July 29, 2009
Toronto Music Scene’s Tanya Bailey had a chance to chat with trumpeter Suresh Singaratnam who has worked with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and won numerous awards and scholarships for his playing. Here’s what he had to say.
I’m a trumpeter/composer from Toronto. I was born in Zambia, but moved to Toronto with my family when I was about two-years-old. I also studied at the Manhattan School of Music and so I spent about seven years in NYC when I moved there to attend MSM.
Jazz and classical music are the two genres of music that I feel most connected to. I grew up listening to the popular music of the years of my childhood and adolescence, but I grew to love jazz and classical music more as I become more involved with my study of the trumpet. Although I have a lot of respect for the most talented artists of "popular" music because of their ability to integrate melody, harmony, rhythm and poetry into music that touches so many people, I often find myself more interested in purely instrument works from the western classical and jazz traditions. Perhaps it is because I began my own serious study of music as an instrumentalist.
Who are some of your musical influences in Canada & abroad?
My main musical influence as a trumpet player has been Wynton Marsalis because of his ability to play both classical music and jazz with a unique authenticity. I’ve also come to respect deeply the man for his efforts as an educator and humanitarian. Other trumpeters who have influenced me are Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Maurice André, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Hakan Hardenberger, Niklas Eklund, Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, Chase Sanborn, and two phenomenal Canadian trumpeters who deserve far more credit and exposure than they are currently afforded: Norman Engel and Ingrid Jensen.
How has life been since your debut album Two Hundred Sixty One, Vol. 1.
Life has definitely been busy. The "261 Days" campaign I launched in April has become my main priority because of the responsibility I feel to the cause. I’ve also been busy practicing, composing and coordinating the artwork and liner notes for my jazz album: Lost in New York. I was also fortunate enough to record a new single with vocalist Gretchen Parlato and Toronto’s own Jamie Reynolds a couple weeks ago. It should be available on iTunes by the end of August.
Why did you name your Two Hundred Sixty One?
The original plan was to include 13 tracks on the album. I wasn’t satisfied with my performance on 6 of those tracks, so they were omitted. One of those tracks was a piece by Canadian composer Gary Kulesha that was composed 261 years after the opening selection by Johann Sebastian Bach. I thought a somewhat mysterious title for an album of trumpet music would help the album stand out [against] similar releases.
How did the jazz project Lost in New York occur?
Most of the music on that album was written for my undergraduate recital at the Manhattan School of Music. In my freshman year there, I attended a master class by vibraphonist/composer Stefon Harris where he mentioned how all the music on his first album was from his graduate recital. I remembered that and a few years later, as I had accumulated a collection of compositions that basically described my time in NYC. I decided it would be an appropriate theme for a debut release. I wrote “Temporal Incursions” and “Peripheral Fission” while I was enrolled in the Masters program at MSM and finally finished writing Fortress of Song a year or two after that.
I was confident that the compositions were at a level that was high enough to share with the world, but I was less convinced about my own abilities as an improviser. As I slowly decided which musicians I would use for this, I realized that I would never be happy with my own playing and I shouldn’t let that get in the way of recording this music. We rehearsed and recorded eight of the nine tracks on the album over a period of only five days. The level of musicianship the other band members brought to the project makes that time frame hard to believe when you listen to the recording. I knew we were doing something special after that first rehearsal.
I’m aware that the music industry is shifting towards "the single" again, because of digital distribution, so I wanted to be sure that this really was an album and not a collection of tunes. Every track tells part of the story of my time in New York. Every track leads to the next. This is an album one really should listen to in order to understand the progression.
What does the Trumpet mean to you?
The meaning of the trumpet has changed for me over the years. When I was in high school, it was something that I excelled at, and it was a great source of personal pride for me. It was also something that let me assert my independence throughout adolescence so I avoided things like drugs, alcohol, gangs, etc. I have strong suspicions about the rise in gang violence we’ve seen in Toronto having connections to the reductions in extra-curricular programs in public schools. When I was in high school, there was no time to get in trouble, we were too busy having fun in band or playing sports!
These days, the trumpet is part of a larger musical world for me. I’ve learned enough to find a more appropriate vehicle for expression in composition, but there’s still something about practicing and playing the trumpet that brings me a certain happiness I can’t really find anywhere else.
Where do you see yourself in the music scene in 10 years?
Speaking musically, in 10 years I’d like to be back in New York composing, performing and recording music I love with musicians I love to work with.
Are there any fellow trumpeters that you would love to work with and why?
A few years ago, I wrote an extended work for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. I have plans to expand that into an orchestral version and I would be honoured to have Wynton Marsalis play the trumpet part. I would love to record/perform with my old teacher Norman Engel and I would also love to record a big band album and hire some of my trumpet playing classmates from MSM like Ambrose Akinmusire, Phil Dyzack, and Jean Caze to play in that trumpet section.
Any last words?
Thank you for asking me to share my thoughts about music with you. If you would like to hear my music or learn more about me, please visit my website: www.whoissuresh.com
Photos from www.myspace.com/sureshsingaratnam