Saxophonist Kirk MacDonald has been an active player on the Canadian jazz scene, having appeared on over 40 albums as leader or sideman. For the past four or five years, he’s often been accompanied by his daughter Virginia, a clarinettist.
Currently touring India, the father and daughter duo will wind up their desi sojourn with a show in Mumbai this weekend. The two will be accompanied by Neil Swainson on bass and Morgan Childs on drums. “About 60 per cent of our concert will consist of my original compositions. The balance will be standards and some popular new tunes,” says MacDonald. “I’ve been playing with this quartet for a few years now, and we connect well musically,” he adds.
Honing improve skills
MacDonald grew up listening to saxophonists like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Lester Young, and later developed a following for Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Lee Konitz. “I was also lucky to play with known musicians from different regions, and though many of them were one-off collaborations, they helped me widen my horizons and hone my improvisational skills,” he says.
A high point in MacDonald's career was winning the 1999 Juno Award for Best Mainstream Jazz Album for his recording ‘The Atlantic Sessions’. “They are like the Grammys of the jazz world. So you can imagine my delight,” he says. The proud father says he was delighted to see Virginia's interest in jazz from an early age. “I guess it came naturally, given the environment at home and the fact that she regularly attended my shows. But I never played the role of teacher, though I was always ready to guide her. From the beginning, she had a wonderful sense of melody,” he adds.
Carrying on tradition
Virginia, now 25, began learning music at the age of seven. She elaborates, “I went to the community music centre, and I loved the time of the clarinet. And though my early influences were similar to my father, including Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, I was never keen on pursuing the saxophone as a career.”
Besides the older generation of jazz musicians, she listens to contemporary artistes. She explains, “It was a natural inclination, and it’s important for me to follow what others of my age are doing. I also listen to many female artistes, to understand how they think musically, and how they approach composing.”She cites American pianist Carla Bley and young Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana as among big influences.
Though the clarinet was very popular from the 1930s to the 1950s, thanks to artistes like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Jimmy Giuffre, it was played only by a few musicians later. Virginia says, “It's hard to explain why, but I guess some instruments have their time, and they come in and go out.” She says the relationship with her father has been very special, “On the one hand, he is a parent, and he fulfills that role. But when we’re rehearsing or playing in bandstands, our collaboration is just like any other group of musicians.”
Kirk MacDonald “Generations” Quartet featuring. Virginia MacDonald will perform at the Experimental Theatre NCPA on March 8 at 7 p.m.; more details at bookmyshow.com