It is his most ambitious project yet, and acclaimed saxophonist/composer/band leader Phil Dwyer’s new CD has been getting rave reviews since it’s release at the end of October.
Changing Seasons is a compelling violin concerto that bridges the jazz and classical worlds in seamless fashion. Premiered in November 2010 at McGill University, it is now destined to find a wider international audience with the release of its recording on ALMA Records.
Creating the music for the project was a big undertaking for the Qualicum Beach jazz veteran, but the multi-Juno award winner said the end result is the best work he has ever done.
The violin concerto was recorded in July with a 17-piece jazz band and a 21-piece string section and the combination of the large band with horns and a massed string section integrates diverse musical elements in a fresh new way.
Dwyer said the work began as a collaboration with internationally renowned violin virtuoso Mark Fewer.
“I’ve worked with Mark a lot, and he has a good intuitive understanding of what I’m trying to do,” said Dwyer. “I approached him about writing a piece for him, and he loved it. Mark is a get things done kind of a guy, and through various channels we were able to procure a sum to commission the music and schedule a performance at the Schulich School of Music, where Mark is chair of the string department.”
As Changing Seasons took shape, so did Dwyer’s determination to have the work recorded.
“I soon had my heart set on that. I wanted it to be done in a nice recording room with great players that I got to pick. The biggest and most important thing that happens in this creative process is hearing the composition performed by a really crack band.”
Dwyer and Fewer assembled a cast list of some of the very best jazz and classical musicians in North America and he said it was one of the best string sessions he’d ever been on.
Dwyer admitted that recording the CD over two days at the state of the art Vancouver recording studio The Factory was a lot of fun but also somewhat nerve wracking.
“The music was hard. It was expensive. I was under pressure to get it done in a short period of time because I was paying 38 musicians. I felt pressure but it turned out great,” he said.
Dwyer isn’t the only one thrilled with the results. He said international interest in the work is already being generated.
The theme running through the composition is change, as its creator explains.
“Changing weather, changing climatic conditions, the changing economic structure of the world, and some big changes in my own life,” said Dwyer. “It is a call to acknowledge the fact of all these changes taking place and a query as to what are we going to do about it.”
Dwyer’s reputation on the jazz scene has long been at the highest level. What comes next for the multiple Juno award winner and nominee, composer, arranger and educator is still a big question.
For the past seven years Dwyer has been running the Phil Dwyer Academy of Music and Culinary Arts (PDAMCA) from which the Phil Dwyer Music Festival emerged. The festival expanded over the years and last year ran for a month in Qualicum Beach with concerts featuring performers from all over North America.
This year Dwyer decided to take a break from running both the camp and the festival and had only a scaled down version of the camp.
He said his culinary arts festival won’t be operated on the same scale again either because it became too cumbersome.
“It was a big undertaking. It started off as a small thing but as it got bigger there were up to 50 people in my house every day. It was tiring.”
He said he enjoys teaching, especially young musicians and the graduate of Kwalikum Secondary School always looks forward to hearing the latest talent taking shape at his alma mater.
“I enjoy going to the school. There is always a nucleus of kids in the band who are at a whole other level and I enjoy talking to them,” he said.
Dwyer recalled when he was student in Grade 11, he would play at community events.
“It was the only time in my life I had a business card. We didn’t have any idea what we were doing. I got smart and hired Bill Cave to come play with us because he was the dance king.”
Dwyer said Cave knew what tunes to play and his guidance served him well when he was a musician in Toronto with the Guido Basso Orchestra.
“It was a primo high society dance band. I knew some of the moves from Bill … he taught me some of the important stuff.”
His advice to the aspiring music students at KSS: “Throw yourself wholly into it so there is no space left in your brain for anything else.”
Dwyer’s CD Changing Seasons is available online at phildwyer.com or you can buy it locally at the Oceanside Yoga Centre and Boutique in Qualicum Beach at Unit 5, 702 Memorial Ave.