When jazz trumpeter Paul Tynan was in Berlin in early May he played jazz each night but spent his days exploring the city. That became the inspiration for a number of his compositions which he'll perform in Ottawa next Tuesday, in a concert at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios.
“Berlin is an amazing city!” Tynan said. “I was there for a week. I had seven nights in a club called the The Hat Club in Berlin. It really was just a fantastic experience playing my original music every night at the same club, oftentimes for audience members who would come back, who would hear us one night and then come back the next night and maybe the next night and the next night. It was really inspiring.”
During the day, he tramped around the city. “As a kid I was always taken by the Brandenburg Gate. I got to see it. I'd been to Germany before, but this was the first time I'd been to Berlin, so I spent literally hours walking around the city and combing everything from the Schöneberg neighbourhood to the Kreuzberg neighbourhood to the typical tourist spots as well.”
And that ended up being reflected in his music. “You just hear these melodies in your head, and fortunately the place I was staying had a grand piano so I would come back and just write some music at this piano that was in the flat that I was in.”
On Tuesday, Tynan will combine this music with other “time-tested” tunes he's written in the last decade, and some jazz standards, in a trio show with Ottawa pianist Peter Hum and Montreal bassist Alec Walkington.
Tynan, who is a professor in the music department at St. Francis Xavier University, last performed publicly in Ottawa in 2013, in the faculty concerts at the Carleton University Jazz Camp. One of those concerts featured his compositions for big band.
This show will be on a much more intimate scale, but Tynan says that many of his pieces are flexible enough to work for a trio. “All the music I write can function either on a very small level or can function on a very large level. It just is how it's packaged or arranged. It's meant to be malleable. And I like that about it.”
“I really like the smaller ensemble: I figure it's more intimate. It just changes the colour palette a bit from what you're used to hearing. The drums have such a commanding presence in our music and they really dictate a lot of where the music goes and the interaction level becomes a specific rhythmic thing. When you remove drums from the mix, you still have that rhythmic interaction, but it highlights more of the melodic, harmonic interaction as well that exists between bass or a chordal instrument and a horn.”
Playing without drums “creates a nice texture, something that's a little different. It opens up the textures in a lot of ways in regards to use of time and use of space.”
“It changes the dynamic a little bit and I thought that Record Runner would be a really great venue to do that in. It's intimate, it's small, and it allows for interplay on just a different level.”
The tunes will run “the gamut from introspective melodies to sad songs to happy songs to songs that are really just that, just songs, too. It will be fun I think mixing it and balancing it with the standards.”
One of Tynan's longest-standing collaborations has been with baritone saxophonist Aaron Lington from the San Francisco Bay area. Their Bicoastal Collective group has released five albums, in ensembles ranging from quintets to big bands.
Tuesday's setlist will include two pieces from the collective's Chapter One album: “Dub's Lament” and “Chanting”. Tynan said they were played by a 10-piece band on that album, but will be changed significantly for the trio.
He said he was excited to play in a completely new trio with Hum and Walkington: “One of the great things about this music is how musicians will feel each other out on the bandstand and there's going to be a bit of that happening as well. So that's very, very exciting and the audience will get to partake in that as well.”
He had previously worked with Hum when Hum wrote the liner notes to the Bicoastal Collective's Chapter Four album. In addition, Tynan and Hum have each performed extensively with saxophonist Kenji Omae, who also teaches at St. Francis Xavier.
Walkington is a St. Francis Xavier graduate from the early years of its music program, and was recommended to Tynan by Hum and by Ottawa bassist John Geggie.
Tynan said that one of the reasons for this Ottawa show was that “I've been playing so much in Europe lately that I feel like I've been neglecting Canada, so I'm just really excited to get back.”
But he's always thought internationally. He was born in Fort Erie, Ontario, next to the Canada-U.S. border. When he was five, his family moved to Houston, Texas. His music degrees are from the Crane School of Music at SUNY in Potsdam, New York, where he studied classical trumpet, and from the University of North Texas' famed jazz program.
But it was the year spent in Sweden between his bachelor's and master's degrees that most determined his musical direction. He was recommended to study with renowned jazz trumpeter Tim Hagans.
“He was the guy that basically got me turned on to jazz, to listening to jazz and spending time playing jazz and experimenting with the music on many levels. That was my initial jazz trumpet influence. It wasn't necessarily your typical 'Oh go check out Kind of Blue' or 'Go listen to Freddie Hubbard or Miles Davis'. The guys I started listening to right off the bat were Kenny Wheeler and Lester Bowie and Tim Hagans, so it was more on the modern or avant-garde side of the music. So there's a bit of that in the tradition of where I come from.”
While in Sweden, he also studied harmony – but not in the standard method of trying out chords on a piano. His teacher “was also one of the writers for Swedish Radio, commercially. And so his way of teaching harmony was to have you write, so I ended up writing tons and tons of music and learning about harmonic movements and textural colour and those types of things through writing music. And it's how I got my harmony together as an improvising musician – from sitting down at a piece of paper with a piano and spelling chords out endlessly and voicing chords out endlessly, as opposed to sitting down at the piano and learning your traditional jazz pedagogy methods. I did all that stuff later. So my initial exposure was through writing and getting my harmonic thing together from that perspective.”
Keeping up jazz connections
Since 2001, Tynan has been based at St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, more than two hours north-east of Halifax and one of the eastern-most cities in Canada. How does he keep up his jazz connections?
One method is to encourage jazz musicians to stay in Nova Scotia. “There's a great scene in Halifax, which is really nice, and it's a young scene. There are some veteran musicians there, for sure, but recently (and by recently I mean within the last 10 years) one of my colleagues and I, we set out to encourage a lot of the St. FX graduates that, hey, if you're going to play this music, move to Halifax! Make a scene. Make it happen. You can go to Toronto and there's a chance you'll do really well, or you could go to Halifax and really make it. It's ripe right now for making something happen.”
“So there's some fantastic younger musicians in Halifax that are really keen, that are really grinding it out and doing some fantastic stuff there.”
“And there's also the airport,” he laughs. “I also go to the airport, maybe more often than I do Halifax, to play music.”
His European tour this April-May also included concerts in Ireland and the Netherlands, and he also plays “a fair amount” in the U.S. with the Bicoastal Collective and other groups.
Line, and flow, and shape in forging knives
Tynan also has a non-musical outlet for his creativity. For the past five years, he's been forging knives, making the blades from high-carbon steel and the handles from wood or leather or epoxy-soaked canvas. “It's very fun, and it's a nice way to get my head out of the music when that needs to happen.”
He got into the craft through an unexpected route.
“I'm a super nerd, big-time nerd. One of the things I enjoyed growing up was fantasy novels [and] playing Dungeons and Dragons. For a seven-year period, I played World of Warcraft significantly, and I had this character who was a Dwarven blacksmith. When I stopped playing the game because it really is a time sink and I should have been practicing more and writing more music, I said to myself, 'Well, why don't I learn how to do this for real' ?”
“And I did. The tools just all fell into my lap. I was given a really nice anvil. I found a forge relatively cheaply locally. I took some classes with a local master blacksmith, spent a couple days just working with him and getting some basics together. And then I also spent a lot of time teaching myself: reading books, watching YouTube videos, and trial and error.”
He's shipped his knives all over North America and even to Europe. And while it's “completely unrelated” to music, the forging process has similarities to composition.
“You still think about line, and you still think about flow, and you still think about shape – so the very basic aspects of creativity are all still there. But I'm not dealing with sound, I'm dealing with form. So a lot of it transfers over, at least in a real general way, but it's not as precise as playing bebop or playing jazz on a super-high level.”
Live @ Record Runner presents The Paul Tynan Trio (Tynan - trumpet, Peter Hum - keyboards, Alec Walkington - bass) on Tuesday, August 7, at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, and are available at the door or on the Record Runner website. Record Runner Rehearsal Studios is located at 159 Colonnade Road South, Unit 6 (walk down the parking lot to the end of the building). OC Transpo route 89 stops immediately in front of the building; route 80 stops on Merivale Road near Colonnade, with a 15-20 minute walk on the southern loop of Colonnade.
Read earlier OttawaJazzScene.ca stories about Paul Tynan: