How to succeed as a jazz trombonist in a secondary Canadian market
Story by Howard Druckman | May 23, 2017
Few would argue the contentions that the trombone isn’t the world’s most popular instrument; that jazz isn’t the highest-selling genre of music; and that Edmonton isn’t the world’s biggest music market.
So how did Edmonton-based jazz trombonist Audrey Ochoa beat the odds to create a thriving career?
“By playing every possible style, with as many musicians, in as many situations as I can,” says Ochoa, who on May 5, 2017, released her second album Afterthought – a work of contemporary jazz, mixed with her Latin and funk influences. “I say ‘yes’ as often as possible – and enjoy accommodating odd requests like costumes, background vocals, dancing, jumping and whatever else, up to and including doubling on the Sousaphone at an annual cabaret show.
“I try to normalize the trombone in every situation. For example, playing ‘rhythm trombone’ in a blues quartet when I’m subbing for the harmonica; playing with pedals and loops when playing with hip-hop or electronica groups; and above all else, I try to honour the fact that every genre has its own language and conventions. I don’t want to stretch the musical situation before ingratiating myself first.”
“I try to normalize the trombone in every situation.”
Ochoa is a mainstay in the Canadian jazz scene, and a powerhouse trombonist. Typically for a jazz musician, Ochoa has a degree in music – in her case, from the University of Alberta. Atypically, she’s performed with the likes of The Temptations, Dan Aykroyd, Carol Welsman, Hilario Duran, and more, as the “first-call trombonist” for touring acts passing through Edmonton.
Also atypically for a jazz album, there are no covers on Afterthought – it’s all originals. “I like to compose,” says Ochoa. “I find that most of my tunes are derivative of other standards anyway. The jazz medium is largely assessed on the improvisational language, so why not explore that on tunes of my own making?”
And what’s her composing process? “For this latest album, I wrote the bulk of the tunes using guitar and voice, finessing the tunes on [music notation app] Finale,” says Ochoa. “I always write alone, often singing voice memos on my phone while I drive, and then later adding grooves, and individual parts. It always begins with a melody. In the final stages I always rely on the mastery of [her trio bandmates Mike Lent and Sandro Dominelli] to add their personalities to their parts. It is jazz, after all.”
As befits Ochoa’s eclectic, open-minded musical approach, Afterthought includes two remixes by fellow Edmontonian, DJ Battery Poacher (a.k.a. Dallas Budd). “He produced and engineered an album by my friend, singer-songwriter Amber Suchy,” says Ochoa. “She showed me some of his electronic work one day, and I was so immediately taken with the sound that I demanded his contact info and texted him out of the blue. I asked if he would consider working with me on a couple of tunes, and he agreed, sight unseen. He’ll be doing the Edmonton album release show, and I’m looking forward to future live performances with him.”
From the comfort of YouTube to the challenge of playing live
Story by Guillaume Moffet | May 23, 2017
We all know by now that there are many more ways of being discovered than talent shows. Social networks have allowed us to discover, for better or worse, a plethora of Canadian talent over the course of the last decade: The most shining examples being Alessia Cara, Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes. As for the worst ones, we’ll simply skip them.
In Francophone Canada, it was just a matter of time before a talent would emerge from one social network or another. And if the rumour is to be believed, that talent has now been discovered.
When asked about the upside of being a YouTuber, he says that “operating on the web has definite advantages.” But the same goes for the downsides. “Creating a platform on YouTube where you can be constant and consistent is easy,” says Hébert. “Then all you need is to post regularly, every week or other week, so that your audience knows to return frequently and grow attached to your content.
“Business development is also very easy: it’s recommended to all YouTubers with a certain following to send their audience to other platforms to discover quality content while at the same time preserving their core audience. But that’s sometimes harder than it seems. When you make music, the return on investment is quite low. You can spend 20 hours on a capsule that’s three minutes long, while other content creators just pick up their camera, talk for 10 minutes, and Bingo! It’s a hurdle for music, because YouTube prioritizes videos that have the longest watched duration when it comes to ad revenue.”
Be that as it may, Hébert puts the music first, and he recently introduced one of his songs, “Dehors” (“Outside”), one with delicate grooves and tender pleas. Positive reactions already abound and he’s even won the first edition of the talent discovery contest presented by Play, VRAK TV’s musical show!
“After all this time spent recording in a semi-professional way with basically no budget, it’s quite pleasing to have access to what Play has offered me: singing my song on TV, and radio tracking of my first published song,” says Hébert. “I’m still astonished. I was questioning the relevance of trying to break out my career on YouTube, when suddenly, it’s the exact reason why I won that contest, and forged ahead in this industry. It’s obvious that playing live on TV and benefitting from radio tracking is much more serious and desirable than videos on YouTube. That’s why I’m so grateful for what’s happening to me right now, and I can’t wait to learn more about how it’s all going to unfold. I must say, also, that everyone in the crew is charming and the production environment is very healthy.”
One thing leading to the next, he also got to participate in his first major musical event, Santa Térésa, the inaugural edition of the Sainte-Thérèse music festival, in late April. His first concert was sold out. “I did an original, math-rock-influenced song, “SP33DST1CK,” as well as “Dehors.” After years on YouTube, assembling a band was quite a challenge, because I’d grown accustomed to my comfort zone; all I had to do was record, film, edit and voilà, it was online! But it’s not enough. I rented a studio to rehearse my first show,” says the young man, who humbly refuses to take all the credit for that show’s success. He shared the headline with other up-and-coming songwriters such as William Monette, Miro Belzil (formerly of the band Blé) and Soran Dussaigne, three musicians he calls, “very, very talented artists.”
Based on these first experiences, Hébert – who’ll quite likely spend a lot 2017 weighing offers presented to him – plans to work on a full concert, and an album inspired be Foals and Bombay Bicycle Club: “a combination of the math rhythms of the former and the ethereal ease of the latter.”
Photo by Raphaël Ouellet
PHILIPPE B’S GREAT ALIBI
Story by Philippe Renaud | May 19, 2017
Singer-songwriter Philippe B found inspiration both from being in a couple, and from the movies, for his sublime fifth solo album, La grande nuit vidéo. Make a batch of popcorn and whip out the Kleenex before you sit down to take in this impressionist, sentimental drama – where real emotions arise through fictional situations, resulting in one of the most beautiful albums in Québec so far this year.
True or false? Did you really meet your girlfriend “à taverne Chez Baptiste” on Mont-Royal Avenue, as you sing in the country ballad “Interurbain” at the heart of the album? Yes, says Philippe B. “There’s truth in there, and there’s stuff that’s totally made up,” he says, specifying that he wagered that his (partial) concept album would move people by keeping things simple. “I know I’m not the only one who’s in a stable relationship and watches movies and TV series as part of our daily lives…”
La grande nuit vidéo is a “concept” album that’s not bogged down by its concept: It’s a love story – including the stormy passages that sometimes implies – where the two main characters imagine their love for each other both in their daily lives, and in the fantasy world of the movies.
Although that’s one possible interpretation of B’s fifth album, he says, “My manager did not believe it was a concept album at all. I’m on the fence, myself: it’s my most thematic album, or rather, the one whose theme is the most coherent, because all the songs pretty much tell the same story.” Some of the album’s songs still feel a little more far-fetched, like the aforementioned “Interurbain,” and the instrumental suite “Le Monstre du lac Témiscamingue,” which marks the middle of the album. “If only because of its musical style, ‘Interurbain’ allows us to let go for a few moments,” says Philippe B. “Yet lyric-wise, it still fits within the album’s script.”
There really is a story being told on La grande nuit vidéo, “in the sense that it is the same couple throughout, two characters,” says the singer-songwriter. “The woman is voluntarily represented, contrary to Ornithologie, la nuit (2014), where the female presence was disembodied. Here, she’s the leading role, with lots of lines.” And that role is played by Milk & Bone’s Laurence Lafond-Beaulne. “I wanted a single singer that could sing as comfortably in French [on the sumptuous “Anywhere”] as in English, in order to be convincing.”
QUOTE: “I love the idea of an album you love immediately, yet discover new things about it every time you listen to it”
The rest of the album is a magnificent pageant of stripped-down songs – acoustic guitar or piano, and voice – embellished by ornate orchestral flourishes. It’s all in the dosing. Take for example, “Explosion,” the album’s opener: no chorus, just one long, lilting melodic phrase sung over an acoustic guitar motif, repeated twice. During the instrumental break on the second repetition, a string ensemble briefly makes the rich melody soar and sets the tone for the upcoming songs. It shows a rare grace and refinement, in a pop music world where strings are often relegated to the role of sonic wallpaper.
Orchestration-wise, La grande nuit vidéo can be considered as the sum of the experiments heard on Variations fantômes (2011), where classics of the classical and romantic periods were sampled, as well as on Ornithologie, la nuit’s brass and woodwind arrangements. On this album, it’s all about enhancing specific sections of the compositions with orchestrations written by Philippe B, with the valuable advice of his friends and collaborators Guido del Fabro, Frédéric Lambert and Philippe Brault, the latter also playing electric bass on a trio of more uptempo tracks.
“I write songs, the artist insists. I bear that in mind when I’m working on the arrangements. It sounds simple when you say it like that, but it forces me to choose how I’m going to orchestrate and mix the album: if I add more sonic ingredients, it is at the service of the melody and lyrics, not because I’m trying to fill all the available space. Everything is there for the song, and for lyrics-based songs, I would dare say.”
The 39 Steps
Initially, the idea was to have instrumentals between each song, to give the whole concept an even more cinematic feel. Those instrumental sections were then incorporated to the songs, “because if I’m going to tell this couple’s story from a movie perspective, it needs to be felt musically, too,” says Philippe B. “The album concept justifies those instrumental orchestrated bridges, because it really is like watching a movie… I did listen to a lot of film music while I was creating this album,” yet without any clear, specific musical reference.
The references to the movies are in words, images, and names. “Je t’aime, je t’aime” is a reference to Alain Resnais’ film of the same name. “Debra Winger,” whose name becomes a song title, is Philippe B’s heartthrob. The scene, in the song, where she finds herself in the desert is a reference to The Sheltering Sky (1990), “a highly erotic classic,” says B. “It’s the story of a jaded couple who embark on a trip to re-kindle the flame. Sure, it’s commercial American fare, and she’s a popular icon. But she’s my crush, and, it’s funny, I remembered people almost chastising me for it… I told that to a friend, who asked who my favourite actress was, and he chastised me. Who’s your favourite? Debra Winger? Get outta here! What?! I’m allowed, no?”
The album’s booklet also thanks the poet Charles Baudelaire – “a read from my youth, one of his poems is titled “Anywhere” [even in the original French], and my song mimics that poem” – as well as Québec filmmaker Jean-Guy Noël (on “Sortie/Exit,” where Philippe B name drops the name of the movie Ti-cul Tougas), and classic mystery/thriller filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, a kind of catalyst for the album.
“I wrote the music for a dance performance – my girlfriend is a contemporary dancer and choreographer… She was putting together a show based on Hitchcock’s use of staircases, their symbolic nature, the trouble they represent, man-woman relationships,” says B. “She danced on a staircase and I was playing the music at the bottom of those stairs.” “Les Enchaînés,”, the French translation of Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), was initially written for that dance performance, as was also “Rouge-gorge.” “That was the starting point,” says Philippe B. “I said to myself: ‘The movies are not bad at all!’ I think I consume more movies than I do music. I have a lot to say on that topic!
“I love the idea of an album you love immediately, yet discover new things about it every time you listen to it. That way you can love it even longer. It is a real joy for me as a lyricist to create links between the songs, to strew references here and there, it ties the album together in a different way. Just like a good movie, like a movie you like immediately because of the story, but when you watch it again, as with a good Kubrick film, you notice the references, like this or that sequence is a nod to Hitchcock… Ideally, you want both, a clear story and a commentary of the history of cinema, nods, great photography, etc.
“When I was younger, I’d make fun of film buffs that saw links everywhere. But over time, I understood that movie makers did have a lot of depth in their work,” says B. And he in his, being a writer, composer, arranger, singer, and producer who has created an exceptional album. “Also, I try to not be inaccessible. I am a songwriter, after all…”