Chelsea McBride

This week’s featured artist is multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, and bandleader Chelsea McBride, who participated in Jazzology in 2014.

A native of Richmond, BC, Chelsea is a graduate of Humber College’s Bachelor of Music program, where she received the JAZZ.FM91 Award upon graduating in April 2014. At Humber, she had the opportunity to study with Andy Ballantyne, Shirantha Beddage, Alex Dean, and David Occhipinti and perform with guest artists including Darcy James Argue, Guido Basso, New York Voices, Danilo Perez, Maria Schneider, and Mike Stern.

Now an active member of the Toronto music scene, she leads two of her own projects that feature both her saxophone playing and her original compositions that blend pop, jazz, and moody atmospheres to create unique sounds and textures. Her small group Chelsea and the Cityscape has released two EPs, while her large ensemble Socialist Night School released its debut album in May 2014. McBride also performs in a number of other groups including the video-game cover band the Koopa Troop and the Brad Cheeseman Group.

Most recently, Chelsea was awarded the Toronto Arts Foundation’s inaugural Emerging Jazz Artist Award in December 2014. She shared some of her thoughts on her Jazzology experience and provided an update on her recent activities:

1) Describe your experience with the Jazzology program. What was your favourite aspect?

I think it’s such a cool idea! I grew up in Richmond, BC (just outside of Vancouver, where the airport is), and was lucky enough to be surrounded by a really great community of jazz educators and young musicians. The thing that always struck me, though, was that there wasn’t a lot to bring us together outside of the summers, when all the jazz camps ran. We didn’t have a form of media to rally around; we kind of all just went our separate ways when school started.

The Jazzology program is, I think (and by extension, the Youth Big Band as well), part of a wonderful effort to keep not only the jazz student part of the community engaged, but to bring together the listeners, fans of jazz, jazz musicians, educators, and supporters. It draws attention to what the youth are doing and I love hearing what my peers are up to. Any initiative that puts students on the air and gives them an opportunity to talk about what they’re doing is well worth supporting.

2) What is your strongest memory of the Jazzology program? Are there any funny stories or incidents that come to mind?

I seem to remember being flustered and trying not to get lost – or be late – on the way in that morning. I’d never been to the JAZZ.FM91 studios before, and the TTC being the TTC, inevitably I missed a streetcar I should have caught, and it was just a very frazzled morning! But as soon as I got in, Devin and Heather were extremely welcoming and friendly and I had a great time doing Jazzology with them. Heather’s a wonderful personality (on the air and off) and it was so easy to talk to her. I almost forgot about the fact that we were recording – almost!

3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians? Why?

Absolutely! Jazzology is a great forum. It’s a way of getting your name out there, it’s a chance to talk really openly about what you do as an artist, both where you came from and where you’re going, and it’s an opportunity to work on your interview skills.

4) You were the recipient of the JAZZ.FM91 Award in April 2014 for your outstanding academic and musical work at Humber College. How has receiving that scholarship helped you in your personal and professional development?

That scholarship, I’m pretty sure, is what ensured that I didn’t starve through my transition out of school! There was a three or four week period right after school ended – maybe it was a bit longer – and before I got paid for this musical I was doing in with the Hamilton school board out there. While I was working enough to make rent, I was planning for the Socialist Night School CD release and I was working on some other writing projects, I was trying to sort out living arrangements once my lease ran out. It was generally a busy time, just life-wise. And I think I say this in every scholarship thank-you letter, but any scholarship or bursary that can remove the stress of “how am I going to eat this week” is so welcome, and so genuinely appreciated. My standards for living aren’t super high: Do I have a place to live that is comfortable and safe? Can I eat? Can I create/practice/be an artist? Anything that helps with that, especially in the form of scholarships, is pretty much the best thing ever.

5) The Jazzology and scholarship programs at JAZZ.FM91 are made possible by our generous donors and sponsors, who strongly believe in the importance of arts education initiatives. If you had the opportunity to thank them in person, what would you say?

First of all – obviously, perhaps, but I mean this – a million times thank you. Your money is going to a good place. Besides the numerous, oft-stated benefits of the arts (and music specifically) on children and their development, on the economy and society in general, you’re supporting culture. You’re allowing young people to grow into artists who create art that provokes questions, stirs emotion, and enriches people’s lives. You’re giving people who create (from a sometimes very lonely space) the assurance that their work is valued, that it is important, that we are not all just passionate nuts – that what we do means something. And, I think most importantly, you’re providing opportunities. You’re giving us the opportunity to create, or at least to not worry about surviving while creating, and I hope I speak for other participants and recipients, but that really does mean the world to us.

6) Why is music education important?

I think I said this earlier, but there’s the stuff that comes up in music lesson marketing: if you put kids in music lessons they’ll do better in math, their language skills will improve, all that stuff. Then there’s the idea that the arts are a huge contributor to the economy and would probably be even more so with better support and programs and the like. But for me, that’s all kind of secondary. It’s important, but to people who have maybe forgotten their own interactions with the arts, or who don’t accept the value of it without some sort of empirical evidence.

My personal experience is pretty simple. Yes, music education has made me a better musician, but it’s definitely made me a better person. It’s very difficult to make a living in music without being easy to work with, without being organized, without being positive. I mean, yes, you have to be competent, but you also have to be someone people want to work with and spend time with. I’m pretty sure that’s true in any career. If we want to teach people – not children, people in general – how to be focused, driven, and positive, we can use music education to reach those ends, and play some really great songs in the process.

7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing?

I’ve been busy, which is really fortunate. Somewhere along the line I learned how to keep my calendar full. But there’s been some really fantastic stuff in the past little while. I was so lucky to be selected as the inaugural recipient of the Toronto Arts Foundation’s newly-established Emerging Jazz Artist Award, which ranks up there with JAZZ.FM91’s efforts in providing another outlet and wonderful opportunity for the young jazz musicians in the community. I joined Spectrum Music in September as one of their artistic producers, which is so much fun. I love being behind the scenes of big concerts, and I’m in the middle of writing my first piece for them right now. Spectrum has a really cool thing going, and it’s wonderful to be a part of that team. And in the summer, I participated in the TD Jazz Youth Summit as part of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, with eight people from across the country. We performed at the festival twice playing original music from everybody in the band. Looking back, all of the things I’ve been doing recently focus on original music, which is great! I love putting my own ideas out there, but it’s just as fun being around it and a part of it too.

Other than that, I’ve been teaching a lot.  I also joined a band called the Koopa Troop, which plays original arrangements of classic video game music. I grew up playing a lot of video games, but especially Donkey Kong and Mario games, and the other guys in the band were all big gamers as well.  So we have a huge library of music from these games to choose from and we all bring in different arrangements. It’s really nerdy, but it’s such a fun band to be a part of!

8) What music are you listening to at the moment that you find particularly inspiring?

I’m currently on a sci-fi score binge, which has everything to do with the fact that I’m writing a piece for Spectrum Music that draws on science-fiction movies and TV shows. This also includes Holst’s The Planets, which I don’t think I’d ever sat down and listened to in its entirety. I’m actually really enjoying this though. I’m getting a lot better at telling shows and movies apart just from their scores, and so much of it is orchestral, so I’m half listening for the compositional devices and half geeking out over how everything is orchestrated, or how the composer used the bassoon here… things like that.

When I get to listen to other stuff, lately it’s been 1989 (yes, the Taylor Swift record), the new D’Angelo record Black Messiah, Ian McDougall’s In A Sentimental Mood, and Counting The Ways by this British group called Teotima. This is all over the place musically, but this is pretty standard fare for me. I’ve always liked pop music, and I love the production of 1989. Some of the lyrics are probably not as smooth as I’d like, but it’s a good pop record and it’s super catchy. I got the Ian McDougall record from a friend, and it’s kind of like comfort food. It’s really good, small-group jazz. I know the tunes because it’s mostly standards, and I love Ian McDougall’s playing. I come back to it every once in a while and it’s always great. I still haven’t made it all the way through in one sitting the new D’Angelo record, so I haven’t formulated an opinion yet. I’m convinced I like it, and that’s the important part.

Teotima was a totally random discovery. My boyfriend and I were in Vancouver flipping through the Galaxie music channels on my parents’ TV, and we decided to see what the CBC defined modern jazz as. I don’t know what we were expecting. The first or second song that came up was “Orange Lamps,” and we’re both sitting there thinking, “hey, this is pretty good!” I bought the record later that day. It’s a large ensemble that doesn’t really sound like a large ensemble sometimes. There’s some strings, there’s some horns – it’s kind of world-fusion meets chamber meets jazz. It’s really beautiful.

9) What are your plans for the future?

The long term is easy: the full-length follow-up to the debut Socialist Night School record is in the works right now, and should be out in January 2017. You heard it here first, so now I have to stick to it! And after that, I’ll probably go to grad school. I’m considering a few options, but I haven’t decided where yet. I haven’t even finished reading through the application requirements.

In the short term, though, I’m around. I’m going into the studio with the Brad Cheeseman Group in the middle of February, and we’re making his full-length debut, which I’m really excited about. I think there’s some other stuff in the works with that group too, so check out his website HERE to find out more. The Socialist Night School plays at the Rex on Saturday, January 31. That’s a 3:30-6:30pm show, cover is pay-what-you-can, and we’ll be playing everything we know! The Koopa Troop has two shows this weekend: January 16 at Placebo Space (8:30pm), and January 18 at Oddfellows Hall in Dundas (2pm), plus another show in March.

Everything else I’m doing is still in the works so I can’t really talk about it yet, but somewhere in there I’ll have time to write the rest of the Socialist Night School record, as well as some new material for the Cityscape, who will be back in action later this year.

10) How can people learn more about you and your activities?

I’m on the web at I’m on Twitter: @crymmusic
I lead two bands:
Chelsea and the Cityscape
Socialist Night School
Both groups have albums available on Bandcamp:

11) Is there anything else that you want to add?

Thanks for reading, for supporting jazz, and for supporting jazz musicians. You’re doing a cool thing; keep it up.