Ottawa trombonist and composer Nick Adema is just 19 but he’s already releasing his debut EP recording, Starting Point. The four pieces on the album, all composed by him, range from quiet, thoughtful passages to more intense collaborations, but throughout carefully showcase all his musicians' voices in multi-layered patterns. The songs were all inspired by his Ottawa experiences. [listen on]

©Brett Delmage, 2019
Nick Adema at Irene's Pub ©Brett Delmage, 2019

At Irene’s this Friday, Ottawa listeners can hear Adema's original music arising from those experiences. He'll be joined on-stage by the fellow musicians on the recording, who are studying jazz at the University of Toronto. The experienced Ottawa jazz musicians in the Zakari Frantz Trio, with bassist Keith Hartshorn-Walton and Mike Essoudry, will open the show.

Adema considers this debut recording to be “my starting point in the professional jazz scene.”

Although he’s only completed his second year in Jazz Performance at U of T, he already has a proven track record of working hard, being accepted in and performing in award winning bands, composing his own music, and being recognized for his talent and effort. He performed in the Ottawa Youth Orchestra, the Nepean All-City Jazz Band, and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra since Grade 10, and was selected to perform in the national jazz Honour Ensemble, the Conn-Selmer Centerstage Jazz Band. As a personal music project while in Grade 12, he organized and presented his own public concert.

Three times this winter he played his tenor trombone for an evening with the Prime Rib Big Band in Ottawa, hopping in the afternoon on the bus from Toronto, and then returning overnight.

Adema’s awards and scholarships include National Arts Centre Orchestra Outstanding Brass Player Award (2015), the MusicFest Nepean All-City Jazz Band Honour Award (2017), the Albert & Wilhelmine Francis Renewable (full tuition, University of Toronto) Scholarship, and Tim O’Hara Jazz Scholarship (Nepean High School).

This is a lightly edited record of the email conversation's Brett Delmage had with Nick Adema about his journey to Starting Point. Why did you make an EP now? What musical itch or other need did you have to make it?

Nick Adema: I have been writing a lot of music for different groups in Toronto for the two years I have been here, and I felt I had enough music to put out confidently. I only made it an EP with four tracks because I wanted something I can use to market my self as a "starting point". Although I started the process for this EP in September, it was something I just did on a whim at the beginning of the year. Why did you chose a quintet, and this particular instrumentation?

Nick Adema: It came to be this way just by the way I connected with the musicians. I felt that tenor saxophonist David Hodgson had a nice blend and a very strong grasp on modern jazz language. I got the rhythm section (Carter Brodkorb, Evan Gratham, and Jacob Slous) because I felt a special connection playing with them. They all have a deep understanding of the jazz tradition, but they are able to morph their talents in a modern straight-ahead setting. I was also inspired by many trombone quintets that feature a tenor saxophone blend (Bob Mchesney Chez Sez in particular) How did you and the other musicians come together for this project? Are you all students at U of T?

Nick Adema: We are all students at U of T. I have played in many ensembles as these players, along with playing many jam sessions. Myself, David, and Jacob are going into third year. Carter and Evan are going into fourth year.  How did you approach this album? as a composer? As a trombone player?

Nick Adema: Of course, my teacher while I was in high school, Mark Ferguson, set me on the arranging path, as he aided me on writing my own songs in Ottawa. As a composer, I tried to draw from my influences like Conrad Herwig and Wayne Shorter. Those two composers use modal, pentatonic, and straight ahead components in their writing that interested me. As a trombonist, I try seeing how far players can take their playing, and I try to base myself on that. I aspire to play as fast, melodically, and smart as players like Micheal Dease, Conrad Herwig and Bob McChesney, although I can't emulate those players because they are so amazing.

My trombone teacher Terry Promane has been a big help in my arranging skills for this project. In our private lessons, I would always bring in songs and he would always give me tips on how I could make my charts sound and look better. Terry is definitely one of, if not the best, arranger in Canada, through his work independently, and with the Rob McConnell Tentet.

Being in two small U of T groups led by Dave Young and Kelly Jefferson this year, I have had countless opportunities to bring my music into these groups and make changes depending on if I liked what I heard or not.

I really enjoy pushing myself to the edge of my skill level on this album so I can see how much further I can go for the rest of my life. How does the EP relate to your music studies, or is it an independent, personal project?

Nick Adema: Although this album is a reflection of my time at U of T, it was really an independent project. I wanted to express how I currently hear and understand music, and I'm sure going forward my music is going to change drastically as my music influences change. What challenges did you face in making the EP? Why was it harder or easier than you expected?

Nick Adema: This project as a young artist was really time-consuming. From designing the album artwork, organizing studio time / photographer / mixing, writing the music, scheduling practices, press, etc. There were many bumps on the road, and it has taught me how to be a professional musician.

At the end of the day, I want to just write the music and be able to perform it. This process taught me that to be a musician you have to be good at everything behind the scenes as well. I am glad it is wrapped up, and that I have press material that will serve me well in the coming years. Was there a particular musical or personal inspiration for the songs?

Nick Adema: All of the tracks on the EP had a connection to my life. I wrote the title track "The Ward", while I was accompanying my mother in a hospital ward in Ottawa as she was dealing with health issues. The track “Juliana”, I wrote based on my sister. “The Hound” was written on the greyhound between Ottawa and Toronto. “Victoria Departure” was written the day I left my school residence campus at Victoria College.

All of these songs have a common thread that return to Ottawa. As I spent my summer in Ottawa last year, it gave me a lot of inspiration to write these songs. I wrote these songs when I had time off from work in the summer. At the release show at Irene's what else will you be playing besides the four tunes from the EP? Originals? Standards?

Nick Adema: At Irene’s we will be playing mostly originals by myself and pianist Carter Brodkorb, as my aim is to push fresh original content into the scene. But expect a couple of standards as we also like to keep our foot in the door of the jazz tradition.

I am so glad that the Zakari Frantz Trio (with Mike Essoudry and Keith Walton-Hartshorn) is opening the show as well!

I asked Zakari to open up the show because I have played with him countless times in bands like the Prime Rib Big Band and the Bank Street Bonbons. After hearing him play I thought he would have the perfect band to open up the show. I love his connection to the tradition and his fluidity on the horn. Why “Special Thanks to FMUA and U of T Jazz” on the album?

Nick Adema: A big reason I made the album is due to the fact that the Faculty of Music Undergrad Association was able to fund it. The FMUA paid for the EP through a grant writing process! I thanked U of T Jazz because without their education and guidance I wouldn't be the musician I am today. With the ear training, improv, theory, history, private lessons, and ensemble classes, those really helped change my outlook on music. What project or performance are you looking forward to next?

Nick Adema: I am looking forward to starting up a standards octect with my friend Alex Manoukas in the fall.

The Nick Adema Group (trombonist Nick Adema, saxophonist David Hodgson, pianist Carter Brodkorb, bassist Evan Gratham, and drummer Evan Ng sitting in for Jacob Slous), will release its first EP,  Starting Point, at Irene's Pub on Friday, May 17, from 9:30 p.m. to midnight. The Zakari Frantz Trio will also perform. Seating is limited so arrive early for the best seats. Cover is $10, payable at the door.

This show is's Jazz pick of the week

Irene's Pub is at 885 Bank Street, just south of 5th Avenue in the Glebe. OC Transpo routes 6 and 7 serve it. Try the OC Transpo Trip Planner to find your trip to this show!

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