Karen Ng

This week’s featured artist is saxophonist Karen Ng, who participated in Jazzology in 2007.

Karen studied at York University and Humber College, working privately with teachers Sundar Viswanathan, Mike Murley, Kelly Jefferson, Don Palmer, and Pat Labarbara to hone her craft. Since launching her professional career, she has toured  throughout Canada, the US, Europe and Asia with Do Make Say Think, Fresh Snow, Bry Webb, L CON, Del Bel, and Broken Social Scene. She has also appeared with Charles Spearin’s Happiness Project, toured with Feist, and appeared in Nigel Goderich’s “From the Basement” series.

Karen is currently involved in several improvising ensembles in the city including Ken Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble, Pete Johnston’s See Through Trio/Quintet, Imaginary Flesh, THREADS, Interstellar Orchestra, and has been a long-time member of the great Dave Clark’s Woodshed Orchestra. In 2015, she received a Chalmers Professional Development Grant by the Ontario Arts Council to study with the saxophone section of the ICP Orchestra in Amsterdam and Berlin.

Very active in the Toronto music community, Karen is a board member of the Somewhere There collective, curating shows and organizing the annual Somewhere There festival. As an educator, Karen teachers woodwinds at the Annex Academy of Music, Long and McQuade Music Lesson Centre, and the Regent Park School of Music.

Karen took a moment to reminisce about her experience in the Jazzology program and updated us on her more recent musical activities:

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

It was a lovely experience. It’s always fun to pick tunes and talk about why you like it. This is still my favourite thing to do, just listening to and talking about music

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

I remember giggling a lot, I was pretty nervous! Larry Green was so nice – he got really excited about a bunch of things I talked about which made me feel a lot more comfortable, though that didn’t really stop the excessive giggling!

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

Absolutely! We all have unique stories of how we came to be musicians and it’s really fun getting to share your story. It’s sometimes hard to articulate what you’re thinking, or how and why you do the things you do – this was a chance to practice doing that, in a “live” situation.

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

This was one of the first times I had to ask a few musicians whom I really respected to play in a project with me – and I was really, really nervous about that. I can’t even remember how I got past my silly thoughts, but I just did it and things worked out. I had never recorded before, Barry Elmes was nice enough to help me out and that was super fun going through the process for the first time with someone like Barry! Preparing for this program gave me an excuse to do a bunch of things I wouldn’t have done and I think of these moments now every time I have to record, or have to talk to musicians without being too starstruck. 

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?

I would give them a bear hug and thank them for supporting the arts and music education. This is important, really important and things can’t move forward without them.

6) Why is music education important?

It is a tremendous thing, arts education. For the students, it expands your mind and gets you to think and do things you’re not always comfortable with. As a teacher, you get to connect with different generations and constantly invent new ways to explain abstract concepts. For the world, it provides an opportunity for people to express themselves, to tell stories, and be inspired by sounds, shapes, and colours. It is a tremendous thing to be a part of.

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

If someone had told me where I would be in eight years at the time of doing Jazzology, I would not have ever believed them. I consider myself very, very lucky to be where I am now. I graduated from York University and attended Humber for a couple of years, where I got to meet and work with Don Palmer (who I spoke about on the program). I toured across the US, Asia and Europe with Do Make Say Think and the Happiness Project. I was asked to join a ton of free-jazz/improv bands headed by musicians (and now friends) that I love dearly. I joined the board for the musician-based collective Somewhere There and get to curate shows. I am just finishing up a generous study grant from the Ontario Arts Council in Amsterdam and Berlin and have been incredibly inspired by their music and communities here. I get to teach and work with amazing students coming from all sorts of backgrounds. Life is sweet.

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

My listening is ALL over the place right now – there is so much out there! You’re Dead by Flying Lotus I was listening to obsessively while postering for shows, Jazz a la Creole by Baby Dodds’ trio was on repeat for like a month at my house, earlier Steve Lacy albums I really love, been listening to my teachers (Michael Moore, Ab Baars, Tobiaus Delius, Frank Gratkowski) and above all music by my friends in Toronto: Rob Clutton, Brodie West’s Eucalyptus, Ryan Driver, basically anything Lisa Conway touches, there’s too many to list. There is great music being created here and I’m super proud to be a part of it.

9) What are your plans for the future?

To develop wisdom, as a person and musician.

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


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

I think I’ve rambled on enough! Thanks again for giving me this opportunity to reflect on this great moment of the past!

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