Leading up to the launch of the Burgundy Jazz interactive documentary in June, this series of interviews aims to reach out to key members of Montreal’s jazz and interactive communities. We chatted with Montreal-based Saxophonist and composer Erik Hove about the contemporary jazz scene in Montreal and connections to previous generations of musicians.
How did you first get into jazz?
I came from a musical family, and started playing saxophone in highschool because it seemed like one of the “cooler” band instruments. I was lucky to have a good band program and great teacher who inspired a lot of enthusiasm amongst the students and pushed us to enter competitions. It was a great way to build confidence, as I went from writing a short solo in Concert band to improvising in the Stage band.
What drew you to Montreal?
Growing up in Kamloops, I initially began my university studies closer to home at the University of Victoria, but quickly realized that it wasn’t the best place to develop as a jazz musician. I was drawn to McGill, which at the time in the early nineties, was one of the few Canadian university granting a full degree in Music, which was an important criteria for my parents. I immediately fell in love with Montreal. There’s something unique in North America about it, I liked hearing conversations in two languages as I walked down the street. It’s cosmopolitan but small enough to have a good quality of life, you can walk most places, and the rents are still reasonably low.
You’ve also lived in New York, how did that compare?
Montreal has a vibrant jazz scene, but there’s a certain disconnect between jazz and the population at large. Whereas in New York, there’s more of a general interest in it, people have a greater appreciation and knowledge of jazz as being an important defining characteristic of the city. I studied with Blue Note recording artist Greg Osby for a year and a half, then stayed in New York for a number of years afterwards playing with my band Soundclash. But Montreal always felt like home, so I was glad to come back.
You’re known for playing and composing more experimental contemporary jazz; what would you say the connection is between the artsists from the golden age of jazz in Montreal, and what you’re doing today?
It may seem like a very different musical form, but it’s absolutely not disconnected from previous generations. I see my music as following in a tradition of improvisation and experimentation, which is a constant in jazz. It’s always been a highly innovative practice of pushing boundaries, a mix of individual and community-based expression, of finding your voice. The phrasing in my music is also derived from a swing rhythmic undercurrent, playing overtop in a way that’s rooted in bebop language. In fact, I still practice jazz standards in jam sessions and consider it to be a strong part of what I do. On a practical level, I also went a lot of great jam sessions at Biddles as an undergrad McGill student, so we were always aware of this tradition of great Montreal jazz musicians that preceded us.
How do you see the future of jazz evolving in Montreal?
I imagine it will continue as it has always been for the last little while. One of the things that I’ve always liked about Montreal is its experimental bent, with active scenes in free music, musique actuelle, or contemporary classical. There’s more overlap between genres and an openness here to more esoteric or experimental types of jazz. There’s also support and appreciation amongst different genres of musicians. One of my current projects actually involves working with a mix of classical and jazz musicians: a small contemporary chamber ensemble, a jazz rhythm section, accompanied by myself and a trumpet player, as part of my Jazz performance Masters at McGill. I’ve been lucky to have made a living mainly as a musician for the last eight years or so, and I think part this success has been due to this pluralistic view and an openess to playing and working with other types of music.