How do you stand out in jazz? For Daron McColl, the answer is originality

Even before making his official recorded debut, Daron McColl looks poised to make an impression on Canada’s jazz scene.

The 24-year-old guitarist, composer and bandleader frequents Toronto jazz clubs like the Emmet Ray and The Cavern as the leader of the Daron McColl Trio, and he’s landed notable gigs like Tune Up Toronto and Nuit Blanche North. McColl has also been active as a sideman, including recurring performances with Sam Ruttan‘s quintet and a gig last summer with Shadowpath Theatre at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

McColl honed his craft at York University, working with Canadian greats such as Lorne Lofsky, Mark Eisenman and Kevin Turcotte. More recently, he  completed a master’s degree in composition at York. For his thesis, he wrote a collection of pieces for a guitar quartet, a studious undertaking that was heavily inspired by Claude Debussy’s string quartets and Anthony Wilson’s guitar quartets.

Among other achievements, the up-and-comer has been honoured with the Duke Ellington Award in Jazz, the Ella Fitzgerald Award for Jazz Performance and the Oscar Peterson Scholarship.

McColl also teaches privately and at the Guitar World Oakville, with students ranging from beginners all the way to university prep.

McColl participated in our Jazzology program in 2017. “Jazzology basically launched my professional career,” he says. “It was one of the first chances I got to really think about who I am as an artist.”

We asked the young guitarist, composer and bandleader to tell us more about what inspires him, when we can expect his debut EP, and how Jazzology helped him get a running start in the music industry.

Recommended Links

Tell us a bit more about the collection you composed for your thesis. What was your inspiration? And what was that process like?

For my thesis I wanted to write something more involved compositionally than the normal jazz lead sheets that I usually write. Although jazz is my primary genre of focus, I also love lots of other music including classical string quartets and third-stream music.

For a while I thought I might write my thesis for the classical string quartet. But then I came across Anthony Wilson’s Seasons: A Song Cycle for Guitar Quartet, and my direction changed a bit. Anthony’s music is the perfect combination of written contrapuntal lines and improvisation, and the other players on his record are incredible: Steve Cardenas, Chico Pinheiro, & Julian Lage.

I also used Debussy and Maurice Ravel as inspiration because I think their use of colour and texture in their string quartets translate well for guitar. Their music was also written in an impressionistic style that covers themes often based on nature. For my guitar quartet suite, I used places that are meaningful to me as the titles of each movement and I tried to recreate the feelings and sounds of those places through the abstract medium of music. Hopefully the outcome is a new piece of music for a largely underrepresented ensemble format.

What kind of style do you play with the Daron McColl Trio? Who are your main influences and what are you going for, creatively?

The trio is the main outlet where I get to really explore my development as an improviser. My influences are too broad to mention all here … but of course, other modern guitarists that play in trios or small groups are seminal in our sound, such as Bill Frisell, Gilad Hekselman, Peter Bernstein, Lage Lund and Julian Lage. Plus, the jazz guitar icons Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Barney Kessel, to name a few. I could also go on and mention other instrumentalists such as Bill Evans, Woody Shaw, Chris Potter, Dexter Gordon, and musicians of non-jazz origins like Igor Stravinsky, Baden Powell and Edgard Varèse. But if I kept going, you would probably stop reading this interview pretty soon.

In my trio, one of our primary goals is to perform original music. I love standard repertoire and we play that as well, but in Toronto, there are lots of great players who can play Autumn Leaves a lot better than I do. However there is nowhere else except at my shows where you can hear my original music, so that’s pretty important to me.

What are some of your favourite gigs you’ve played recently?

I’ve had some great gigs in the past. Just recently I got to play at the Barrie Jazz Festival with the Sam Ruttan Group. I’ve also been enjoying the local bar gigs that have come up at places like the Emmet Ray and The Cavern. I also really enjoy the gigs I get to do up north in Muskoka, like playing at Nuit Blanche North or the Music at Noon concert series with my trio. Those gigs are a lot of fun because they are where I grew up, so I get to play for lots of old friends and mentors. Overall, it’s not really about where I’m playing but who I’m playing with. The hang is always the best part.

Any recordings so far? When might folks expect to hear that EP?

Unfortunately, right now I don’t have much as far as recordings go. I have done a few one-off demos through York University … but at this point, nothing substantial. I do plan to release an EP relatively soon, but right now I’m in the early stages of planning, so I definitely don’t have a release date. Hopefully I don’t keep you waiting too long.

How was your experience with the Jazzology program? What did you like about it?

Jazzology was great. First, I have to say that Heather Bambrick is a wonderful host. She made the interview process feel super easy and relaxed. Also, I love how JAZZ.FM91 actually gives young artists a substantial amount of airtime. This isn’t just a five-minute interview — we get a whole hour to talk about what’s important to us and to play our favourite tunes.

How did the program help with your personal and professional development?

Jazzology basically launched my professional career. It was one of the first chances I got to really think about who I am as an artist. Following the interview, I got a lot of opportunities, like playing with my trio at the Jazz Bistro for Tune Up Toronto or playing in the Kensington Market Jazz Festival as part of Heather Bambrick’s curated Jazzology all-star band. Also, being featured on such an iconic radio station really made me feel like I am part of the jazz community, which is important for a developing player.

Would you recommend it to other young musicians? If so, why?

I would definitely recommend the program to other young musicians. In fact, I think young musicians should try to take as many opportunities as possible. It’s always better to be acting on something and trying to push yourself forward in your career. That being said, Jazzology is one of the best programs out there for young artists.

If you could thank our donors that support the Jazzology program, what would you say?

Thank you to JAZZ.FM91 and all the donors who support the program! What you are doing is vital to the future of the music community, which makes Toronto such a hot spot for the arts.

Why is music education important to you?

There are a number of reasons that music education is important. From my own perspective as an educator, I get to see kids discover their passion and find meaning. As a student, I can appreciate the structures that are in place that can help me grow in my musical career. My education has not only helped me hone my craft, but it can also help me to function as a valuable member of the community.

What about your plans for the future? Where would you like to be years down the road?

I feel that the future for me looks bright, although somewhat uncertain. Having just finished school, I will be moving from Toronto to Ottawa in the next few months. Hopefully I will be able to continue to perform, write and teach there.

You can find Daron McColl on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or visit his website at