When the planning for the very first Steel City Jazz Festival began in 2012, I was very fortunate to have the help of Jazz Connection Big Band leader Simon Wheeldon in navigating the local jazz scene, to which I was still a new-comer. One of the first people Simon recommended I talk to was Mike Malone. Am I ever glad that he did! Mike was immediately supportive of the festival when I met him at a Jazz Connection rehearsal the winter of our first year. He ended up playing in two groups at the festival that August; the first played to a room of about ten people (aka a very special, intimate performance). Mike has since played at every iteration of the Steel City Jazz Festival, most recently as the analogue to Freddie Hubbard in last year’s tribute to the Wayne Shorter album ‘Speak No Evil’. And whenever he plays, I can tell that the other musicians are excited to have him there.
I can understand why. Mike Malone’s career as a performer stretches back decades (while taking the photo above, Mike told us a story about a photo-shoot for a luggage company ad in Esquire magazine that he did before playing at Carnegie Hall with Lighthouse, that featured them all jumping over a pile of suitcases. I am still scouring the internet for this photo), but I think at least part of the admiration from his fellow musicians comes from his work as an educator. Mike has years of experience teaching as a faculty member for the music program at Mohawk College, so his positive impact on jazz in Hamilton extends far far beyond his own playing. We’re thrilled to welcome him to this year’s festival as the 2016 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence!
Mike’s first show at the 2016 festival will be at Artword Artbar on October 30th alongside Adrean Farrugia on piano and Bob Shields on guitar. Beyond the nice connection to last year’s festival (Adrean was the 2015 Artist-in-Residence), I’m excited for this concert because I love hearing all three of these players in small group settings. They are all highly skilled and highly sensitive musicians who thrive in setting with plenty of space for close listening and interaction.
Mike’s second performance will take place November 3rd at the Pearl Company with an all-star sextet made up of Michael Stuart and Darcy Hepner on saxophones, Pat Collins on bass, Kevin Dempsey on drums and Adrean Farrugia once again on piano, performing music from Miles Davis’ seminal 1959 album ‘Kind of Blue’. ‘Kind of Blue’ is regarded as one of the greatest albums (jazz or otherwise) of all-time, and not just because of the quality of the players. Miles’ (and Bill Evans’) compositions have all proven themselves to be worthy standards; each responding capably to multiple interpretations and recordings. The band Mike has assembled to delve into this material is certainly up the the task, featuring a line-up of Canadian jazz veterans who over the years have played with jazz luminaries like Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Lee Konitz, Elvin Jones and more.
To end off, I asked our 2015 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence, pianist Adrean Farrugia, for a few words about Mike Malone. If you need any more confirmation of the level of respect and admiration that other musicians have for Mike, look no further:
I first met Mike Malone in 1990 while still in high school. In the more than 25 years I’ve known him he has been a continual source of musical inspiration to me as a performer, composer, arranger and educator. His integrity and unyielding vision as an artist has set a standard for an entire generation of Canadian musicians. Through his example I’ve learned the importance of searching for an honest expression of myself through music.
Mike Malone is an important link in the long chain of Canadian musicians who have helped shape the cultural fabric of Canada by perpetuating the ongoing development and continuity of the Canadian arts and music scenes.