Saxophonist Jesse Ryan wins Toronto Arts Foundation’s emerging jazz artist award

The Toronto Arts Foundation celebrated seven leading artists and organizations for their work on Thursday.

The winner of the Emerging Jazz Artist Award was Jesse Ryan, a saxophonist and composer who was a finalist for last year’s award.

Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Ryan gained a reputation as one of the island country’s bright young stars. Since moving to Toronto, he has led an eclectic quintet called Bridges that ambitiously merges the jazz and Afro-Caribbean traditions.

Ryan has studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and at Humber College in Toronto, and has studied and worked with some of Canada’s finest musicians including Roberto Occhipinti, Pat LaBarbera, Kirk MacDonald, Nick Morgan, Shelly Berger, Larnell Lewis, Rachel Terrien and Luis Deniz.

“Jesse is a fresh new voice, with a unique perspective on the music of today,” says Roberto Occhipinti. “A gifted instrumentalist, he is also an adept arranger, composer and producer — a real pleasure and honour to work with him.”

The Emerging Jazz Artist Award comes with a $10,000 prize, supported by Cheryl and Manuel Buchwald.

The finalists were bassist Lauren Falls and saxophonist Matt Lagan, both of whom are former Jazzology participants.

Lauren Falls has had an impact on the Toronto and New York jazz scenes. An accomplished composer, she has released a debut album of original music called The Quiet Fight and is currently working on her second album A Little Louder Now to be released in 2021.

Matt Lagan is one of Canada’s most exciting up-and-coming sax players. He has toured in 12 countries with the Shuffle Demons and is featured on their 2020 release Crazy Time. As a composer and bandleader, he is currently working on his debut album with the Matt Lagan Band.


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Through the generosity of donors, the Toronto Arts Foundation gave out a total of $86,000 in awards. They were presented in a virtual ceremony at the 15th annual Mayor’s Arts Lunch, attended by Mayor John Tory and a broad cross section of local politicians and arts and business leaders.

“I’d like to thank you, the artists, the originals, the creators and your support teams for continuing to find ways to make meaning and connect us all whether online or outdoors, through your generosity, persistence, collaboration and creative visions,” said Mayor Tory. “Let’s not lose sight of the arts. It will help us get through this pandemic and I am confident we will be stronger than ever.”

Recipients were presented with a commemorative plate designed by renowned Toronto artist Luis Jacob.