Karin Plato is a Vancouver-based jazz vocalist with four wonderful
CD's to her credit, including 1999's Juno-nominated There's Beauty
in the Rain. Her latest recording, Blue Again, also sure to be nominated,
features Karin in duos with bass and duos with guitar, including
several with the great Bill Coon, with whom she recently completed
her first national tour.
The following interview appears on Karin's web site at karinplato.com
What follows is a type of interview that I had with Bill Coon,
a musician who I admire deeply and who I do so love to sing with.
What I did find out while on tour with Bill is that he was born
in Etobicoke, Ontario and soon after moved to North York. As a child
Bill actually played the piano before he fell in love with the guitar.
He remembers that the first piece he ever memorized was "My
Little Red Pony" and that he took piano lessons for about five
years. During that time he learned to play pieces such as "Für
Elise" and "Spinning Song". He picked up his brother's
guitar one day and began to teach himself how to play with a guitar
method book that his brother had. Much has happened to Bill since
those days of playing "Für Elise" on the piano and
strumming out tunes on his brother's guitar. He went on to make
the guitar his instrument in every way and everyone is glad that
he did. Before moving to Vancouver Bill lived in Montreal for several
years where he was a faculty member at Concordia University. He
currently teaches jazz guitar and composition at Capilano College
in North Vancouver. Perhaps Bill has become best known for his work
with vocalist Denzal Sinclaire. Together they have played jazz festivals
across Canada and appeared with several Canadian Symphony Orchestras.
This past year they received a Juno nomination for their recording
"I Found Love". He is in great demand and all I can say
is I know why and so do all the musicians that have the opportunity
to work with him. Here is what Bill had to say when I asked him
some questions about his life as a musician:
K: Bill, who today are some of the guitarists who you enjoy listening
to? Has your list of favorites changed over the years or have the
same names remained on your list over the years?
B: Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Raney, Grant Green, Ed Bickert,
Kurt Rosenwinkle, Barney Kessel, Oliver Gannon, Joe Pass and Lenny
Breau. I've gone through phases over the years starting with George
Benson, then Wes and Charlie Christian. I was really knocked out
the first time I heard Sonny Greenwich play and I was recently impressed
with what Lorne Lofsky is doing on the guitar, having just heard
him in Toronto. I'm just getting into Kurt Rosenwinkle. I think
he's doing some very good stuff as a guitarist and as a composer.
K: What is it about the jazz genre specifically that compels you
to play jazz?
B: Everything about it except the hours and the pay... I became
hooked because of the totally fun challenge involved in making up
music on the spot. I also was drawn to the sound of jazz chords.
I had never heard sounds like that listening to blues players and
so I had to learn what was going on. Also, I've always loved making
music with other people. It's like an amazing conversation but better
and you get to share the musical interaction with the audience as
well. If I had to nail down one thing though, it would be the freedom
I feel when I play improvised music and the knowledge that learning
this music is a never ending journey.
K: Do you enjoy recording and live performing or is one more enjoyable
to you than the other?
B: Totally different experiences. It's like comparing analog and
digital...hmmm, let me rephrase that. I think nothing beats playing
live with people you love playing with, and to an audience that
is into it. I do however enjoy the amount of control you can have
in the studio, especially when you have some input in the project.
K: What is it about being a professional musician that you enjoy
B: Being able to sleep in. Staying up late. Hanging out with the
band after the gig, (especially on the road ). I'm being mostly
serious here. To sum it up: playing music and getting paid for it.
I was hooked the first time I ever got paid at a club. We made $20.00
each and then I got a traffic ticket on the way home!
K: What do you most dislike about your role as a professional musician?
B: I don't enjoy dealing with less than honorable club owners (luckily
I have met only a few who have been real jerks). I'm not really
fond of the "business" part of the music biz because it
takes me away from what I want to be doing. You know, listening,
practising and writing. However, I do believe that it's important
to acquire a certain amount of business chops if you're going to
pursue your own projects.
K: Are there certain things in your life that inspire you to create
your own compositions?
B: In no particular order: Unsolved questions, beautiful women,
musicians I have played with or heard, the beauty of nature. Then
again, sometimes a deadline is the best inspiration of all. My wife
Jill (a trombonist and arranger/composer in her own right) is a
constant source of inspiration and support to me.
K: Other than jazz are there other forms of music that you are
B: I have a soft spot for a lot of classical music, including Prokofiev,
Tchaikowsky, Bach, Ravel, Shostakovich, Barber, Ives and Stravinsky.
Now that it's the 21st century, I'm just getting into composers
of the 20th century. I've always loved the Beatles and guitarist
Eric Clapton as well.
K: If you were to create a dream group of hotshot musicians, who
would be some of the people in that group?
B: This may sound corny but the musicians in my trio are my dream
band; Darren Radtke, Dave Robbins as well as those that I like to
feature with the trio; Ross Taggart, Campbell Ryga, Mike Allen and
Brad Turner. They are all hotshots in the best sense of the word.
K: What is one of the most memorable concerts that you were ever
able to attend?
B: In recent memory 3 concerts come to mind. The Dave Douglas concert
at this years' Vancouver jazz fest, the Dave Holland concert the
last time they were in town and the Joe Lovano-Jim hall concert
at this year's Port Townsend jazz festival. They were all extremely
K: What is one of the most memorable concerts that you ever performed?
B: The concert I did last month with Oliver Gannon as part of the
White Rock jazz series "Jazz on the Peninsula". It was
a blast from start to finish but I haven't heard the tape yet so
perhaps I should reserve judgment. There have been others as well
that are not as fresh in my mind. The Nat King Cole tribute I did
with Denzal Sinclaire was fun every single night we performed (for
three weeks at the Stanley Theater).
K: Do you have a favorite composer or composers?
B: Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Lennon and
McCartney. Wes Montgomery writes great tunes that sit well on the
guitar. Also Shannon Thomson who is not well known around here (she
lives in Montreal) is an amazing composer. I'd have to include Bach
and Ravel in there as well.
K: Would there be one arranger in particular that you could say
that has influenced you in some of your arranging choices?
B: If I had to pick just one it would be Gil Evans. However I also
have to add Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Ellington, George Martin
and Neil Chotem.
K: Is there a teacher or mentor that you could name that you know
has made an impact on you in your life as a musician?
B: Once again I can't seem to limit myself to one! There are four
people that have really been there at the moment I needed them.
My mother, Iris Page was the first musical influence in my life.
She got me started on piano and has been my biggest fan ever since.
My good friend the multi-talented Andre White got me into jazz.
He asked me to join his jazz group and we played together in different
incarnations in that group for over 15 years. He is an incredible
person and musician. I was fortunate enough to be able to take lessons
from legendary guitarist Jim Hall over a period of a year and a
half (thank you Canada Council!). Meeting and playing with him continues
to inspire me today. Last but not least there is an incredible pianist
arranger composer named Neil Chotem who is originally from Saskatoon
but has lived most of his life in Montreal. He has created much
beautiful music for orchestra that defies category, most of which
has been documented by the CBC. I've studied with him on and off
for the past 8 or 9 years.
K: Do you enjoy practicing your instrument or does that ever become
a chore to you?
B: There are times when I simply don't have time to do much more
than warm up on the guitar which is okay but after a while no matter
how much I¹m playing I get the itch to do some woodshedding.
Practicing is fun when I can find the time, especially when I get
in a groove. If it becomes a real chore than I do something else
for a while and come back to it when I'm fresh.
K: Do you have a regimented practice routine or do you just fit
it in when you can in your busy schedule?
B: When I'm not playing a lot, I do have a practicing schedule
but it's pretty flexible. There is a general warm up I do that starts
out with very slow but focused playing and gradually increases in
speed. It's a good one because as well as getting your fingers warmed
up it also focuses your mind. After this I work on whatever I'm
trying to accomplish, be it repertoire or tempos or working on some
new solo ideas. I like to do some practicing away from the guitar
as well especially when I'm learning a new tune.
K: Is there any advice that you would give to person who believes
he/she would like to become a jazz musician, based on your own experiences
B: I think this is an important question and I always try to tailor
the answer to the person who is asking it. If I had to make a general
comment it would be to listen, listen, and then listen some more.
Find a good teacher and be aware that while a good teacher opens
doors, it's up to you to do the work. Keep at it and have some fun.
K: Are you glad to be living in Vancouver now or do you miss Montreal?
B: Montreal is a wonderful city. I feel very lucky to have lived
there. Great people, great food and a great vibe for such a big
urban area. There is a time for everything I guess and although
leaving Montreal was hard in some ways, it also felt like the right
thing to do. Vancouver is a great city for different reasons. To
have such extraordinary beauty surrounding a city is very unique.
Musically, there is a lot going on here and there are many great
musicians to play with and learn from. There is a tremendous amount
of mutual support amongst musicians in the city. I really appreciate
that aspect of the musical community.
K: If you were not able to be a musician for some unknown reason,
what would be another profession that you might enjoy?
B: I tried painting when I was younger and I enjoyed that. I also
thought at one point that I might try writing fiction. I like the
idea of creating stories and still enjoy reading literature.
K: What profession would you dislike above all others?
B: I've never thought that any profession was really distasteful.
I was brought up to find out where your heart is and go for it.
K: The guitar is your instrument. Is there another instrument you
have ever been interested in learning how to play? Do you in fact
play other instruments?
B: I started out on piano but I can't say that I play piano. I've
tried the trombone and bassoon just for fun but I didn't like the
way they made my lips feel! Several years ago I had a roommate,
Peter Wilson who was an upright bass player and I used to practice
his bass. I got to to the point where I could play about 2 choruses
of blues in Bb. I also messed around on the drums which was fun.
I think if it wasn't guitar, it would be another rhythm section
K: You are a professional performing musician, composer and arranger.
One of your other roles is that of teacher. Is that a role that
B: I have taught on a part time basis for much of my playing career
and I've had (and continue to have) my share of peaks and valleys
in my attitude towards teaching. I really enjoy seeing the light
bulb go on over people's heads and I like to see people getting
excited about playing music. I don't enjoy cracking the whip when
somebody's not putting any real effort onto it. I respond much better
as a teacher when I sense someone is really trying. I continue to
learn from interacting with students and as long as I feel that,
I will probably continue to do some teaching. As well as guitar,
I am teaching some private composition at Capilano College which
I find both challenging and rewarding.