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Gary Schwartz hasn't let go of his dream and it's paid off

Alumnus and music instructor launches CD of award-winning jazz performance
January 16, 2013
By Louise Morgan

Gary Schwartz | Photo credit: Michel Verreault

The past 18 months have been good to Gary Schwartz.

The Montreal jazzman, alumnus and Concordia instructor won the prestigious Opus Award in 2012 for Jazz Concert of the Year for The Music and Influence of Ornette Coleman, performed with his 11-member band, LETTINGO.

Four Concordia alumni took part in the project: Nicolas Caloia and Schwartz’s former students Claude Lavergne, Josh Zubot and Evan Tighe.

Schwartz, a part-time instructor in the Department of Music, will build on that success with the launch of his second CD, LETTINGO LIVE: The Music and Influence of Ornette Coleman.

The project stemmed from Schwartz’s years of extensive research on the work and techniques of Ornette Coleman, a groundbreaking American musician recognized as a founding father of the free jazz movement of the 1950s and 60s.

“Coleman changed the way people play jazz. It’s about what happens with the spontaneity of the music when the guidelines are loosened,” says Schwartz, a guitar player, composer and arranger. “Ornette is over 80 years old and still doing it!”

Recorded at La Sala Rossa in January 2011, Schwartz’s concert CD features original Coleman tunes and two of Schwartz’s own compositions inspired by the jazz great. The concert was broadcast on CBC Radio 2’s The Signal.

Schwartz also held two sold-out performances of LETTINGO at La Chapelle Scene Contemporaine in 2010, and appeared at the Jazz Pour Japon relief concert at the Rialto Theatre. Performances supported by the Montreal Arts Council will take place at several Maisons de la Culture in February and March 2013.

The production and launch of the LETTINGO CD were funded through a grant from the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA).

“I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to CUPFA. Without them, I don’t think this project could have kept going. There comes a point where I couldn’t keep investing my own money and the financial support from the Special Projects Grant makes a real difference,” says Schwartz.

“Gary is a wonderful musician and teacher who has dedicated endless hours, days and years to both teaching and his music practice. Last year he received a number of very prestigious awards and CUPFA wanted to follow up on this by honouring him,” says Lorraine Oades, CUPFA vice-president, Professional Development.

Comparing CDs to business cards in the music world, Schwartz hopes the new CD may open doors on the festival circuit.

Schwartz’s first CD, Public Transport Project, featuring a jazz quintet, was released in 2006.

Concordia roots
A young psychology student at Sir George Williams University in the late 1960s, Schwartz left school to focus on playing music on the local club scene. Since childhood, however, he had dreamt of going to music school. So when Concordia launched the music program, becoming the first university in Canada to offer jazz-based education, he came home to Concordia and has never really left. “After many years playing the club scene, arguing with club owners in places like Sault Ste. Marie and Saint-Tite, coming to school to study music felt like I was on vacation, doing what I loved,” he says.

He earned a BFA in music in 1977 and the following year, was offered a part-time teaching position. He currently teaches jazz ensemble, improvisation, theory and guitar.

Schwartz has kept a busy schedule throughout the years, working in organ trios, big bands, pop, blues, ethnic and funk bands. He has even played with one of his childhood heroes, the late James Brown. He has worked on numerous musicals, including Les Miserables, Chicago, Showboat and Evita. In 2012, he performed with the operatic pop group Il Divo in Ottawa and Montreal.

“The beauty of music is that it erases social barriers and allows us to connect at very deep levels,” he says. “It is incredibly satisfying to share this experience with former students.”

What:  Schwartz’s CD launch
When: Monday, January 28. Doors open at 8 p.m.
Where: La Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent Blvd., Montreal. Admission is free.

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