Shannon Graham and the Storytellers

The musical trajectory I traveled before starting at Toronto Downtown Jazz was wide: in high school I studied classical trumpet and played in wind ensembles, orchestra, brass quintet and jazz bands. Since getting out of school, I've worked closely with classical musicians, a children's choir, a contemporary music ensemble and, of course, lots of jazz. In each setting I've often wondered "How could this music over here be combined with that music over there?"

The answer can be found in part in a number of "chamber jazz" projects which I've seen evolve over the past few years in Toronto. Shannon Graham and The Storytellers make an excellent contribution to the genre, and I'm excited that they wrap up our series of three TDJ Special Projects concerts next Wednesday, April 17 at Gallery 345.

Shannon has earned performance degrees from Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton and the University of Toronto; she is a trained saxophonist, violist, vocalist and composer whose out of school studies include the Banff International Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music. When not leading her own group, she is co-Artistic Director of the Spectrum Composers Collective (a previous TDJ Special Project), another group which could be put into the "chamber jazz" genre and which, like Shannon's group The Storytellers, seeks to explore the melding of jazz, classical, contemporary and improvised music.

The show next Wednesday will celebrate the launch of their debut CD. I've heard a few tracks, and the audience is in for a treat.

The challenge with crossing genres - and, I guess, any composing - is that it's hard to do well. In the tracks I've heard - and the TDJ Special Projects panel was quick to notice this as well - Shannon's combining of genres has brought out some of the best elements of each. Groovy jazz-based rhythms, lush string writing, strong soloing, and an element of surprise. Here is a sample from a recent performance:

What begins as a lush ballad evolves into a driving, solo-based tune...and then back again. I enjoy the sense of adventure Shannon brings to each composition - they blow past any standard sense of form. As a listener, you may start in one place musically, and end up somewhere totally different. Plus, as a fellow large ensemble leader, I have great respect for the work involved in writing for, rehearsing and performing with so many musicians (never mind all the behind the scenes work). In her bandmates she's clearly found musicians as passionate as she is - her music requires a commitment which goes beyond just showing up for the gig. Here's another, slightly longer composition, which demonstrates the musical journey on which Shannon's music takes the listener:

Join us next week for the concert and the celebration of the new CD. Gallery 345 is the perfect space for the show - good acoustics, an intimate feeling, a great piano. For complete information visit Shannon's concert page on our website.


P.S. - A big thank you and another round of congratulations to the other two 2013 TDJ Special Projects: Jaron Freeman-Fox and the Opposite of Everything, and Sarah Jerrom and The Yeats Project.

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