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Juno nominee Brian Dickinson credits a youth spent in Stratford amongst the reasons he's enjoying a successful career as a jazz pianist.
Dickinson is old hat at the prestigious Canadian music award ceremony. He won his first Juno in 1991 in the Best Jazz Recording category for his album In Transition; his second was in 1993 as Composer of the Year.
This time it's an ensemble that he's a part of that's been nominated, The Brian Dickinson Trio. They're one of the contenders for the Jazz Album of the Year: Group category for their album Fishs Eddy.
It's always stiff competition, but I think our chances are good," he says. "It's a great record! There's a lot of original compositions on it of mine, and the players are great."
Those fellow ensemble players are Ethan Ardelli on drums and George Mraz on bass, in addition to Dickinson on piano.
Dickinson was born in Guelph and moved to Stratford when he was four. He spent two years at Northwestern and two at Central during the late 70s, but it was a part time job as an usher at the Stratford Festival that really had a hand in his journey into the jazz world.
"The Festival had a good concert series then. I saw Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett. There were lots of concerts every summer, and I got to go for free.
"I met all the musicians," he recalls. "I even ended up playing in the orchestra for a few summers."
In the orchestra, he met vibraphonist Mike Wood and trombone player Jerry Johnson, who mentored Dickinson to some degree. He also met producer Jerry Toth when the CBC was brought in to produce recordings. Toth proved to be another inspiration.
In addition to the exposure he received via the Festival, Dickinson also credits two musicians he met through his tenure with the Stratford Legion Band. These were Clarence Brodhagen, who played trumpet, and Paul Cross, who played alto saxophone.
"They were both very interested in jazz," he says.
Dickinson moved to Toronto in 1979, and hasn't had much opportunity to play in his old stomping ground since, save for a Stratford Summer Music gig a few years ago. He says it's getting more and more difficult to find venues to play in.
"Maybe it's because music has become more diluted because of the Internet," he muses. "People aren't going out as much anymore … in Canada anyway."
He adds that venues are still filled in New York, and he's travelling to South Korea in May where he's always well received.
But the same cannot be said for his home and native land.
"In Toronto you don't see that," he sighs. "Part of it is that there's so much (music) out there. On sites like YouTube, anyone can put anything out. Some of the stuff's not so good, and people don't always know the difference.
"I think shows like Canadian Idol have been bad for music and the arts in general."
Everyone's a critic
Things aren't all bad, though. The Academy Award-winning film Whiplash, which tells the story of a young jazz drummer and his brutal and domineering teacher, has renewed interest in jazz amongst the general public.
The film won for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing, as well as a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for J.K. Simmons as the teacher; and although some jazz purists hated the film, saying it got the genre totally wrong or painted it in a negative light, Dickinson is not among them.
"I was amazed at how offended some of those in the jazz community were about it," he admits. "It was really more about an abusive teacher than it was about jazz. It could've been about chess, for that matter."
He guesses that the malevolent character played by Simmons was based on Buddy Rich, a famous jazz drummer who was notoriously abusive to his band mates. Still, Dickinson doesn't feel the stressful classroom environment portrayed in the film exists, at least not here in Canada.
He should know. He's a music teacher himself at both Humber College and the University of Toronto.
"That sort of environment doesn't exist in Canada," he says. "Maybe in some parts of the U.S., but here we're a lot more supportive."
If you'd like to show your support to a true Canadian jazz maestro, Dickinson will be playing at the Rex Jazz and Blues Bar in Toronto with fellow Juno nominee Kirk MacDonald on March 11 and 12. The Brian Dickinson quartet, another project of this Stratford native son, plays the Jazz Bistro in Toronto June 4-6.
And if you're one of those notorious Canadian music fans who can't be bothered leaving home, Dickinson's Juno nominated album, Fishs Eddy, is available on iTunes.