Tuesday, April 8, 2014


One of my friends and fellow York Undergrad Alumni Jason Stillman showcased his composition and saxophone chops while performing as part of his doctorate studies at the University of Toronto one fine Saturday afternoon.   

His recital showcased two ensembles that primarily performed a bulk of his original compositions and arrangements of two standard tunes.   The first band, a quartet comprised of pianist Noam Lemish, bassist Alex Lakusta and drummer Evan Cartwright gave the perfect foil for Jason Stillman to showcase his talents as an alto sax stylist.   

In the quartet set, things start of modern through a reading of Jason Stillman’s 
“Hurry Up and Wait”.    The performance married forward thing jazz with intense melodicism that brings a certain element of swing through its rhythmic shifts and turns.    “Tribute” is a composition in 5/4 that starts of as a peaceful ballad but then builds up in intensity until it reaches to a heightened climax.   

Jason’s Reading of “Prelude to a Kiss” evoked elements of the great Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter through a respectful and highly involved reading of the piece that evoked romantic emotions throughout the piece.   “Dizzy Atmosphere”, a Dizzy Gillespie standard, brought the roots of swing and bebop into an otherwise modern affair for the recital, giving a moment to allow the members of the quartet to stretch out and have some playful fun on a very playful piece.  

For the last three tunes, Jason performed all original compositions arranged for a University of Toronto 12tet that comprised of two trumpets, two trombones, two saxes, vibes, guitar, piano, bass and drums.    In this section I heard the various colours and textures that give a new dimension to Jason’s pieces and thus shows his strengths as a great arranger in addition to composing.   The first song, “Tomorrow Maybe” starts off in 5/4 with its ornamental arrangements but then it shifts into 4/4 swing.     Jason solo’s very effectively and very forward thinking in the piece and Mike McCormick’s guitar solo is very mellow and soft toned like a well oiled Jim Hall.

The highlight of the 12tet piece would have to be “Ulysses”, a composition that Jason Stillman plans to “retire” after this performance.   I hope he doesn’t because it happens to be one of his best and strongest compositions and hearing it arranged for a bigger band showcases a whole lot of colour and nuances in the piece.    It also featured a fine solo by Noam Lemish and it was a swinging take on playing in ¾ time.

The 12tet closes the afternoon with a great reading of “Quartet Blues” which is a modern way of taking the blues structure and making it one’s own.   

Jason Stillman has come a long way from when I first met him at York University to pursuing a doctorate in music.   He is a fine musician, composer and arranger and what he displayed that afternoon shows continual career evolution and progress that he can forever take with him in various musical situations.   


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