Last week saw the announcement of the 2018 JUNO nominations – and a terrific slate of musicians it is, too. There are a number of artists with whom Team GDW is familiar, for whom we’re absolutely thrilled, and we’re also looking forward to acquainting ourselves with artists we don’t yet know. For us, lists such as these are a great opportunity to find new music that we haven’t heard before, and to continue getting to know this fantastic Canadian music scene.
I’ve often wondered, though, how awards such as the JUNOs or Grammys impact musicians who aren’t in the mainstream, and for whom a nomination such as this may be the first introduction that listeners get to their work. Four of this year’s JUNO nominees in the jazz categories have been kind enough to take some time to answer some of our questions about this: Andrew Downing “Andrew Downing’s Otterville”), Ernesto Cervini (“Rev,” the album from his group Turboprop), and William Carn (“Murphy,” the album from his group Carn Davidson), all nominated in the Jazz Album of the Year: Group category, and Mike Downes, nominated in the Jazz Album of the Year: Solo category for “Root Structure.”
I guess the first question is, how does it feel to be a Juno nominee?
Andrew Downing – Of course, it feels great. Otterville is a recording of which I am quite proud, and for it to be recognized and appreciated by a group of people whose job it is to be critical is an honour (….note the ‘correct’ Canadian spelling of ‘honour’!).
Mike Downes – It feels great and is an honour to be nominated given that there were so many other fantastic recordings released this year. The primary goal for me was to put something out into the world that I really believe in and that represents my vision. Then to have it recognized is wonderful, but that order is very important to me.
Ernesto Cervini – It’s an absolute thrill to be chosen and honoured by the JUNOs. Canada has a wealth of talented musicians, and I’m so excited to be considered in this incredible group. I’m a huge fan of all of the other nominees!
William Carn – It feels wonderful! We try to make the most honest music that we can and recognition can be a lovely by-product of that process. Thank you CARAS!
As a jazz artist, what potential impact do you think your nomination might have on your career and your visibility as a musician?
William – As jazz musicians, we don’t kid ourselves in regards to the impact a Juno nomination or even a Juno win would make on our careers. Our impact as a genre is negligible when compared to the Pop and Rock categories BUT as artists that continue to compose, record and teach, the Juno recognition helps with our continued efforts.
Ernesto – Within Canada, a JUNO nomination can be very impactful, as it lends immediate credibility to one’s music, and creative endeavors. This can help open doors with clubs and festivals across the country. Outside of Canada it will also carry significance, as being nominated for a national music award in any country is a great achievement, and especially in a country with as rich and diverse a music scene as Canada.
Mike – Every nomination or award helps! I had the great fortune of winning a Juno award in 2014 for my previous recording “Ripple Effect.” That helped to get more people interested in checking out my music. I’m in the process of booking a tour for my band, so this nomination helps immensely in terms of creating a buzz about the band and music.
Andrew – I think the thing this will do the most for my career is to allow me some visibility that will give me opportunities to collaborate and work with more people. I have been known primarily in the jazz scene as a double bass player, and this album features my cello playing and composition. As such, I am hoping it will open doors to projects and collaborations with some musicians across the country whom I admire.
From the outside looking in, it seems to me as though, outside of a few artists like Diana Krall, most people don’t know much about Canada’s jazz scene. Do awards like the Junos have the potential to increase awareness about your work (and that of your colleagues)? Or do you think there are other, better ways to get the word out and introduce new people to the wonderful music you’re creating?
Ernesto – I think the potential is there, but it all depends on what the artist does with the increased visibility. To stay current and visible, artists need to be incredibly active touring and also very active engaging with worldwide audience members on social media. This has become as important as physical touring. A JUNO nomination is a wonderful way to recognize great art happening across the country, but it’s the musician’s job to use this recognition to help catapult their careers.
William – It’s true that most Canadian jazz artists are not as well known as Diana Krall. In fact, those of us who choose to make our music from within Canada generally get less recognition than those who spend time abroad. Having said that, nominations like the Junos Awards help bolster our bios to presenters abroad. Though they may not have heard of the Junos, the fact that you are nominated for a national award adds to the validity of your music to presenters.
Andrew – All kinds of publicity help, and the JUNOs certainly are a bump in recognition and awareness. A bit of awareness in combination with the increase of availability of music through streaming services and the internet may indeed provide for more exposure to wider audiences.
Mike – Great question! The Junos are a great way to get the word out, but it’s unfortunate that it is sometimes necessary to say outside of Canada that these are the “Canadian Grammy’s.” Social media plays a big part in the industry, and YouTube is important for all musicians now, so all of these pieces of the puzzle are a means to get music heard.
I’ve always wondered how many nominees craft an acceptance speech in advance – will you?
Mike – I did last time and I was glad I did! It’s pretty easy to forget what you want to say and who you want to thank in the moment of accepting the award, so I’ll have some notes on paper just in case.
Andrew – Sadly I cannot attend the festivities as I have a concert in Ontario that evening, but I have instructed my bandmate Tara Davidson (who is on no less than three JUNO nominated recordings, including her own project The Carn Davidson Nine!) to accept on the group’s behalf, and I will likely just equip her with a list of names of people who were integral on the process of recording the music and I’ll let her improvisational spirit do the rest.
William – We may jot down a few key people to thank but probably not a full pre-written speech. After all, we’re improvisers!
Ernesto – Definitely. I don’t want to get ahead of myself…I’ll keep it simple, but I don’t want to go up there and bumble along and forget to thank everybody that has helped to make this possible.
As an American who blogs almost exclusively about Canadian music, I of course feel that the Canadian music scene is special, but I’d be curious to know what you think about it in general and Canada’s jazz scene in particular, as a musician within it? What sets it apart from, say, the scene in the US?
Andrew – This is an interesting and complicated question. The Canadian Jazz scene is, of course, much smaller than the American jazz scene with fewer musicians. But, we are hungry to play, to compose, to make records and to collaborate. This, along with the fact that the cultural makeup of our country is rich and diverse, means that all kinds of musicians have opportunities to do a great many very different and very interesting things over the course of their creative lives, which allows for a specific kind of cross-genre, cross-culture musical pollination process. From speaking with some American colleagues, these opportunities aren’t so easily found for every musician in a scene like that in New York, where intense focus on specific musical practices seems to be the norm. This has allowed me opportunities in a lot of unexpected situations that, I think, has contributed greatly to my ever-changing musical ideals.
Ernesto – I think the Canadian music scene is awesome! There are so many wonderful musicians spread across Canada, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of this. That being said, I’m not sure if I could speak to what sets it aside from the US. I lived in New York City for 4 years, and I really enjoyed being a part of that music community as well!
Mike – First of all, thanks so much for blogging about Canadian music! It is great that you support the scene here. There are so many great Canadian musicians, like Oscar Peterson, Ed Bickert, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Molly Johnson and a list that could go on and on. As close as we are geographically to the US, there are some very fundamental differences in Canada, broadly speaking and also within the jazz scene. I’ve noticed that those differences breed a different type of person, with a different view of the world than many of our friends in the US. Not better, just different, and it is reflected in the music. For example, I think the Canadian jazz scene is more of an alchemy of US, European and other cultural and musical influences. There are some Americans who have very rigid rules as to what jazz is and should be, and we aren’t generally bound to those “rules” in the same way. This is of course a generalization that doesn’t apply to everyone. On a personal level, my music is informed by my exposure to the beautiful wilderness in Canada and its openness. I think I’d write and play differently if I only spent my time in the city.
William – I think that, besides having fewer jazz musicians in Canada when compared to the US, Canadian jazz musicians are very open to making music that is less influenced by any particular genre of jazz. Though we have all listened to (and continue to listen to) music from the jazz “tradition”, there is less expectation that your music must reflect what we traditionally call jazz. When you even look at our category of Best Jazz Album: Group, you see that each nominee is presenting a totally different viewpoint of what we call jazz music. It’s beautiful.