Friday, August 3 brings the Alison Young Quintet to Meaford for the third show of the Meaford Summer Concert Series. Each concert is under the open sky in the parking lot beside Meaford Hall.
Young is a sax player, originally from Ottawa, who has become one of the most in-demand players in the Toronto jazz scene, performing regularly in venues like The Rex, The Jazz Bistro, and The Reservoir Lounge, contributing to several albums and touring around the world with a variety of bands.
“That’s basically how I travel,” she says. “I’m lucky enough to work with a lot of groups that work in Europe. Last year it was Singapore and South America. It was great!”
After playing with R&B bands as a teen, before attending the music program at University of Toronto, her featured performances in the National Youth Jazz Ensemble at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2001 and 2002 inspired one critic to note:
“The stun is witnessing phrasing and technique indicating decades of practice and study, coming from a girl too young to have done any of that. She plays alto with an authority and command beyond her short years… performing with the facility and inventiveness of a much more mature musician.”
Downbeat magazine has noted her “endless creativity and flair”. Last year she was chosen as one of the ‘Best 35 Canadian Jazz Artists under 35’ by the CBC. Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen writes, “her melodic maturity rises above the music”, while Whole Note Magazine says, “Alison Young takes musical chances, and has something to say.”
She knew from a very young age that this was the life for her.
“In junior high I had a really great band teacher and she actually ran a stage band. That was the first time I heard swing music and I was like: ‘What is this? I need to do this!’ So I got my parents to rent me a saxophone and taught myself basically for the first little while and then never looked back.”
Praised even at a young age for the maturity and tone of her playing, she explained, “I played along with records and just kind of wanted to capture that full sound. That’s always been important to me.”
Her initial jazz inspiration from listening to big bands blended with an appreciation of R&B picked up as a teenager.
“When I was seventeen and eighteen, my first gigs were playing in a soul cover band. We played these little bars in Ottawa and in Hull and I thought this was so cool.
“I love that music. When they hired me they said, ‘OK, just check out the movie, The Commitments.’ It was basically that repertoire so that got me into Aretha Franklin and Solomon Burke and all these R&B artists.
“A lot of the gigs I do in Toronto are R&B gigs. When I play as a sideman with several bands, I do that kind of music and I also play a lot of jazz. I play a lot of both and I’m still trying to figure out which one is my sound, or can they both be my sound? And I think I’m heading in that direction: just do both.”
But the experience of a big band in full swing still lures her.
“I’ve been playing with the Jim Galloway Big Band in Toronto,” she says, “which is all older Basie charts and Ellington charts. So it’s like going back to my roots because that’s the first jazz I listened to and I was so excited about it.”
Alison has been leading her own band in various formations since 2012, which has allowed her to compose and arrange for combinations from duo to septet. Among her many recorded performances as a session player, her compositions, recorded with the Heillig Manoeuvre and Red Hot Ramble, have been featured on JazzFM and CBC2. She has a debut album of mostly originals ready to release.
“A lot of my songs are straight ahead and in the hard bop vein, a little bit funky but with jazzy chord changes. Melody is my priority when I compose.” She admits to influences more along the Stevie Wonder vein and isn’t through growing yet: “I think next I’m going to try to get some rock and roll into the sound, because we’ve got Eric St Laurent on guitar and he’s a real rocker.”
The quintet playing in Meaford will include St. Laurent’s “eclectic and energetic” guitar; Saskatchewan’s “hard swinging” Jeff McLeod on piano and organ; Chris Banks on the bass; and Chris Wallace on drums. The repertoire for a Meaford Friday night will be “party jazz, funk and soul.”
The same precocious talent that has accelerated Alison Young’s career is evident in the opening act, singer/songwriter Miranda Journey.
Bring a camp chair and a contribution for the food bank to catch the 7 p.m. start.