David Atkinson

This week’s featured artist is pianist David Atkinson, who participated in Jazzology in 2006.

A native of Ottawa, David began studying music with Hungarian-Canadian composer Gabor Finta, performing classical piano at various venues in the Ottawa area. In 2004, David moved to Toronto to study jazz performance at Humber College. While completing his studies, David had the opportunity to perform with visiting guest artists Dave Holland, Dave Liebman, and Dave Douglas.

Since graduating, he has made a name for himself as a versatile musician in the Canadian music and theatre scenes. He has performed with the Canadian Tenors, Os Tropies, Boy George, David Byrne, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, and Scott McCord and the Bonafide Truth.

In 2008, David joined the silent film-inspired Keystone Theatre as music director, receiving a Dora Mavor Moore Award for “The Belle of Winnipeg” in 2010. In the summer of 2012, he toured Canada’s Fringe Festival circuit with their show “Last Man on Earth.” He has also performed as part of Mirvish Theatre‘s “Wicked,” DanCap’s “Jersey Boys,” and “West Side Story”, and the Canadian Stage Company’s “London Road.”

In addition to being a music educator at The Bishop Strachan School, David has also toured throughout Europe with violinist Jaron Freeman-Fox and his group, the Opposite of Everything.

David took some time to discuss his memories of the Jazzology program and provided an update on his more recent activities:

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

The taping at the studio was definitely thrilling, and was a great way to practice basic PR skills – being able to communicate your ideas eloquently on the spot, without the help of your instrument!  I remember my favourite aspect was being asked questions that required me to reflect on my nascent artistic career as it was when I was 20, and where I felt it was going at the time.

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

Definitely my strongest memory was the feeling of anxiety as I approached the studio. This was to be my first time in a radio interview setting!

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

I would definitely recommend it as an opportunity to promote yourself during the early phase of your career. At the end of the day, every aspect of one’s musical career requires practice, and practicing your PR chops are part of it! Being in the hot seat of a radio interview is a great way of practicing quick-thinking interpersonal skills that are indispensable as a freelancer.

4) How has this experience helped in your personal and professional development?

Ironically, my time on Jazzology coincided with what may have been the peak of my interest in being a jazz-only musician. Around that time I was coming into contact with a huge variety of other music traditions being played by my peers at Humber, and I started to re-identify myself as a specialist in versatility. Several times during the Jazzology interview I had the dialogue in my head: “Why jazz?  Because music.” It was an important realization at the time, in terms of opening my mind to other sounds.

5) This program is 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?

In addition to simply thanking them, I would like to remind them how much better our society is, for the patronage shown towards arts education. Historically, cultures thrive when there is a strong tradition of sponsorship for the arts and it is encouraging to know that that tradition is being kept alive.

6) Why is music education important?

Where to begin? Music is among the greatest activities for developing a growing brain! It teaches one to speak, read, and write a new language; to operate sophisticated instruments, mechanical and/or physiological; to constantly calculate and re-calculate fractional subdivisions of time, to work seamlessly with a team, to exercise discipline, to express that which cannot be express with words. Even if one were to take away the social and cultural benefits, music is still  one of the best forms of mental exercise that can keep the mind sharp and vital well into old age!

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

I am extremely fortunate to have enjoyed the opportunity to practice my craft full-time, gradually building a busy and varied career in music. In terms of work that is closest to my heart, I am currently producing a grant-funded recording project with Os Tropies – a band of fellow Humber, University of Toronto, and York University grads that pays tribute to the psychedelic rock movement in 1960/70’s Brazil. In addition I will be touring Europe this coming summer with world fusion fiddler Jaron Freeman-Fox.  All this is on top of a constantly-evolving freelance portfolio  that has been weighted heavily towards music theatre (music direction, orchestra pits, accompaniment) and music education (piano lessons, school extra-curricular programs).

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

As a result of my above-mentioned work with Os Tropies, I have been listening very much to music from Brazil’s Tropicalia movement: greats such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as the awesome bands Os Mutantes, Novos Baianos, and Secos e Molhados.  There was some amazing stuff happening in Brazil during that time, and still to this day. It is a fascinating melting (but never-diluting) pot of ideas!

9) What are your plans for the future?

Short-term, my plans are to continue to grow my portfolio of work, and hopefully tap into some wider audiences beyond the Southern Ontario area. Meanwhile, I have been working hard on rounding out my skill set to include arranging, conducting, engineering, programming, and band-leading. As a result, in the long-term I want to continue to focus on the development of my own skills and plant seeds that will hopefully yield future careers in music direction (stage work) and/or music production (studio work). 

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

Here’s a few to start:

www.ostropies.com (above-mentioned Brazilian psych band – check us out!!)

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

Thanks for the opportunity, both back then and again now!

Jazzology is proudly sponsored by RBC Emerging Artists Project.

About RBC and the Arts
RBC sponsors a wide-range of grassroots and local initiatives that contribute to the cultural fabric of our communities. Proud to support events and passions that resonate with our clients and all Canadians, RBC provides opportunities for up-and-coming artists through programs such as the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, one of the largest competitions of its kind in the world; and the RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition, part of our commitment as the Official Bank and major sponsor of the world’s top public film festival – the Toronto International Film Festival®.

Learn More about the RBC Emerging Artists Project