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Stories behind the 2017 Jazz Juno Award winners

Bria Skonberg on the 2017 Juno red capet. She won the Vocal Jazz Juno for her album Bria. ©2017 Brett DelmageThe Cellar Live record label in Vancouver released Metalwood's Juno-winning album because of its ties to this country.

“Metalwood is Canadian, like really Canadian, and they come from across Canada, and so it was totally a natural fit,” said record owner Cory Weeds.

It was an illuminating comment in a year when most of the winners in the Juno jazz categories live in New York City.

The 2017 jazz-related Junos were awarded on Saturday to:

  • Metalwood: Twenty (Jazz Album of the Year: Group)
  • Renee Rosnes: Written in the Rocks (Jazz Album of the Year: Solo)
  • Bria Skonberg: Bria (Vocal Jazz Album of the Year)
  • Diana Panton: I Believe in Little Things (Children's Album of the Year)

Rosnes, Skonberg, and two of Metalwood's four members are Canadian ex-pats who now live in New York City.

When asked to comment on this, Rosnes said, “Well, it's the mecca of our music. New York has a fantastic jazz scene as you know. It's very vibrant, and a lot of Canadian musicians go there to play and learn and a lot of us end up staying.”

She noted that the Canadian musicians in New York are “all friendly with one another, and we have a great love for Canada and we come back very often to perform and to see family of course as well.”

In her acceptance speech, Skonberg said, “I'm proud to be Canadian.” She thanked the New York City community, “for lifting me up”, and her home town of Chilliwack, BC, “for keeping me grounded”.

View photos by Brett Delmage of JUNO jazz award nominees and winners on the red carpet


Chris Tarry of Metalwood (r) and producer Cory Weeds (l) on the Juno red carpet ©2017 Brett DelmageMetalwood: Twenty

Bassist Chris Tarry accepted the Juno for Metalwood's Twenty on behalf of his bandmates: trumpeter Brad Turner, saxophonist Mike Murley, and drummer Ian Froman. “Jazz is a pretty transitory thing by nature, in terms of musicians playing with each other,” Tarry told the audience. “And Metalwood has been around for 20 years now. Our first Juno Award-winning record was released 20 years ago today. So when a jazz band stays together that long, you know it's for some pretty special reasons.”

What keeps them together? “I think the fact that the four of us have a friendship and also a trust musically. I think it's a rare thing. We all play as individuals with a bunch of different people and that's what jazz gets known for – playing with this person, and that person, and this person, and in these 35 bands. I think when a jazz band has been around as long as we have, it's a fairly rare thing. That's a special thing. Even when the band's not playing, we're always together and brewing up the next step.”

Cory Weeds had a similar long-term connection to the jazz fusion band. “Metalwood was a huge part of my youth. I remember that Chris was going to let my free community radio shows be the sponsor of one of Metalwood's shows in Vancouver. This was a big deal for me back then.”

Weeds said that, originally, Tarry had talked to him about possibly putting together some unreleased live and studio tracks. “He thought about maybe putting out a download or something, just to see if we might be able to regenerate some interest in the band, instead of the full investment of putting out a record. And I was like, 'No. Let's just do a new record. You guys meet us in Toronto. Brad and I will fly out there and we'll do it.'”

“Musically Cellar Live is known for a certain thing, that maybe Metalwood isn't. We do a lot more straight-ahead stuff. But I think it fits in perfectly with the label although musically it's not right in line with everything else that we do.”

Each of the musicians in this Vancouver-Toronto-NYC group is a previous Juno winner with many decades of experience, so it was bemusing to hear that the group would also be recognized by the “Stingray Rising Star Program”. The announcement from the stage said that the mission of this award was to encourage and highlight “emerging Canadian musical talent”. The award also included a $3000 cash prize.

Renee Rosnes (with her son Dylan Drummond) at the 2017 Junos, where Rosnes' latest album won the Jazz Album: Solo category ©2017 Brett DelmageRenee Rosnes: Written in the Rocks

Written in the Rocks was pianist Renee Rosnes' first North American album in five years, and featured the long-form “Galapagos Suite” as its main composition. Rosnes said she was inspired to write it by reading about evolution. The suite's title refers to the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin did the seminal research that led to his theory of evolution, and it includes pieces with paleontology-related titles, including “The KT Boundary” and “Cambrian Explosion”.

“I'm a big science buff, and I love Darwin. A lot of the music was...being inspired by some of the events that happened in the early world. I decided that it would be a great thing to write about. I've never been to the Galapagos; I'd love to go there someday. But it's interesting, when I perform the different pieces, [to hear] the questions people ask about the titles.”

This was Rosnes' fifth Juno award. In her acceptance speech, Rosnes paid tribute to her Vancouver high school music teacher, Bob Rebagliati, who is famous for teaching and encouraging many west-coast Canadian jazz musicians. “He has three Juno nominees here tonight. Thank you, Reb, for everything you've given me.”


Brian Skonberg: Bria

Bria Skonberg dedicated her award to all her teachers and mentors along the way, “I appreciate all of you for supporting the arts at a time when we really need them the most”.

Skonberg is both a trumpeter and a vocalist, and “the real challenge for me on this project was figuring out where both of those voices meet and finding those creative songs that would serve as a vehicle for both of those together.”

She said that singing and playing the trumpet were complementary, since the trumpet usually plays the melody. “They both lead the band. They can be very brassy and sassy.”

Diana Panton (seen here on the 2017 Juno red carpet) made a jazz album for children and won a Juno ©2017 Brett DelmageDiana Panton: I Believe in Little Things

Jazz vocalist Diana Panton said she created her children's album after parents wrote her to tell her they were playing songs from her adult jazz albums to their children, often to help them fall asleep. “Rather than having them pick and choose from my albums, I thought, why not make something that was just for them?”

“People told me I was crazy to make this album,” she said. “But I'm a very instinctual person, and to me it just felt right. And no matter what anybody said, I was going to do it. I'm going to pick out some great songs, and I'm going to treat them with exactly the same harmonic sophistication and arrangements as we approached all the other albums. I'm super-happy it worked.”

She said the most intimidating artist to cover for the album was Kermit the frog, “because he did such a superb version of 'Rainbow Connection'. It was like, 'I don't know if I can top this one!' ”

Originally she said, she had thought of making a lullaby album, but “with my voice, being how relaxing it is, they'll probably get through two songs and be asleep!” So she put the focus of the songs on waking and sleeping imagination – with the aim of making it interesting for both children and adults. “I hope this album is for kids. I hope it's for people who are young at heart.”

Panton dedicated the award to her Periods 1 and 2 classes at Westdale Secondary School in Hamilton, where she teaches art and drama. When asked if she was planning another children's album, her response was coy: she said she never revealed her albums in advance.

Steve Woods and the Northern Cree Singers, Tanya Tagaq, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra: Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation

The Juno for Classical Album of the Year: Large Ensemble went to Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, a piece originally written as the score for a ballet for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. However, the music on that album goes beyond the standard classical mode. Its first section is set in a nightclub, and it has a substantial improvised component, from vocalist Tanya Tagaq and from the Grammy-nominated Northern Cree Singers.

This created an interesting conundrum for the composer of the piece, Christos Hatzis, because the ballet dancers needed music with precise timings. What he ended up doing, he explained, was pre-recording the Northern Cree Singers and Tagaq. He then used samples of those recordings in the final composition and invoked them via keyboard when playing the ballet music with the orchestra. As well, Tagaq and the Northern Cree Singers performed live improvised music before the each act of the ballet, to give the audience an idea of what they would be hearing in the ballet music.

The jazz-related Juno Awards were announced Saturday, April 1, at a dinner at the Shaw Centre. 34 awards in total, covering all musical genres, were given out on Saturday. Several jazz-related albums were also nominated in the Instrumental Music category, but the award went to the fiddle-oriented string quartet The Fretless.

The final, most high-profile awards (all rock and pop) were announced at a televised show at the Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday evening.

   – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of JUNO jazz award nominees and winners on the red carpet

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