Music. It always has and it always will be a part of my life. Classical. Pop. Blues. Hip-Hop. R&B. Gospel. Bossa Nova. Easy Listening. And then there is my favourite style of music that will define my life, jazz music.
It is ironic that on the most tragic day of America on September 11th, 2001, my only class that day was intro to jazz performance at York University. I didn’t know how to function. I felt that Jesus was going to rapture the church at any moment. I didn’t feel a reason to live. But I knew that I have a purpose, a reason, to bring joy, peace, and love to the world through the music I play and the relationships that I foster.
I met friends along the way that encouraged me to solider on during my development. I want to share four of those people: Matt Dusk, Ori Dagan, Laila Biali and Oscar Peterson.
When I first heard Matt Dusk, I was turned off to be honest with you. He sang Frank Sinatra like cheap brandy and I lost complete respect for him. When I met him for the first time properly at the Beaches jazz festival, I cordially bought his CD with my piano teacher Mark Eisenman and his trio plus Pat Labarbera, and as a result became one of his number one fans that is bringing the Sinatra cool to the Canadian jazz scene. When I bumped into him in Christmas 2005, he was so happy to see me I was shocked that he even remembered who I was. I even told him, I’m not doing the piano ever again. Disappointed, he took the CD, and to this day I have autographed, “To Conrad, Keep Playing Piano, Never Give Up. Matt Dusk”. Matt, wherever you are, rest assured I kept the course and one of these days, we are going to do an album together.
Ori Dagan, a gay Israeli, is what I would call the Kurt Elling or Mark Murphy of the Canadian jazz scene. When we first worked together, he had a horrid voice, but over time he developed into an amazing vocalist and songwriter. In my very first professional jazz gig at my favourite coffee shop, “The Second Cup”, in a packed attentive audience of Christian supporters, I for the first time played my brand of Christian themed jazz with just a keyboard and an electric bassist by the name of first year student Brett Potter. Ori attended my very first jazz show, and became one of my biggest fans. When he did reviews of the jazz shops, it wasn’t a coincidence that the only five star reviews that he gave were the shops that I was involved in. Later on, we collaborated on a song for the city of Toronto called “Toronto Swing”. We didn’t get picked, but I kept the composition and played it as a bossa nova. Now Ori is a star, is happily married, won competitions, released recordings, and has a very busy schedule. Hopefully we will be the Canadian Rodgers and Hammerstein and work on a jazz musical.
Laila Biali, the woman, is a very special, gifted lady. I kept hearing her name not in jazz circles, but in the church circles that I frequent. I decided to attend a concert that she put on with her “Crossings Quartet”, comprised of her original compositions. Then I decided to attend the after party. I just wanted to say hello. And when she saw me, I sat right beside her, she asked me a lot of questions like Oprah Winfrey, and at a young age she became a mover and a shaker. I was smitten and attracted by her beauty, faith and grace. I finally felt like I have found the one, but it wasn’t meant to be. We had our space to heal and think of things, and out of it we have grown to be mutual, respectful friends. In her “Introducing the Laila Biali Trio” album, I was given a credit forever enshrined in the album because I helped her fund the project. After a very busy career, she is now settling down in Toronto with her fine husband Benjamin (one of the twelve tribes of Israel) and her beautiful boy, Joshua (Hebrew for Salvation, derivative of Yeshua, in which we get Jesus).
And last, but not least, there is the legend, Oscar Peterson. I was fortunate to see him perform three times and meet him twice before he passed away on Christmas day. I have pictures from when I met him at the IAJE Conference in 2003 for the first time and he gave his bold signature in my book. Fast forward two year later to November 20th, 2005. In what would be one of his final performances, Oscar put on a charity concert for World Vision at Roy Thomson Hall and it was one of the best nights in my life. Something told me to go back to Roy Thomson Hall and hang out, and I was glad that I did. To make it short, for free I took up a life-sized poster, and Oscar autographed “Happy Birthday, Oscar Peterson”. Every time I see that poster, I feel that he is watching every move I make. The only downside: He didn’t get to hear me play. But he told me, “We need a LOT of piano players”.
As I approach my 35th birthday, I feel that the journey is about to begin. Time to shine. Here’s to life, here’s to love, and here’s to you and me.