We reach Rachel Therrien, the 29-year-old trumpet and cornet player, in Brooklyn for this interview while the Rimouski native – who’s part of the Emi R. Roussel and Jérôme Beaulieu generation – was paying her dues in the jazz capital of the world before hooking back up with her Québec quintet in a few weeks.
“There are a lot of people in Brooklyn, but not many tall buildings,” says Therrien. “It’s very cosmopolitan. There are two or three jazz clubs just a stone’s throw from my pad. The Cats, in Manhattan, is my favourite, I just can’t afford the admission fees in places like the Blue Note. I like more relaxed spots where we can jam. Going to live shows is always inspiring, but being part of a community is when it becomes really rewarding.”
The New York community has clearly welcomed her. On New Year’s Eve 2016, she had been invited to play the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington alongside a big band. Quite the way to conclude a year that was rich in projects of all kinds. Chief among them was the release of her third album, Pensamiento: Proyecto Colombia, an immense opus of Afro-Colombian rhythms recorded there with 12 local musicians. Home Inspiration, her previous record, came out in 2014, three years after her debut, On Track.
“What really gets me going is challenges,” says Therrien. “I chose the trumpet, which is far from an easy instrument, it’s very physical. You can’t go a day without playing, otherwise you regret it for a week! Why the trumpet? I started high school late because we moved, so when I got to the music class, everyone had picked their instrument, all that was left was a trumpet and a trombone. I had to look it up in an illustrated dictionary, I had no idea what a trumpet looked like!”
“I think it’s regrettable that the Toronto and Montréal jazz scenes don’t mingle; we barely know each other.”
Unapologetically curious, Therrien has the mind of an explorer. She’s spent a lot of time in Havana and Banff, among other places, where she took part in various workshops alongside about thirty mentors – such as the erudite Dave Douglas, which inspired her in a series dedicated to jazz composers.
“I want to make not just jazz accessible to my generation,” she says, “but everything else that’s in the margins: Latin jazz, African music, Eastern European music… Jazz is the philosophy of conversation. I hope to synthesize all that and turn it into my own music. If I could go back to school, I’d study ethnomusicology!”
In 2013, and for the next three years, Therrien received a SOCAN Foundation grant to support exchanges with other musicians. Held during the Montréal Jazz Fest, a partner in this project, these meetings happen every night at 11:00 p.m. at Bleury Bar à vinyle. Therrien invites American and Canadian musicians from her contact list, most of whom don’t know each other. Each of them plays two of their own compositions., which are are rehearsed before the show. “What matters most is the dialogue between the musicians,” she says.
The winner, alongside her quintet, of the 2015 TD Grand Jazz Award is very optimistic about the next generation of local jazz players: “The new generation is eager and highly creative,” she says. “I look at the younger musicians coming out of university and their level is impressive, but I think it’s regrettable that the Toronto and Montréal jazz scenes don’t mingle; we barely know each other.”
Her favourite trumpet players? “Chet Baker, Ambrose Akinmusire, Miles Davis, depending on the period, Douglas and Blue Mitchell, whom I’ve stolen many a solo from,” says Therrien. “They all have a signature sound. But maybe it’s a paradox, I’ve always preferred being told I play well than being told I sound good. I think I have good ears, so I prefer doing my own research and create my own music.”
Therrien will soon export her talent to Spain, next spring, where she self-booked a mini-tour of jazz clubs on her own. Networking. Contacts. Full speed ahead.