How Tyler Yarema Found His Rhythm

By Erica Rae Chong

At 21, Tyler Yarema left his Thunder Bay hometown to seek stardom in the province’s biggest, glitziest city. He’d only started playing the piano five years earlier, but had his heart set on playing music for a living.

“The day was January 15 when I arrived in Toronto and it was so cold, everything was so dark, and the city seemed so huge,” recounted the 40-year-old musician who performs at the Reservoir Lounge this Thursday and Saturday. “There were nights of me thinking ‘How am I ever going to meet people?’ and ‘How am I going to get into this world?’”

Yarema knew he would not get anywhere just thinking about it, so on his second night in town he went to a blues jam at The Spoon where the local musicians allowed the stranger to sit in and play with the band. “Everyone was so receptive and very welcoming and I quickly realised how important music was to me and how unimportant the idea of being a star was,” he said. “I just wanted to play music, be able to make a living and be happy.”

A versatile musician, adept at piano, guitar, drums, bass, trumpet and harmonica, Yarema has not stopped playing since. He’s a Juno Award winner who has played, arranged and sung on over 50 albums, television shows and movies, and even done the occasional jingle. When he’s not performing at festivals, corporate functions and weddings, Yarema can be found at The Reservoir Lounge with his seven-piece band, Tyler Yarema and His Rhythm.

A big fan of jazz singer and pianist Fats Waller, Yarema admitted he got his band name from the legendary player’s group — Fats Waller and His Rhythm. “I don’t think it’s a big steal. It’s more like a tribute. That’s where my roots are, especially at that time when I was putting the band together.”

His 15-year Tuesday and Saturday nights Reservoir Lounge residency is attributed to the same moxie that brought him to Toronto: he simply marched into the bar and asked for the gig.

Yarema’s blend of blues, swing and boogie woogie quickly gained a following, which he partially attributes to the popularity of the 1996 film Swingers. “That movie was a big hit, and the next thing you know, we were the only young band in town who played that kind of music. We became the most popular jazz club in Toronto for a good three to four years. At least 50 people would line up along the road each night.”

To keep things fresh, Tyler composes and performs original music for the septet. He recently released a record of originals under the name Empire Avenue, a group comprised of his current band mates, but with a different sound.

“We do - I don’t want to say more radio-friendly music - but we do pop and rock. I don’t see it as steering away from jazz, it’s just another outlet. It was an exploration that I took on as a singer/songwriter, trying to write these songs, putting this album together and making something tangible. “

Erica Rae Chong is pursing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism at the University of Toronto Scarborough

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