Vancouver jazz group the Mike Allen Quartet are bringing brand-new music by a Canadian jazz legend for an Island tour, with a Parksville performance on Oct. 8.
Saxophonist Mike Allen calls Sonny Greenwich his major musical influence. Now, decades after performing as a member of Greenwich’s band, the Sonny Greenwich Quintet, Allen and his band are performing brand-new songs from the Canadian jazz icon.
“He was the first musical genius that I ever heard in my life, playing jazz,” said Allen of the jazz guitarist.
“I heard Sonny in a club in Kingston, Ontario in 1983 I think it was. (His playing) just blew me away… and I didn’t even actually know how great he was at the time. I just knew that I’d never heard anything like it.
“I talked to him for a moment and he said a couple of things to me that I haven’t forgotten since then. So he made a big impact on me, the very first time I heard him.”
Moving to Montreal to study jazz at McGill University, Allen said going to hear Greenwich and his band play “provided a lot of inspiration — fuel for practicing and for continued development as a jazz musician, which I was completely absorbed with at the time.”
A few years after graduating, Greenwich stunned Allen by asking him to join his band.
“I was absolutely floored by that,” said Allen. “I didn’t know that he knew who I was.”
Greenwich has been listed as one of Canada’s best jazz musicians since the late ’70s, has been nominated for various Juno awards, and in 2008 was named a member of the Order of Canada for his contribution to Canada and Canadians in the category of performing arts/music.
Now in his 80s, Greenwich doesn’t perform too often, said Allen, but he’s still creating music.
Having the Mike Allen Quartet play it is a way for Greenwich to get his new music out there, said Allen, and an exciting opportunity for himself and audiences, he said.
The idea came after touring the Island with Mike Allen Quartet piano player Miles Black earlier this year.
Allen and Greenwich had been conversing about Greenwich’s new work, and audiences were continually asking Allen about his influences.
Interested in coming back to the Island to tour in places he’d missed the first go-around, the Sonny Greenwich-focused tour came to be.
Asked what Greenwich’s music does for him, Allen said, “It’s always felt like there is a lot more to music than just playing — the mundanity of playing, the style of jazz or the harmony and the melodies and the rhythms. That there’s some spiritual destination that can be arrived at if everyone commits fully to the experience of playing in a group together, and locking into the rhythm together and supporting each other.”
It’s not always something the audience is aware of, he said.
If they can find something to enjoy about the music, then that’s great, said Allen, but added, “I think it does send (the audience) back to their lives with a sense that there is something greater, you know, when you combine efforts selflessly in the cause of some group effort.”
The performance, which will include music from Greenwich and from Allen, takes place Sunday, Oct. 8 at the MAC starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18, or $15 for OCAC members.