Jazz Educator Profile: Mike Murley

The First of a Two-Part Interview Series Profiling Some of The Best Jazz Educators in The City

Mike Murley is one of Toronto’s finest musicians, and he has the resume to prove it. He has played on eleven Juno award winning recordings, and has been named saxophonist of the year eight times by the Jazz Report Awards/National Jazz Awards. From 2008-2011 he served as Jazz Area Coordinator at York University and he is currently on faculty as a full time lecturer at The University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Though the career and awards are impressive, Murley’s artistic achievement is truly expressed in his music. As soon as he picks up his horn, it is clear that he has a tone, vocabulary, and approach to the instrument that is entirely his own. I had the chance recently to chat with Mike about music and education. The following is an excerpt; you can read the full interview here.

David Cruz: Where did you initially become interested in jazz music?

Mike Murley: It was in my high school band program, in Nova Scotia. Actually, when I was in grade seven and eight we traveled up here [to Toronto] for the Canadian Stage Band Festival, which was probably a predecessor to Musicfest or whatever. But that's when I heard the Boss Brass and Phil Nimmons' band. It was the first time that I heard music live.

DC: Was there anyone who took you under their wing; to mentor you and teach you about jazz music?

MM: Well, my high school band director Brian Johnson did that. Later on I had a great teacher named Don Palmer, who also taught Kirk MacDonald and some other people. He was very important. I mean, I had different people at different stages of my life. Dave Liebman later on was very helpful - I still have a relationship with him; he teaches at UofT as a visiting professor. So, you know, there’s lots of people.

DC: If you had to give advice to students who are still in school, what do you think makes a successful post-secondary music student?

MM: Listen to your teachers. Every one of your teachers at all of those institutions are all great players. And even if they aren’t your favourite player, they’ve got something they can give you. So take what you can from every teacher you have. Try it, you don’t really know. If they ask you to do something, or if they assign something to you, do it. They’re assigning it to you for a reason, probably because it’s something they did that helped them. Don’t make excuses and say; “Oh I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to practice that in all twelve keys” (laughs). So that’s the one thing I would say. You know, all the schools prepare you to be a great musician, if you apply yourself.

DC: In terms of this year's TD Toronto Jazz Festival, you have a show with your Quartet at The Pilot on Saturday July 2nd and on the following day you are playing a duo gig with Reg Schwager at Mezzetta. Is there a conscious shift in your approach when you’re playing in these different settings? Or is it more about just reacting to what’s happening?

MM: Well at this point when I play I try to just react. I get myself on the stage with people who I like to play with and it just sort of takes care of itself. You know, pick the right material, that’s important. But of course it’s different playing in a duo than in a quartet setting, you play differently. There’s a lot more vulnerability the smaller the group is, and in some ways, a broader expressive range, dynamically. I really like playing at Mezzetta, it’s a nice small place, but I like the intimacy of it. I mean, I like the Pilot too.

Be sure to catch Mike Murley July 2nd and 3rd as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. You can read the full interview here.

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