veers into chestnut territory a time or two, but is a class act from beginning to end. Starting with a mellow but harmonically fresh approach to What Is This Thing Called Love, we get taken on a lush, lovely journey of the likes of Gershwin and Hammerstein with lots of strings, a bit of sax (Michael Stuart and Vern Dorge) and the occasional velvety vocal from Doug Mallory and Cal Dodd.

Tom Szczesniak: Waltz for Bill (2012)

By EDWARD BLANCO

Toronto, Canada-based Tom Szczesniak is a veteran pianist, composer and arranger who has spent a portion of his professional life writing scores for over 100 films and numerous television shows. Settling in Canada in 1973 after a stint with the U.S. Air Force band in Washington, DC, Szczesniak has also worked extensively as a sideman on other artists' projects, performing in jazz clubs throughout Toronto, yet never found the time to produce his own music. Waltz for Bill has taken over three years to realize and marks his recording debut as leader.

For this outing, he collaborates with friends and associates in the business, cleverly harnessing the experienced acquired in a lifetime of producing, composing and orchestrating music for others. Szczesniak pens innovative new arrangements to selections from Cole PorterGeorge Gershwin, and Miles Davis, adds a string orchestra on five of the eleven pieces, and contributes a few of originals, including the Bill Evans-inspired title track.

Including the leader, there are twelve outstanding musicians and two vocalists who perform here, with a supporting eighteen-member string section on several pieces. However, bassist Scott Alexander and drummer Bob McLaren team up with the pianist as the disc's core trio, beginning on the delightfully harmonic "What Is This Thing Called Love." The lightly melodic, classically tinged title tune and deliciously mellow Johnny Mercer standard, "Laura," are the other pieces performed in a trio format.

Deep baritone vocals from Michael Stuart—who also solos on tenor saxophone—leads the music on a sensational rendition of "I Wish I Knew," supported by the pianists' delicate piano lines and string section accompaniment. Arranged as a flute/piano/string feature, Oscar Hammerstein's classic "All The Things You Are" receives lush spacious treatment in one of the album's most gorgeous instrumentals, while Stuart again joins the trio on sax for Miles Davis' bop anthem "Solar," delivering sprite bop-ish phrases.

Vocalist Doug Mallory fronts the trio with an orchestral string background on Szczesniak's "Lament for Doc," played together with Sammy Fain's featured song from the 1938 musical Right This Way, "I'll Be Seeing You." The medley is dedicated to the late Canadian bandleader and Hammond B3 specialist Doug Riley, from whom the pianist borrows "Dinosaurus," featuring guitarists Rob Piltch and Bob Mann, with Szczesniak switching to B3 for the liveliest, most up-tempo swing of the set.

George Gershwin's immortal "Embraceable You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" are two string-laden arrangements and recording highlights. "Laura" and the brief solo finale, Szczesniak's dedication to wife Linda ("Lindy's Song), complete this remarkably enchanting debut from a remarkably talented pianist operating largely below the radar. Szczesniak's name may be hard to pronounce but will be easy to remember after only one spin of Waltz for Bill .

Track Listing: What Is This Thing Called Love; I Wish I Knew; Waltz for Bill; All The Things You Are; Solar; Lament for Doc/I'll Be Seeing You; Dinosaurus; Embraceable You; Someone To Watch Over You; Laura; Lindy's Song.

Personnel: Tom Szczesniak: piano, Hammond B 3 organ (7); Scott Alexander: bass; Bob McLaren: drums; Michael Stuart: tenor saxophone (2, 5), vocals (2); Les Allt: flute (4, 9); Colleen Cook: clarinet (4, 8, 9); Neil Deland: French Horn (4, 8, 9); Rob Piltch: guitar (7); Bob Mann: guitar (7); Vern Dorge: tenor saxophone (8); Neil Swainson: bass (9); Stephen Szczeniak: drums (9); String Orchestra (2, 4, 6, 8, 9): Carol Fujino: violin; Hyung-Sun Paik: violin; Bridget Hunt: violin; Angelique Toews: violin; Vera Tarnowsky: violin; James Wallenberg: violin; Wendy Rose: violin;Virginia Chen Wells: violin; Jennifer Thompson: violin; Ronald Mah: violin; Mi Hyon Kim: violin; Susan Lipchak: viola; Charmain Louis: viola; Christopher Redfield: viola; Winona Zelenka: cello; Marie Gelinas: cello; Audrey King: cello.

Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Modern Jazz

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Waltz For Bill