“Singer and songwriter John Chiasson has been asked whether it's a challenge to sing, while playing the bass, as he does. Let alone, to play upright bass, and to underpin famous and delicate chord changes in the jazz idiom, where Cole Porter or George Gershwin sought to break your heart. Or, make you laugh.
John will tell you, no - best he can guess, it's no more a challenge than singing while playing the piano. Drummers, he points out, have the same independence of movement.
But there is a distinction: neither the upright bass, nor the voice, has a fret, or stop, on which to land a true note. Meaning that when he performs, John Chiasson has set and then met a high bar. The vocal line and bass part harmonize, one over the other, and sometimes, multiple octaves apart, it's a dazzling sonic effect to be both halves of, to be standing inside, as John is at those moments. He becomes personally stereophonic.
John grew up in Antigonish, and studied jazz at St. Francis Xavier University, long before the singing jazz upright bass player Esperanza Spaulding came to prominence. Fans of John's smooth baritone-plus-bass already had her Nova Scotia counterpoint. Before that, the best=known singing jazz bassist was Oscar Pettiford, way back in '60s New York City.
John has put true, low notes behind PEI legend Lenny Gallant, the stratospheric pipes of The Rankins, and beneath the fretless lilt of Natalie McMaster's fiddle. For Natalie, John has been a music director, that is to say, her band-leader and arranger, the person who runs rehearsals.
In those band roles John toured across Canada and to world stages like London's Royal Albert Hall. John lists Dave Early (then appearing with Rankin show headliner Mary Black) as a major influence on how he approaches music today. Looking back further John recalls the mentoring of his high school music teacher Ellen MacPherson, and the jazz instruction of Dexter Gordon quartet bassist, Rufus Reid. That St. F.X. cloister of jazz was in part founded by Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitous.
Now based in Halifax, John's trio plays for special events and regularly at Baton Rouge and many other venues across Nova Scotia; John and trio also provided expert framing for young phenoms like saxophonist Rob Crowell.
John admits that inspiration is a deep well - for him it starts with music in the house, played and encouraged by his parents, then with the arrival of a lead-singing bass player, Paul McCartney. John also mentions McCartney's apparent opposite in '60s music - the iconoclast composer, singer and bassist Charles Mingus, himself known for heart-rending chord changes, like those in Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.
John excels in ballad material of this kind, but the show with Crowell proves that John in small jazz band mode can swing it, blues it, and bop it, as necessary. Bearly's, where John held a Jazz residency, wound up sounding like a Riverside-label live record, made in a hipster cafe in Greenwich Village. John’s is not a retro act, anymore than it is a novelty one: he interpolates more recent pop tunes into his set, plus original material.
Before leaving the subject, John adds that most musical encounters he has had have been inspiring to him. The majority. In some sense, he says, every musician he has played with makes him want to keep going, to play more.
John re-formed the trio for work in 2018. Certainly someone in John’s audience will get intrigued with all this: the harmony he makes, and re-shapes, all the while interpreting the lyric - meaning, telling the story, and delivering the poetic pay-off of that last verse, whenever it comes. That’s another flow John has to maintain, like any lead vocalist.
This key refinement shows the purpose of all John’s effort, to carry a bass pattern, and to place the vocal phrases, which may spend quite bit of time separate, interlocking and interleaving one another.
John’s signature instrument is an unusual solid-body upright bass, nothing McCartney or Mingus could have had, in the day. This bass sounds sweet, and repels the Maritimes’ dry and damp spells, besides.
John Chiasson does just that. He and his music repel damp, with warmth.”
Andrew Gillis aka the Newsman-Bluesman (of Clan MacPherson please note)
The John Chiasson trio was formed in 1997 and includes Dave Staples on piano and Scott Ferguson on drums.
Dave Staples is a veteran East Coast performer and music educator and maintains a busy freelance career as a pianist, trombonist, composer and recording artist. Dave has performed and recorded with such artists and groups as Mike Murley, Rene e Rosnes, Kenny Wheeler, Kurt Elling, Omar Hakim, the Maritime Jazz Orchestra and Bicoastal Collective as well as numerous East Coast musicians and ensembles, including John Chiasson, Ian Janes, Scott and the Rocks, Mike Cowie, Latin Groove, the Blakey Project, the Mingus Project, the Horace Silver Tribute Band, the Halifax Trombone Summit, the Back Alley Big Band and his own Dave Staples Septet. In 1995, he received the East Coast Music Award (ECMA) with Jeff Goodspeed as Jazz Artists of the Year for their album release of “Eastern Passage”(CBC Productions) and is featured on the 2006 ECMA Jazz Album of the Year “Tom Roach: Piano Trios “(CBC Productions).
Dave taught instrumental music with the Halifax Regional School Board for over 30 years and is co-founder and director of the Nova Scotia Honour Jazz program, which has worked with talented students of jazz in Nova Scotia for the last 25 years. He has also served as a board member of JazzEast and was on the Canadian Executive Board of the International Association for Jazz Education as Newsletter Editor and Director of Communications from 2003 to 2008.
It was the fall of 1980 and this starry eyed 17 year old was leaving the family farm in Homeville, Cape Breton to be, of all things, a jazz drummer.
Graduating four years later with an honours degree in Jazz performance from ST. F.X., Scott Ferguson was well into pursuing his musical dreams and furthered his studies with renowned drum teacher Jim Blackley in Toronto, going on to perform with such Jazz greats as Oliver Jones, Peter Appleyard and Dave Young.
In 1992, Scott embarked on a thirteen year tenure touring and recording with “The Rankin Family” and “The Rankin Sisters. After hundreds of concerts in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, Scott started pursuing studio production and, inspired by his work with legendary Nashville producers George Massenberg and John Jennings, opened his Dartmouth studio “FMP Matrix” in 2001.
Since then Scott has engineered and produced over 150 full length albums, received over 20 industry nominations and was named Music Nova Scotia’s Studio Engineer of the year in 2016 and 2019.
John Chiasson Trio
Here In The Moonlihght
Here In The Moonlight
Set in the style of popular music of the 1930’s and 1940’s. The title track was #1 on the “Bravo Television Network Video Countdown”.
SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER
Copyright © 2020 John Chiasson