If you have lived in Ottawa and seen jazz in the last ten or more years, chances are you have heard both Mike Tremblay and Mark Ferguson before. Both Mike and Mark are incredibly talented musicians, the definition of "pro's"- able to adapt to any situations, play brilliant solos, read down anything the first time... if you need someone to sound great, these guys are the ones to go to!
Mike Tremblay, besides being one of the city's most in demand educators (virtually every saxophonist that has come out of Ottawa to go on to a professional career has studied with Mike), Mike is one of the most in demand saxophonists himself. With flawless technique, and a fluid vocabulary, Mike has appeared on many recordings and hundreds of shows, clubs, bands.
Mark Ferguson is a pianist, a trombonist, a composer and an arranger - and he could be solely each one of those professionally. The amazing thing is that he does all those on the highest level. He has played Trombone with Holly Cole; he has played piano with Sheila Jordan; he has arranged for the National Arts Center Orchestra; and he composes songs for all situations. Mark has played with Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Gil Evans, and the list goes on.
The duo has recorded a fabulous CD called HOME and tomorrow, you will get the treat of hearing both of these artists in their element, playing their own music, with a superb band:
Mike Tremblay - saxophones
Mark Ferguson - piano, trombone
John Geggie - bass
Charles Gay - drums
I asked Mark some questions and he was kind enough to answer them:
You are an incredibly talented trombonist, pianist, composer and arranger – all pretty much with equal strength. Is there one of the above that you feel is your main form of expression?
My musical life began at the age of 7 with classical piano lessons. When I began playing the trombone in grade 8, it quickly became my passion. I think it was the thrill of playing in a band and making music with others that really drew me in. Practicing the piano was such a solitary activity. When I moved to Toronto at the age of 20, I didn't tell anyone that I played piano because I wanted to concentrate on the trombone. Eventually I was drawn back to the piano and have played both instruments professionally for many years.
I've always composed music and couldn't stop myself even if I wanted to. I also really enjoy arranging. It doesn't really matter to me what genre of music it is - writing an arrangement is like doing a puzzle that has to be solved and it can be exciting to hear the finished product. (It can also be very humbling!)
Although I sometimes feel that I've spread myself too thin, I think I'd get bored being a specialist and doing only one thing.
This is a personal project for you with Mike Tremblay… do you approach this project from any particular angle or inspiration?
Mike's my best friend and a very empathetic guy. I love his sound and his approach to the horn. When we play together it feels very conversational and there's never any showboating or clash of egos. We're very similar in our approach to music and life in general. We're not in a particular hurry and there's no need to play a thousand notes per chorus.
With a clear ability to express yourself musically in just about any situation, could you share with us any thoughts on composition (for this group for instance or in general)?
I'm not breaking any new ground when I compose. I try to come up with strong melodies and interesting harmonies that are fun to improvise on. I have to remind myself to simplify. Silence in music is beautiful but it can be scary. The tendency is to try to fill all the spaces with notes and I'm always working on making my music less busy and making sure that every note means something. Miles Davis is my favourite musician and I love the way his music breathes. Less is more.
You have had the opportunity to work with many incredible artists, is there any experience that stands out?
There are a few experiences that stand out:
1) Playing trombone with Ella Fitzgerald and sitting beside Bobby Durham's hi-hat. Every night Ella's encore was "I've Got a Crush on You" which she performed with just her trio. I would put down my horn and luxuriate in the sound of her voice and thank the gods that I had the opportunity to be there.
2) Meeting and playing with two of my favourite arrangers, Gil Evans and Nelson Riddle.
3) Playing with one of my heroes, Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass.
4) Performing with Holly Cole at the Blue Note club in Tokyo.
5) Playing two nights with Sheila Jordan - a beautiful and inspiring musician.
What are you most inspired by as an artist these days? Is there any music you are excited about?
I'm really enjoying teaching university classes, adjudicating festivals and doing workshops. It's encouraging to see young musicians getting excited about the music that has inspired me.
Lately I find myself listening mostly to pianists. Some that I've loved for years (Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Ahmad Jamal, Keith Jarrett, Roland Hanna, Mulgrew Miller, Marc Copland) and some who I've more recently discovered (Edward Simon, Larry Goldings, Brad Mehldau, etc.).
I also listen a lot to the music of Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Scriabin, Silvestrov and others.
Here is a video of both Mike and Mark playing with Peter And The Wolves
Mike Tremblay & Mark Ferguson Quartet will be performing
Feb 3rd at
NAC's Fourth Stage