Categories: Entertainment

Everyman’s jazz man headlines Yardbird

If you’re looking for accessible jazz, a good place to start is with Duke Ellington, Stan Getz or even Charlie Parker.

Closer to home there’s Michael Cearns, a guitarist, writer, arranger and producer whose mantra is to create people-friendly jazz.

“Some musicians play for the highly sophisticated ear. They go off into the stratosphere, and even though they are accomplished players, they lose touch with everyday players,” says the St. Albert resident.

Founder of Michael Cearns Group, he is releasing a self-titled album to a sold-out audience at the Yardbird Suite on Sunday.

The 10-track album recorded at Mameo Music with sound engineer Miles Jackson is mixed bag of music with seven jazz tracks, two pop and a Scottish tune.

Cearns says, “We’re trying to capture a feel and get it out to people in an honest way.”

For creating music true to his nature, Cearns looks to trumpeter Miles Davis, one of the founding fathers of the ‘Birth of Cool.’

“He was one of the most criticized musicians when he went into cool jazz. Most musicians were going from bebop. He was playing long notes and over-changes. He was taking so much criticism and yet four years later, he was No. 1 in the world. Here was a guy who was true to himself with honest music that was unwavering.”

Using Davis’ model of working with different musicians, Cearns brought in a group of highly developed hired guns. Not having a fixed band allows the local songwriter to match up the best players with suitable tunes.

And there are so many good musicians in the area to play with. He rattles off names – guitarist Ken Benston, drummer Greg Predy, bassist Mike Hill, trumpeter Doug Zimmerman and keyboardist Ric LeBlanc to name a few.

Cearns received a strong grounding in jazz through the 1980 Grant MacEwan College music program. Choosing to stay for only the first year, Cearns founded The Dramatix, his first rock band in 1983. After The Dramatix disbanded, he staked a claim with Dash Rip Rock, a classic rock band that attracted a hotbed of talent.

Open to expanding his repertoire and honing his technique, Cearns landed additional work in country, blues and he even plays in an oompah-pah Oktoberfest band.

“If you’re a musician, it’s important to work where you can. Wherever you work, you learn something and I’m blessed to have worked in many different genres.”

In the end, it was jazz-rock fusion that was both intellectually and emotionally stimulating and satisfying. And it was the great guitarist Bobby Cairns, a former MacEwan instructor, who was his greatest inspiration.

“He said to us, ‘Don’t just go out there and copy licks. Get those notes down and create your own licks.’ ”

Taking Cairns advice, he set about trying to find Ken Benston, a musician he’d co-written an instrumental with 30 years ago. Much to Cearns’ chagrin, their song Timeless was rolling around in his head cluttering his thoughts.

“I needed to get it out and record it so I could write more things. Ken was living in Wetaskiwin and we got together. I added a sax, arranged it, polished it up and we recorded it.”

It’s one of the tracks on the album along with We’ll Win, an Olympics anthem entered in a CBC competition; Liked Your Cookin’ a jazzy pop Michael BublĂ© type tune; You and I, a love song dedicated to his wife; and Father and Son, a relationship song with an Eleanor Rigby vibe.

“We just want to make music that is accessible to everyone just like they did in the ’30s.”

For more information on the Michael Cearns Group email mcearns5@telus.net

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.