This week we feature Toronto-born bassist Marika Galea. A chance trip to the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) conference in high school sparked her interest in jazz and lead to her purchase of a double bass. She completed one year of studies at the University Toronto before being offered a scholarship to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she is currently completing a Bachelor’s degree in Performance and Classical Composition.
Since moving to Boston, she has had the opportunity to perform at many prestigious venues including Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Small’s, and the Jazz Standard, and has performed with the Neal Smith Group and the Cyrus Chestnut Trio.
A member of the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band from 2009-2011, Marika shared her memories as a participant in the program and talked about her more recent activities.
1) Describe your experience with the 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.
2) What is your strongest memory of the program? Are there any funny stories or incidents that come to mind?
There were two bass players and two drummers, and they switched off throughout rehearsal as we saw fit. As a result, I spent half my time really listening to the band and the various combinations of rhythm section lock-up. Stacey Shopsowitz and Jonny Chapman were the other bass players through my time with the band, and I listened to them and asked a ton of questions. Stacey taught me what a rhythm changes was during our jam with the Thelma Yellin kids – I had never even heard the term before. I’ll never forget that.
As for funny memories, playing out was always hilarious. If you’ve never tried to get twenty teenagers and all their gear on a bus, you haven’t lived. There is a certain beach volleyball game of JAZZ.FM91 vs. Hollister models at Kincardine 2011 that is seldom spoken of, but that will always go down in my history books…
I busked with a few of the guys between soundcheck and the performance at Brantford, and Kelly Jefferson and Reg Schwager stopped by to listen. We were pretty excited about that. Being backstage at Jazz Lives two years in a row was absolutely priceless. Sitting and hanging around Randy Brecker, Branford Marsalis, and Al Jarreau at that age; there are certain things you can only learn from being around and observing greats.
3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians?
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?
I met one of my best friends through JAZZ.FM91. Most of the rhythm section from my years is also now at 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 last summer. 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 has been 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 call me if you are ever in Boston and I will 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, no?
7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing?
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 September 2012, where I’ve been studying performance and dabbling in classical composition since. Berklee graced me with the Lennie Johnson Scholarship in Fall 2013, as well as a grant in Summer 2013 to complete my Billie Holiday Songbook tour in the Southern Ontario region. I’ve recorded a single for their label, Jazz Revelation Records, as well as an unreleased EP with the Juan Perez Rodriguez trio. Most recently, I recorded some yet-to-be-released videos with the Neal Smith Group, as well as a live video performance with Elena Bonomo.
My favourite accomplishments have included playing at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Jackie McLean’s Artists’ Collective, Small’s, and the Jazz Standard with the Neal Smith Group and the Cyrus Chestnut Trio. I really hope to continue playing with those two groups as I am learning so much.
8) What music are you listening to at the moment that you find particularly inspiring?
I set up my semester to have me branching out into a lot of new directions sonically. I’m checking out a lot of Motown recordings, Art Blakey, and traditional Brazilian samba including Paulinho Da Viola, Cartola, Emílio Santiago, Jamelão, and Clara Nunes. There is a lot of emotion in all of that music. In my downtime, though, I’ve been listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Lester Young, especially with the Oscar Peterson Trio. I can sense that I’ll be delving into Lester and Dexter Gordon a lot more this summer. I love their phrasing and vocabulary. They are the original storytellers. That’s probably why I’ve been so in love with Joni lately as well. I also listen to Elephant Shell by Tokyo Police Club pretty well everyday. You can take the girl out of Ontario, but you can’t take the Ontario out of the girl…
9) What are your plans for the future?
I’m looking forward to playing and traveling across the USA this summer if all goes according to plan! I’ve taken five semesters in a row at Berklee, so I’m looking forward to my first time off since the move. There are a lot of things I need to process, practice, and solidify. I’ll be leading a few shows in Boston, including my first recital, and one in Picton this August for the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival. Otherwise, I’ll be wherever the music is! Lately, that’s meant NYC and LA/Santa Barbara, but I’m open!
10) How can people learn more about you and your activities?
Everyone is welcome to follow me on Instagram and Twitter as @marikajazz. My website is presently under construction but I have updated materials up on my Berklee Student Network profile and SoundCloud.
11) Is there anything else that you want to add?
Thank you! I love JAZZ.FM91 and hope to continue working with you all in the future!