Marika Galea

This week for “Where Are They Now,” we feature Marika Galea.

1) When did you participate in the Youth Big Band program?
2009 – 2011

2) Describe your experience with the Youth Big Band program. What was your favourite aspect?
I loved the sense of community that would come about travelling from the Humber Community Music School to JAZZ.FM91 each week. It also showed itself most strongly whenever we played out – with the Thelma Yellin Big Band at Miles Nadal JCC, JazzLives, and the Brantford Jazz Festival. I still consider myself friends with a lot of people from that band, probably because the music and the people became an integral part of my week through my formative years.

3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians? Why?
Absolutely. Do it. The process of preparing for an audition and making a weekly commitment to a set of repertoire and a group of people is enough in itself to merit an attempt. All the amazing people, the performances, and traveling are icing on the cake. Get in there and play Nestico, Duke, and Basie. That music and large ensemble in general is dying out. The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band plays an important role in preserving that music with my generation. Even if you don’t understand that at 16 or 17, you will appreciate it later.

4) How has this experience helped in your personal and professional development?
Most of the rhythm section from my years in the band also went to Berklee with me. It made the transition to the US somewhat easier to have familiar faces around. Professionally, the station has continued to support me, for which I am very grateful. They have advertised my performances and I was given the chance to come in and discuss my Billie Holiday Songbook Tour in 2013. Also, being able to add that I’ve opened for people like Joey DeFrancesco and Al Jarreau, or that I’ve performed with Bucky Pizzarelli, to my resume straight out of high school was fantastic. To be able to start out at a young age having been around names like those is extremely unique, especially for young Canadian musicians who do not have the same access to international jazz musicians as our American counterparts.

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?
Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I would love to make you dinner! I know the individual donors and sponsors understand the importance of their donations, otherwise they wouldn’t be making them, but I would really like to personally reiterate that they have had a direct impact on my development and joy extending past my time with the band. I have nothing but the deepest appreciation for their contributions.

6) Why is music education important?
I never planned to be a musician and applied to university for many other programs, but music education always played such an important role in my discipline. Performing was the first really gut-wrenchingly challenging task I had encountered. It requires commitment and focus over an extended period of preparation. That skill is highly transferable for success in any field. Music teaches group collaboration while simultaneously enforcing individual responsibility for one’s part. It also teaches sensitivity, people skills, and an appreciation for the beautiful. We could all use a little more of that. When people tell me they wish they played an instrument, my response is always, “Well, you’re not dead yet.”

7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing? (education, scholarships, graduation, studying abroad, awards, grants, recordings, tours, employment, collaborations, etc.)
Since graduating from high school and JAZZ.FM91, I attended the University of Toronto for a year on full scholarship, thanks to the Phil and Noreen Nimmons Scholarship, the Distillery Jazz Festival Scholarship, and the U of T Scholar Award. I was the first student to begin hosting the Classic Rex Jazz Jam, back in January 2012. I also wrote a blog for the Toronto Jazz Festival in 2012, where you can still read my interviews and reviews.

I transferred to Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship in 2012, where I studied performance, classical composition and a minor in contemporary conducting. Berklee gave me a lot of tools – the Lennie Johnson Scholarship for outstanding musical ability, the Richard Levy Scholarship for composers, a grant in 2013 to complete my Billie Holiday Songbook tour in Southern Ontario, the opportunity to film a music video for Nanaimo, a plethora of performance opportunities and an introduction to the education team at Monterey Jazz Festival in 2015, where I have since taught as a clinician and on the summer faculty.

My favourite accomplishments have included playing at major clubs – Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Jackie McLean’s Artists’ Collective, Smalls, Jazz Standard, Blues Alley – with the Neal Smith Group and the Cyrus Chestnut Trio. My music also landed on a CBC playlist of 35 Jazz Artists under 35 this week, and it feels good to begin participating in the Canadian media. Winning the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival’s Rising Young Star Award in 2014 was surreal, because it meant that I got to meet and sit in with one of my heroes, Renee Rosnes. Fortunately, we’ve been able to stay in touch. Since moving to New York, I have studied with Julliard professor Ben Wolfe, and performed with Ulysses Owens Jr., Vincent Herring, David Hazeltine, Kenyon Phillips, and the Apartment Sessions YouTube series among others. I love the community feel among musicians in New York. It’s not easy, and we all know that, so if someone can help you, they generally will.

In terms of my own projects, I just released a single, Dream (June 2017), which lives on the edge between jazz and indie music. I’ve been writing lyrics for a few years, and am really enjoying performing this concept around New York and experimenting with how to record and produce it using elements of both rock and jazz. It’s been a return to the music I grew up with. I also just created and scored a documentary series of short films centred around life-changing moments experienced and told by five anonymous New Yorkers. The series, co-produced by Israeli actress Mor Cohen, is entitled Clean Cuts and will be exhibited by Salomé ArtHaus in Brooklyn this fall (October 2017). Storytelling has always been extremely important to me, and so I think experimenting with lyrics, cinematography and film scoring is a natural extension of that.

8) What are your plans for the future? (Any short term events or long term plans?)
I will be starting my master’s degree at McGill University in Montreal this fall, so I’m coming back to Canada! The thesis project is an original recording, which is a complementary goal for me. I have some really exciting ideas for that recording, and would like to tour with it. I want to record and compose as much as possible, and am really trying to find and collaborate with people who have a DIY attitude. I’m also hoping to continue teaching with organizations such as Monterey Jazz Festival. Completing my masters is a part of my effort to build my skill set towards teaching at the collegiate level.

9) How can people learn more about you and your activities? (Website, Twitter handle, etc.)

You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter as @marikajazz. My website is, and people can join my newsletter there for news about my music and updates when there are shows in their area. My recordings are also available at

Marika Galea bio

Marika Galea is a bassist, composer and educator based in New York City. She is currently on faculty with the Monterey Jazz Festival. She is known for her ability to tell a story in a diverse range of compositional styles, and the wide palette of genres from which she draws her inspiration to do so.

Marika graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2016 with a degree in Performance and Classical Composition (with a minor in Conducting). At Berklee, she studied with Ralph Peterson Jr., Terri Lyne Carrington, Terence Blanchard, Darren Barrett, and Susan Hagen (Boston Pops) among others, and was the recipient of the Lennie Johnson Scholarship for Outstanding Musicianship and the Richard Levy Scholarship for Composers.

Many workshops, performance opportunities, awards, scholarships and festivals later, Marika has come to be regarded as a rising young star and bandleader throughout Southern Ontario. She studied at The University of Toronto for one year, sponsored on full scholarship by the University, the Distillery Jazz Festival, and the legendary Canadian arranger, Phil Nimmons.