We Are ALL Music's Children
- Written by mj Buell
- Category: We Are ALL Music's Children
The always-entertaining Ori Dagan is a jazz singer, concert promoter/producer and jazz journalist, now in his ninth season writing for The WholeNote. Dagan was born in Haifa, Israel where his father was a mechanical engineer and his mother a copywriter. In 1989 he moved with his family to Toronto. All the rest is Googleable but here are a bit more details.
After earning Bachelor of Fine Arts from York University with a focus on jazz vocals and classical voice Dagan studied performance, songwriting and improvisation at Humber College and began working steadily in Toronto’s live music venues. Recent awards: Bronze Medal Winner of the 2016 Global Music Award for Best Male Vocalist; Best Jazz Vocals at the 2015 Toronto Independent Music Awards. In 2016 his single and music video Clap on the 2 and the 4 won Best Children's Song at the Hollywood Songwriting Contest and Best Jazz Song at the Poland International Film Festival. The video has been screened at over a dozen film festivals worldwide including the Cayman Islands International Film Festival, Los Angeles CineFest, Montana International Children's Film Festival, Boston International Kids Film Festival, San Diego International Kids Film Festival and the Toronto Independent Film Festival.
Suppose a friendly fellow traveller asks what you do for a living? Blessed to be a musician! I’m living the dream, and to keep it alive, most of what I do revolves around music. Aside from playing gigs, writing songs, recording and releasing music, I proudly pen Jazz Stories for The WholeNote, book live music for the venue 120 Diner, co-produce the Kensington Market Jazz Festival and teach jazz singing. At this point the fellow traveller usually says “WOW! That’s so exciting!” and I am reminded that indeed, it is.
What would you like to say to that younger Ori? Don’t be so shy!
Your earliest musical memory? My mom singing an Israeli nursery rhyme to me: “Yonatan Ha Katan.”
Musicians in your family? There are no musicians in my family that I know of. My dad is tone-deaf and rhythm-deaf (sorry, dad!). I know it comes from my mom’s side – her grandfather was a cantor. My brother dabbled in guitar and introduced me to some of my favourite music growing up
Where did hearing music fit into your childhood? I grew up listening to Israeli music and classical music. I remember cassettes of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert around the house. My favourite vinyl was Rumpelstiltskin the musical, which in Hebrew was translated into "Ootz-Li Gootz-Li." It featured some of Israel’s biggest stars including Ofra Haza and Tzipi Shavit, and I played it every single day – my first real musical obsession. To this day I have albums that I am obsessed with and can sing start to finish.
First recollections of making music? My mom says I kicked to the Bee Gees Staying Alive in the womb. At three I asked my parents for music lessons and I started at four - my first instrument was the xylophone. I remember being so delighted the first time I heard it. We learned to sing the major scale (Do-Re-Mi) while using sign language to represent each note. But I never thought of myself as a singer because I was so shy. We got a piano when I was six.
What do you remember about a first music teacher? Before I started classical piano lessons, I had a music teacher for a bit over a year with whom I took group lessons on the xylophone. I remember thinking she was old and sweet and kind. I had quite a few music teachers growing up; one of the ones I really remember is Irina Krasny, with whom I studied piano for a few years. She inspired me with her passionate playing and got me into Chopin who became one of my favourite composers.
First experiences of making music with other people? Growing up as a solo pianist, this did not really happen very often – although I did perform a duet for two pianos with a fellow student for a piano competition. We won first place, but were the only entrants in that category!
High school and right after? Singing in a high school production of David Warrack’s musical Deco Beach (at Newtonbrook Secondary School, Toronto) was transformative – I’d had no idea that I could ever be an entertainer. But I gravitated towards creative writing, especially poetry, and I won the English Award. I was particularly inspired by Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood. Unsure that I’d be a successful poet I “settled” on the idea of getting a PhD in English Literature at U of T.
I was miserable at U of T. I had no interest in reading Tom Jones and The Canterbury Tales, let alone writing essays about these works. In my second year at U of T I auditioned for Jesus Christ Superstar and got the role of Caiaphas (Fun fact: I also learned the story of Christ through this musical). And around this time I discovered jazz.
Two live albums changed my life: Ella Fitzgerald: Live in Berlin (1960) and Dinah Jams (1954) featuring Dinah Washington and an all-star band including Clifford Brown, Harold Land and Max Roach. I started singing along to those recordings and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. This music really captured my heart and since then I have never looked back.
I left U of T to pursue jazz at York U for five years, continued with improvisation and songwriting at Humber College for two years, embarking on my career as a jazz singer and songwriter. As much I treasure the education I was blessed to receive, I believe strongly that in jazz you learn the most by seeing and hearing the music in action, sitting in at jam sessions and playing gigs. I learn something new from every performance.
If you were driving ALONE and could sing along to ANYTHING, what would you choose? I’m going to go with Nina Simone sounding her very happiest! Little Liza Jane from Nina at Newport is musical joy at its most infectious.
There are a couple of dates to be announced in the spring that are exciting…meanwhile this month I’m performing in the intimate back room of the Free Times Café on Friday February 17 from 8 to11pm with guitarist extraordinaire Nathan Hiltz.
Any new or recent recordings, DVD or film projects you are involved in? YES! Stay tuned for a very exciting project in tribute to Nat King Cole. Updates on Facebook, instagram, twitter and at www.oridagan.com where readers can sign up to my newsletter.
- Written by mj Buell
- Category: We Are ALL Music's Children
Ambur Braid grew up in Terrace, BC, and graduated from Claremont High School in Victoria, where she worked for a year at the Italian Bakery “to gear up for my move to Toronto and my undergrad at the Glenn Gould School.” A graduate of the GGS, Royal Conservatory of Music and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, she was a member of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio during which time you may have seen her in the title role of Semele, as Adele in Die Fledermaus and Vitellia in La clemenza di Tito. With Opera Atelier you may have seen her as Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte.
Braid recently debuted at Lisbon’s Teatro de São Carlos as Anne Truelove in a new production of The Rake’s Progress and made her UK debut as the Queen of the Night, to all accounts formidable, at the English National Opera, a role which she then sang for Opera Calgary. After a change of pace as Dalinda in the COC’s recent Ariodante, Braid will return to sing the Queen of the Night in all 12 performances of their upcoming January 2017 Magic Flute.
Apparently undaunted by her demanding opera schedule, this coloratura without borders also has time and energy to prepare and sing collaborative concerts like “The Living Spectacle: Songs by Erik Ross and Libby Larsen” with the Canadian Art Song Project and solo recitals with titles that range from “La Favorita: Verdi, Mozart and Puccini Arias” to “Rachmaninoff and Ribs with a Side of Sibelius”
Soprano Ambur Braid is a Torontonian who goes to Athens whenever possible. She has a poodle and a partner who both travel the world with her and for that she is incredibly grateful. Beyond music, some of her other pastimes and pleasures include cleaning, reading, eating, shopping and hosting dinner parties.
Suppose a friendly fellow asks what you do for a living? I’m an opera singer. You’re right, I’m not fat, but here are my Viking horns.
If you were driving alone and could sing along to any recording, what would you choose? Always David Bowie.
About that childhood photo…? My smile hasn’t really changed, but my attire has.
Your absolute earliest memory of music? My brother singing along to Billy Idol. He was super into it.
Musicians in your childhood family? Everyone appreciated music in my family, and music was always playing in our house! My mother (a social worker) would sing to me after each bath (I still love baths), and my father (a notary public) attempted to sing in church. It wasn’t amazing. My older brothers played a lot of Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, Tiffany and the Georgia Satellites. And my eldest brother had a blues band.
A first recollection of making music? My debut, singing Jesus Loves Me in French and English, was as a three-year-old in church. Then singing Keep Your Hands to Yourself with my brother’s band as a five–year-old. There’s a video of it and it’s pretty great.
A first instrument? Tambourine, drums, recorder and then, reluctantly, the piano.
Early experiences of making music with other people? Choir tours and musical theatre camp – so much fun!
What experiences helped form your appetite for staged works? Going to London and NYC with my parents to see musicals – I just stared at the conductor. I guess I still do!
When did you begin to think of yourself as a career musician? I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think of myself as a career musician. I did dabble in floristry and event planning, though.
Does teaching/mentoring figure in your life? Only in an organic way. There are some young singers who stay in contact with me for guidance. Yikes. That’s terrifying when you think about it!
Where does music fit into life at home? I’ve been known to dance along to my favourite overtures in the morning. Everyone needs a good dance party once in a while.
RECENT / UPCOMING
Dalinda in Ariodante | The Canadian Opera Company | Oct/Nov 2016
Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute | Oper Frankfurt (debut)| Dec 2016
Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute | The Canadian Opera Company | Jan/Feb 2017
Oksana in Oksana G. | Tapestry Opera (premiere) | May 2017
- Written by mj Buell
- Category: We Are ALL Music's Children
For more than 30 years Robert Cooper brought a wealth of music to listeners across the country as CBC Radio’s executive producer of opera and choral music and as producer of the program Choral Concert from 1980 to 2008. This is one shining thread in the extraordinarily rich fabric of an active career which continues to include conducting, teaching and mentoring. Cooper is currently artistic director of the Orpheus Choir of Toronto, and the Ontario Male Chorus. As conductor of Chorus Niagara for 27 years: he’ll conduct his fourth Elijah with them on November 5, followed by Messiah in December. His association with VOICEBOX/Opera in Concert goes back almost 40 years. He created the OIC chorus alongside founding producer/artistic director Stuart Hamilton and continues to prepare the chorus and conduct every opera since then, other than when a guest orchestra and conductor are involved.
In addition to leading the National Youth Choir of Canada the Ontario Youth Choir, and numerous prize-winning choirs at competitions and festivals, Cooper is frequently engaged as guest conductor of choirs and operas and leader of choral clinics across the country. He has taught at the U of T Faculty of Music and has mentored music-loving young people in the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, Orpheus Choir Sidgwick Scholars program and Chorus Niagara’s Choral Scholars program. A regular member of the jury for the international choral competition Let the Peoples Sing, he has also adjudicated the World Choral Games in Shaoxing China, Cincinnati and most recently in Sochi, Russia.
Cooper is a recipient of several distinguished awards and honours, including the Order of Canada.
Robert Cooper lives in Toronto’s Bloor West Village with his wife Megan – a school principal and singer – along with an effervescent Brittany Spaniel, Sadie. Beyond music…”what little time I have after score study, rehearsals and seemingly endless governance administrivia with choir boards, my down time seems to be filled with reading historical fiction, the loathsome but necessary gym time, walking Sadie and catching up on mindless PVR’d series of PBS dramas.”
Your thoughts about that childhood photo? I vaguely recall it was in Grade 1 when our Ottawa public school rhythm band brought home the coveted first prize in the Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festival. Life has an uncanny way of fulfilling destinies you never even imagined as a possibility at the time. Not that I am a percussionist ...but my path found its way to a life in music.
Where were you born, and what did your parents do for a living? I am a “herring choker”…born in Fredericton, New Brunswick. My father was in the RCMP and my mother a nurse…disciplined professions and disciplined people. My brother Roger also went on to a career in the RCMP.
While my father was frequently transferred from one city to another, I was lucky that I landed in Ottawa for the majority of my schooling. In those days Ottawa had an active community music scene and I was so fortunate to be involved in superb school music programs which I supplemented with singing as a treble and then tenor in various Anglican church choirs, ending up at the Cathedral with Godfrey Hewitt, father of the renowned pianist, Angela. What wonderful musical experiences and education…free! In fact I even received a monthly honorarium. There were no musicians in my family, but my creative urges were tolerated and eventually encouraged.
Your absolute earliest memories of hearing music? Oh gosh…was it the Reader’s Digest box set of Great Orchestral Favourites? I think it was Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March...it stirred my young soul with such enthusiasm. But curiously I was always singing and that ephemeral quality of massed voices just hooked me.
We did have a fabulous stereo system and I would listen for hours to those treasured Reader’s Digest box sets of operetta, orchestral fav’s, and Broadway shows. But Ottawa was a hotbed of singing. The high schools every year mounted a magnificent Thousand Voice Choir with special guest conductors “from Toronto.” Of course there were also all the special carol services and state occasions at which I sang as a member of the Christ Church Cathedral Choir. Then, to top it all off, the many celebrations in Ottawa to herald in Centennial Year (1967) produced so many exciting performance opportunities…gala concerts on Parliament Hill, amateur musical theatre shows and fledging opera productions. Heady times!
And of making music? Well, putting my tambourine debut aside in the rhythm band, I recall being trotted about from one classroom to another to sing duets with a pupil friend. Not sure why…but I guess we must have been ok.
What was your first instrument, if any, other than your own voice? Trombone for a while and then piano. Sadly, I was not encouraged to begin piano studies until high school and have always regretted that this skill was not developed at an earlier age.
Do you remember your early experiences of making music with other people? Too many to mention! Without a doubt it was that collaborative and collegial experience of making music with others, of being part of that total immersive and rich musical encounter with others. This was my safe harbour!
Do you remember when first performed for an audience? I suppose it was in Grade 7 where we put on G&S productions. It was Pirates of Penzance and I was the Major-General and had to learn that lengthy patter song. I had no clue what “the square of the hypotenuse” meant, but I memorized all the verses and sang the role with panache (I think!) and to this day still recall those darn lyrics!
And a first important music teacher? My high school music teacher, Mrs. Bernice Oak…a force of nature! Ebullient, vibrant, supportive, encouraging. Her passion and zeal were palpable. She was my sole inspiration to pursue this odd and uncontrollable yearning I had in me to somehow live a life in music.
And right after high school, what happened next? I headed to the University of Western Ontario where I stayed for both my Bachelor and Master’s degrees. Looking back it was a fortuitous choice. The Music Faculty was in its infancy. Opportunities abounded and I found myself immersed in musicology, performance, theatre, acting and eventually conducting. After UWO I realized there was much yet to be learned about the craft of conducting and I headed to Germany and the Nordwestdeutsche Musikakademie along with extended periods with Helmuth Rilling in Stuttgart, when he was just at the beginning of his stellar international career.
When and how did conducting become part of the picture? One of my UWO professors, Wesanne McKellar, saw something in me I did not see in myself. While I was taking conducting courses, most of my time as an undergraduate was spent on the stage. She asked me if I might replace her (can hardly believe it as I write this) as music director for the UWO theatre club, Purple Patches, and conduct the next season’s production of the musical My Fair Lady. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Other experiences from your childhood or teen years that helped you form an appetite for staged works? In elementary school I was enrolled in drama classes…and was hooked! From then on I was performing in everything from amateur musicals and plays in parks to an eventual stint as a professional actor. But I knew somehow this was not the final path. The dark theatre all day and dark bar all night were not for me. I needed a different kind of artistic connection and the fascination of making music with others, moulding your ideas with others and realizing a creative result started to take hold.
Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician? I had the opportunity as a young teenager to live in London, England, and for a year attended, by myself, many unbelievable concerts and opera productions. When I recall lining up for a concert at Royal Albert Hall with scads of choirs …not realizing until it had started, that I was now hearing my first Mahler Eighth Symphony, I can’t believe I was able to take advantage of those memorable firsts! I was completely absorbed and knew that on my return to Ottawa there was no turning back. What the future might hold I had no idea…much to my parents dismay…all I knew was that I had to be surrounded by music.
Curiously, someone recently showed me my Grade 13 year book (remember Grade 13?) in which I wrote that I hoped for a career in radio and television arts. Little did I realize that almost eight years later I would begin a career as an executive producer for CBC Radio Music, where I stayed for 31 years, while still conducting choirs and opera.
Did you ever think you would do something else? Other than music? The arts? No. I knew this is where I had to be in some capacity.
Where does making/hearing music fit into your current personal family life at home? Since leaving CBC, making music (and all that that entails with programming, endless organizational tasks, personal preparation, rehearsals) is a 24/7 occupation. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but one of my biggest pleasures is opening that new score, marking it, studying it, listening, and beginning that journey of discovery.
If you were driving ALONE and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? Bach Mass in B Minor!
Robert Cooper: UPCOMING
October 29 and 30, with the Orpheus Choir and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra: “Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton;”
October 30, with the Opera in Concert Chorus: “Shakespeare 400;”
November 5, with Chorus Niagara: Elijah (Mendelssohn);
November 19, with the Orpheus Choir: “Stories: Myths and Mysteries” – music of Paul Mealor, Eriks Eśenvalds, Jakko Mantyjärvi, Sergey Khvoshchinsky, Paul Halley;
November 20, with Opera in Concert: I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Bellini);
December 10 with Chorus Niagara: Messiah (Handel);
December 13 with the Orpheus Choir: “Traditions: Welcome Christmas!” – seasonal music with guests Jackie Richardson and the Hannaford Street Silver Band.
- Written by mj Buell
- Category: We Are ALL Music's Children
Canadian cellist Adrian Fung was born in Burlington and grew up in Oakville. His father was an actuary, his mother a concert pianist and later a pedagogue. Fung went to Applewood Heights Secondary School and then to McGill University where he studied cello with Antonio Lysy. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory and the Juilliard School’s prestigious Artist Diploma, and an MBA from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He was recently featured in Fortune magazine’s Best and Brightest Executive MBAs in the Class of 2016.
Fung is currently artistic director of Mooredale Concerts and also the Toronto Symphony’s recently appointed vice-president of innovation. A founding member of the Afiara String Quartet, and a winner of numerous awards, Fung has spent ten busy years performing internationally as a solo and chamber musician, collaborating widely and producing a diverse range of print and recorded music. Fung also performs for Concerts in Care (Health Arts Society of Ontario) He has given more than 30 concerts for frail and/or elderly people in long-term care residences who would otherwise no longer have access to live music. Fung is also active as a writer, music educator, artist and rapper.
What do you say to fellow travellers when they ask about your work? My goodness. On the plane, to be honest, they usually point at the seat next to me where my cello sits strapped in. “Is that yours? Are you a musician?” When I respond in the affirmative, the next question is usually either “You must be pretty good!” or “Are you any good?” What does one say to this? I usually say, “My mom’s my biggest fan!” I doubt doctors and lawyers have follow-up questions about whether they’re good.
When you look at the photo today, what does it cause you to think about or remember? The other boy in the picture is my cousin, Jonathan. He came to live with us for a year from New Zealand. At the time WholeNote reached out for this interview, I was travelling and couldn’t fathom going into my mom’s basement rifling through old albums. Just around then, Jonathan sent me a photo out of the blue: “Hey, do you remember this?” It seemed an apt thing to pass along. The photo just reminds me of when Jonathan and I would rush to the basement after school to watch Batman: The Animated Series while pretending we were superheroes. (In our imagined adventures, we were both Batman since neither party wanted to be relegated to being his sidekick, Robin.)
If you could travel back through time is there anything you would like to tell young Adrian? I would want to tell him not to practise the same thing a thousand times, but in a thousand different ways.
Your earliest musical memory? I remember hearing my mother practise piano: great works of the Romantic repertoire floated in the air as I drifted in and out of sleep.
Where did music fit into your childhood? I actually started studying music at four with piano lessons from my mother. I threw daily temper tantrums at the foot of the instrument. But I remember “composing” a piece on the piano when I was four, with the beguiling technique of using two index fingers. I remember pretending there was a volcano and villagers scampering away. Classical music was always on the radio in the car. I remember hearing Handel’s Messiah at church around Christmas time. My mother was very good at taking me to orchestral concerts at both the Toronto Symphony and Hamilton Philharmonic.
Who lived with you in your childhood home? My parents, my sister, at one time a canary named Choo Choo, and at another, two dogs named Cocoa and Timbit. After my father passed on, I lived with my stepfather, mother, sister and, at one time, five dogs. Dogs are the best.
Were there musicians in your childhood family, in addition to your mother? My great uncle was an operatic singer who taught at the Beijing Conservatory.
If you have brothers or sisters did they also make music?
My sister played flute, piano, and guitar. I tell her the devolution of her flute playing came when she decided she sounded best in the bathroom and spent all her time practising there. But that’s just teasing. When you add the fact that she also has a wonderful singing voice, her talents outstretch mine by certain magnitudes.
Why did you begin playing the cello?
Accounts differ on why I started playing the cello but the general consensus in the household was that the piano was “not my thing.” My mother wanted me to choose my next instrument and suggested either the violin or cello because you can play in orchestra or ensembles and make friends. I thought the violin was for girls and that the cello was a bassoon – which I still think is such a cool instrument – so I chose the cello. But when my mother turned up with the largest violin I had ever seen, I was initially pretty upset. But perhaps because we had already committed to leasing the instrument, my fate was sealed, for at least a year! And I grew to love the instrument.
What can you remember about a first music teacher? Susan Gagnon was my first cello teacher. She continues to produce cellists whom I hear regularly when I return to The Royal Conservatory’s Taylor Academy to teach masterclasses. I remember her incredible relaxed and wonderful bow hold. The feeling of pulling the string for a rich depth of sound began under her inspiration.
A first experience of making music with other people? My mom would accompany me on the piano as I struggled through cello pieces in the Suzuki method. At first I couldn’t hear anyone or concentrate on anything else but what I was doing. So my first experiences playing with other people were severely marred by my inability to do two things at once!
Do you remember the point at which you began to think of yourself as a career musician? Yes. I remember feeling I was a professional musician when the Afiara Quartet started touring. It was an exhilarating feeling. One hears so much about it growing up: talking with managers, getting on and off flights, warming up in strange new concert halls and fumbling your way through backstage mazes.
Do you remember a time when you thought you would do something else? When I was very little, I thought perhaps I’d be a cowboy. But then I didn’t realize that cowboys actually did very little of what I saw them doing on television (that is, shooting bad guys). The reality of wrangling and herding cows came to a unique stop when I visited a friend’s dairy farm out in Barrie.
Where does music fit into your personal family life at home today? My wife is the violinist of the Cecilia String Quartet. So there’s a lot of music (and practising!) in the house. In my artistic planning activities, I do find myself listening to a lot of music as well. But after touring for ten years and listening to many, many concerts, I have found there’s a true luxury in intentional silence. Perhaps it’s the moment to reflect on what you have heard. But neither Min or I like listening to music when we’re driving.
If you were driving alone and could sing along to any recording, what would you choose? Oh, I don’t sing along. Nobody enjoys that – especially not me!
Art of Time Ensemble; November 3, 4 and 5, “That’s Not Funny – An Evening of Comedy in Music and Dance “;
Mooredale Concerts. November 6, “Noel Coward: A Talent to Amuse “alongside singers Benjamin Butterfield, Monica Whicher, Norinne Burgess, Alexander Dobson, pianist John Greer, and violinist Barry Shiffman;
The Spin Cycle project – with Afiara Quartet and Skratch Bastid – is featured in the documentary What Would Beethoven Do? and includes composer Dinuk Wijeratne, Bobby McFerrin and Benjamin Zander. It will screen February 28 (2017) at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema;
Afiara is also playing in Miami (Spin Cycle) and at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (Nufonia Must Fall with Kid Koala).
My role at the TSO as vice-president of innovation has me leading the Canada Mosaic project, which is a year-long celebration of Canada’s 150th. I am in charge of artistic, social and economic innovation and funnel most of my energy through leading this project. There are 20 programs commissioned and shared across the nation with over 40 other orchestras, bolstered by a digital microsite and e-learning platform that will help the TSO reach over 8.23 million Canadians.
- Written by The WholeNote Staff
- Category: We Are ALL Music's Children
Alex Pangman lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her musician husband “Colonel” Tom Parker. When she's not singing or attending to music business she's likely to be at the farm, horseback riding.
“Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing,” Alex Pangman is a singer whose love for popular music from 1920 to 1940 charms people in a graciously old-fashioned way. Her sparkly energy seems to come from some limitless source. People love her beautifully wrought covers of older standards – her smooth warm delivery will remind you a little of your own favourite singer from that time. But Pangman’s voice is truly her own, and she makes a specialty of breathing life into lesser-known music from the period. The style may sound familiar but “new” old songs have to be offered with first-rate diction and this, along with her special way of letting the song’s own narrative shine, makes for pretty irresistible listening. She’s proving to be a fine period-informed songwriter as well. She has led her regular swing band, the Alleycats, since 1998.
Pangman was born with cystic fibrosis: an incurable genetic disease which destroys the lungs. and in many cases ultimately requires lung transplantation. Pangman’s first double lung transplant in 2008 was considered successful, but she continued to have infections and by early 2013 her health was failing. Only the people closest to her knew – she continued to sing (sitting down) and opened for Willie Nelson at Massey Hall in June 2013 while waiting to hear if a second transplant donor could be found – the call came six weeks later.
Pangman’s courage, energy and capacity to seize every moment is deeply inspiring. Maybe it has something to do with choosing to live a life where you truly love what you do.
- June 4: Saturday Swing Night at Dovercourt House Swing Dance Ballroom. (9:15pm, Toronto);
- June 16 Manhattans Pizza Bistro and Music Club. (7 to 10pm,Guelph);
- June 24 TD Toronto Jazz Festival presents “Heather Bambrick & Friends” with the Russ Little Quartet at The Old Mill Home Smith Jazz Bar. Bambrick will trade songs and duets with guest Alex Pangman. (7:30pm, Toronto);
- June 25 TD Toronto Jazz Festival presents Alex Pangman and her Alleycats. The sextet will take over The Rex for 90 minutes of pure swing. (8pm, Toronto).
- ALSO: July 30 at the Niagara Jazz Festival, August 5/6 Oakville Jazz Festival, and Sept 2 and 3 at the CNE (Toronto).
Do you remember that childhood photo being taken? I remember the smell of the wooden record player – when record players were still furniture! I can still smell the wood as I would have when I opened the lid, and feel the shag carpet under my feet.
Anything you’d like to say to young Alex in that photo? I might encourage her to write more songs. I think the most original songs I ever wrote were as a child! Ha! That, and don’t drop the needle!
Where did you grow up? I was born/raised in Mississauga Ontario to John and Connie Pangman. Dad worked in finance and for a time Mom was a V.O.N. nurse. My big sister, Jennifer, was into music via ballet. We both attended Froebel [independent] school where we learned to be self-active and creative. I was terrible at math (and music theory) even into high school. So bad in fact, that instead of studying post-secondary music, I went to UofT for art history! To be honest, my jazz education happened listening to thousands of old records, mostly driving to and from the stables. Horses have brought me many good things in life to offset having been born with lung disease. I still ride today.
Earliest memory of hearing music? My first memories are foggy. Mom had a guitar and I’m sure she sang to me, but I think my first memories of music were at Gramma and Grampa’s house in London (Ontario). Gramma had an electric organ (with all the foot pedals!). Grampa played the uke and the spoons. Grampa used to strum on his uke and sing “Five foot two, eyes of blue … ”
Where did hearing music, both formal and informal, generally fit into your life as a child? Mom and Dad liked the oldies, and we listened to them on a weekend (Saturday?) oldies show over dinner. That record player in the photo was stocked with a lot of my folks’ LPs: ABBA, Buddy Holly, Cats, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave Brubeck, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, West Side Story, Arlo Guthrie. We weren’t churchgoers but we sang “Oh Canada” every day at school (oh my, I just dated myself!)
A first recollection of yourself making music? Again, my memory of firsts is gruesomely bad, but I remember getting those Mini Pops albums and singing along a lot. I got my first uke quite young and would —wait for it— wake up early on weekends to sneak downstairs and play it quietly to myself. Keener! And I remember singing along to Judds recordings with my mom. Mom was worried I shouldn’t do wind instruments with my lung disease, so it was mostly rhythm instruments for me. Ukulele being the first of those! Go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody, the old grey goose is dead …!
Any early first music teachers who made an impression? I remember being quite knocked out when a kindergarten teacher could play guitar. I mean, it was maybe only a three-chord song, but she was pretty awesome in my eyes. There was a lot of music and singing at Froebel. Oh -- and a choir teacher who told me that to sing in a section I needed to hear the girl on either side of me. Which was perhaps a polite observation pointing out I was more suited to solo singing.
How about making music with other people? I had play dates with my school chum Suzie McNeil and I would love to find the recordings we made -- such fun! When I met the guys who would become my early jazz mentors and first band -– musicians from around the GTA –- they lent me all sort of jazz records and invited me to sing with them at the Schnitzel House!
First performances for an audience? I was Annie for our school musical. I was nervous enough my first night at the Swiss Marmite that I believe I sang with my back to the audience. And I sang at the aforementioned Schnitzel House in Port Credit (again, atrocious memory for details, unless it’s a song lyric or melody!)
When did you begin to think of yourself as a career musician? I got sick and lost my university year. When I got better I realized I didn’t want a career in academia or a museum. Life is short (when you have a serious lung disease, more so!) and I decided to do something immediately thrilling: music! I didn’t want to spend years writing essays. I wanted to be on stage singing, and I pretty much did just that! I didn’t think of it as a career — it was just living in the moment.
Ever think you would do something else? Museum curator –- or so the aptitude test had me believe!
Where does music fit into your personal/family life at home today? It fits right in perfectly! There is a stack of 78 rpms (old jazz and old country) in the kitchen I share with husband “Colonel” Tom Parker. He’s a music teacher for the TDSB and I met him at the Cameron House where he has played country music forever. He gave me mandolin lessons. And then we got married, to summarize. Hahaha! I love having a singing partner across the breakfast table from me, and a guitar not far away.
If you were driving ALONE and could sing along to ANY recording, what would you choose? The Boswell Sisters spring to mind.
Any new or recent recordings, DVD or film projects? Our recent album, New, received a 2016 JUNO nomination for Vocal Jazz Album. Currently I’m in between recording projects and inviting inspiration in a world where recordings seem to earn less and less. I’ll be singing a song for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame soon, so, stay tuned! It’s a beautiful old song (perfect for my predilections!) And I recently performed a duet on the upcoming Nat King Cole album with Ori Dagan.