Mike Field: “when I hear a melody, I feel a responsibility to write it down and play it for the world”

Mike Field is a complete powerhouse. His ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach to jazz allowed him to create a signature sound, a dense and multi-layeredcombination of swing, hard-bop, latin and balkan influences, to name but a few elements, bursting with energy and unabashed fun. The Canadian trumpeter is currently in Australia – and playing in Melbourne, at the Paris Cat, which makes fora perfectexcuse for an interview, in which he shares his insight on Canadian jazz and describes how 9/11 kickstarted his career.

AustralianJazz.net: What would you say to someone to make them come to your gigs?

Mike Field: If you havent heard us play before, youre definitely going to be surprised in a good way! Our music is really fun, energetic and danceable, and no previous knowledge of jazz is required. You wont have any trouble following along, youll actually find the melodies really catchy, the stories behind the music hilarious and entertaining. We get lots of people saying we dont normally like jazz, but we loved that! And of course, if youre a die-hard jazz fan, youll love the virtuoso playing and nods to great jazz masters like Count Basie and Thelonious Monk.

AJN: Who is your ideal listener?

MF: The ideal listener is someone who just wants to have fun hearing fresh new music. Jazz fans enjoy quotes from familiar tunes. Trumpet players recognize familiar tude lines, incorporated musically into jazz melodies.Some audiences cant resist jumping up to dance. Others stay in their seats and listen intently, hanging off every note. No matter what, we enjoy any type of audience and usually everyone at least taps their toes while listening.

AJN: Jazz is a universal language, but do you think there’s something that differentiates Canadian jazz?

MF: Jazz and Canada? I think of Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, Michael Bubl, Rob McConnell and holy cow, a whole bunch more. We have a great history of jazz. But in terms of what makes us different, Id turn to the jazz scene in each of our cities. To start, my hometown of Toronto is a very cosmopolitan city where youre constantly immersed in dozens of different languages, cultures and ethnicities. Its a mix of the entire world. And so is our music! Some of my tunes, for example, are straight-ahead swing, while others are Latin and Eastern European. Ill even sing in different languages. Because Canada itself is so multicultural, our music reflects this. As another example, some friends of mine who mainly played Latin jazz are now integrating Middle Eastern sounds into their new works. Some other friends who are Qubec-based focus more on French influences in their jazz compositions. To be Canadian is to be a mix of cultures from around the globe, and thats exactly what our jazz music is. For me, at least.


AJN: You combine all sorts of elements, sub-genres and influences in your music. How deliberate is this?

MF: It isnt intentional, it just comes out like that. I just hear new melodies in my head. I think its such a wonderful thing that humans have the capacity to hear music, to make music and to play music. So when I hear a melody, I feel a certain responsibility to write it down and to play it for the world. Thats why Im doing what Im doing. I just let come out what wants to come out. If it comes out Latin, then so be it. If it comes out klezmer, then thats totally cool too.

AJN: How did you find your voice as an artist?

MF: In 2007, I started a PhD in computational linguistics in Spanish at the University of Toronto. I was really unhappy and stressed out, and at the same time I started playing jazz-standard gigs in Toronto. As I was preparing set lists for these gigs, I felt like writing a few of my own tunes and started incorporating them into the sets. Once I opened this creative tap to let the music come out, I realized there was a lot of stuff in there that wanted to pour out, and pour out fast. So after a year of intense reflection, I decided to quit the PhD and see what else was dying to come out. As long as I let the thoughts flow like a stream of consciousness, I know the music is honest and genuine. The key then becomes to articulate very specifically in musical terms what it is I hear in my head. Thats a constant challenge, and another story on its own.

AJN: Who are your heroes?

MF: Thats an easy one. Louis Armstrong because of the happy vibe in all his music. Chet Baker because of his coolness. Clifford Brown for his amazing tone. Wynton Marsalis for his precision and technicality. Louis Jordan for his upbeat-ness and silliness. Django Reinhardt for his awesome gypsy sounds. Oscar Peterson for his quintessential jazz sound.

AJN: How did you get into jazz?

MF: I moved to NYC on September 11, 2001 (yes, THAT September 11) with no plans to play music, but instead just get a day job. But because of what happened that day, the city was of course paralyzed and no one was hiring. So I had nothing to do. I did have my trumpet with me and thought, Well, Ive always wanted to study jazz and this is a pretty good place to do it! So I practiced my butt off, applied to schools and entered a Masters of Jazz Performance and NYU. I did that until I ran out of money, which wasnt much more than a year because hey, its New York and insanely expensive. But I learned enough to know whats going on and to write my own music. It still took me four years to start playing professionally and a couple more still to start composing.

I studied classically growing up, but found it really stressful because of the pressure to play perfectly. I saw jazz as the complete opposite, where imperfection is celebrated and becomes part of ones style. Plus, jazz just seemed like a lot of fun. The grooves, the happiness in Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordans music, and watching people swing dance it all just seemed like a party. Once I started studying jazz though, I realized theres just as much pressure to play a certain way (a different pressure from classical music, but pressure nonetheless). I immediately decided it was silly to take life and music so seriously and thought instead, hell, Ill play the music I want the way I want and any mistakes I make are all on me and Im the only one who decides if Im comfortable making them. Now, I just want to get the music out thats inside me, and to play it as well as I can. Ill always strive to play better, technically.

AJN: What is your main aspiration?

MF: I have three:

1) To affect as many people with my music as I can

2) To keep writing down all the melodies that come to me

3) To do this as long as it keeps making me happy

AJN: Which song best describes your current state of mind?

MF: One Time in Tibet. Its a song inspired by the time I ran into someone in the Himalayas who turned out to live five blocks away from me in Toronto. The world is a really small place and you never know who youre going to run into. The key though is to leave the front door, and suddenly you have unexpectedly amazing adventures.

Mike Field will perform at Paris Cat on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 February.