Soren Nissen

This week’s featured artist is bassist Soren Nissen, who participated in Jazzology in 2012.

Originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Soren developed his skills as a bassist while sharing the bandstand with mentors such as Mark DeJong and Dean McNeill.

In 2008, he moved to Toronto to attend Humber College where he studied with Neil Swainson, Mike Downes, Kieran Overs, Kirk MacDonald, and Pat LaBarbera and performed in the Studio Jazz Ensemble.

While completing his studies, he received numerous awards including the Oscar Peterson Award, the Yamaha Canada Jazz Scholarship, the Toronto Musicians’ Association Moe Koffman Memorial Award, and the President’s Award for his dedication and musical excellence.

Soren also attended the Banff Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in 2013, receiving instruction from Esperanza Spalding, Stephan Crump, Linda Oh, and Vijay Iyer.

Now a full-time musician on the Toronto scene, Soren is currently playing and recording with a number of groups in Toronto and throughout Canada and is known for his musical support in a variety of styles including jazz, classical, folk, and rock. He is a member of the Outer Bridge Ensemble, Eli Bennett Quartet, Language- Arts, Jeff LaRochelle’s Origins Ensemble, and Andrew McAnsh Quintet, and is co-leader of a new project called Not the Moon, which holds a residency and Toronto’s Poetry Jazz Café. He has performed with Terence Blanchard, Danilo Perez, P.J. Perry, Guido Basso, Oliver Jones, Campbell Ryga, Alex Dean, Bob Mintzer, and David Occhipinti. Soren also maintains a busy teaching schedule both as a private lesson instructor and guest clinician and is on the faculty of the TD Jazz Intensive each summer in Saskatoon.

Soren took some time to discuss his experience with the Jazzology program and talk about his recent musical activities:

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

I had a very good experience with the Jazzology program. Brad and the rest of the staff at JAZZ.FM91 made me feel so welcome and provided a comfortable and relaxed setting to get together and talk about music.  My favourite aspect was getting the opportunity to select some music to play on the air.  I remember playing a few tracks from some of my favourite piano trios including Ahmad Jamal, who I am still listening to. 

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

I remember the interview forced me think retrospectively on the life and musical path that brought me to studying music at Humber College. It was pretty interesting to see how all these seemingly random and small events all played a role in where I was during the interview as well as today. That really hit me after the interview.  There was a funny moment where I tried to imitate Keith Jarrett singing while playing a solo. It didn’t go over too well.  

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

Definitely!  It’s an opportunity to share your music and story with many jazz fans and a great way to meet the wonderful JAZZ.FM91 staff and work on some radio interview skills. 

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

The experience helped me feel like I was on my way to being a working professional and not just a student. It helped boost my confidence with speaking on the radio. It also gave me a way to share some of my original music that I had recently recorded. I actually received a few surprisingly positive emails from strangers who heard the music on the air and wanted to get in touch.  

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 express my gratitude for their support.  It is not always easy being an artist and sometimes the countless hours of dedicated practice and performance can be hard to justify when the arts are often underappreciated and supported.  Every bit of support from these donors and sponsors helps artists to continue growing, all while improving the state of the arts in our city and beyond.  I am so thankful for that.      

6) Why is music education important?

Music education opens up the mind. It builds creativity, focus, work ethic, individual thinking, and so many other extremely valuable traits. Whether a student is intending to become a professional musician or not doesn’t matter. Music education promotes lifelong music appreciation and learning for all those involved.    

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

I graduated from the Humber College music program shortly after the JAZZ.FM91 appearance.  I received the Oscar Peterson Award and the President’s Award upon graduation. I have been playing professionally since graduation and also teach a handful of private students. I performed at the Atina Jazz Festival (Italy) and a few spots in Berlin, Germany in the summer after graduation. I also attended the Banff Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in 2013, which was an incredible experience with inspiring mentors and colleagues.  I was very fortunate to receive instruction from Esperanza Spalding, Linda Oh, Stephan Crump, Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey, and many others while at the workshop.

I am a returning faculty member at the TD Jazz Intensive each summer at the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. I have done a number of recordings as a side person in the last few years for a number of different groups including the Outer Bridge Ensemble, Not the Moon, Jeff LaRochelle’s Origins Ensemble, Andrew McAnsh Quintet, The Woodhouse Quintet, and Language-Arts.  I also regularly perform and tour with these bands.  A couple performance highlights since graduating have been playing with Oliver Jones and a performance with the Outer Bridge Ensemble at the legendary Blue Note in New York City this past year.     

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

I have been on a pretty big John Coltrane binge for the last year. I’ve been slowly working through his discography. I was a bit late getting into ‘Trane compared to many of my friends but now I can’t get enough of it. Words can’t really describe what happens on those recordings so I will leave it at that. 

I have been revisiting one of my first jazz records as of late, Miles Davis’ Live at the Blackhawk. It’s really interesting coming back to this one after many years and hearing so many new things that slipped past me when I was younger. The groove between Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb feels incredible too. 

9) What are your plans for the future?

In the new year, I will be moving to Delhi, India for four months as a full-time faculty member at the Global Music Institute. I will be teaching core courses and private bass lessons. I’m really excited for what this experience will bring and I have always wanted to check out India. I want to spend some time in New York City for a period of private study in the next couple years. I also plan on releasing some new original music as a bandleader in the next year or two, as It’s been a while since I have pursued my own project. I have a number of ideas that I am ready to explore.    

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

I have a website:

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

Thanks so much for helping to support jazz music and jazz musicians in Toronto!