Showcasing his tremendous musical skills, drummer Karl Schwonik will be heading to The Hub July 14. Performance time for the evening, which is sponsored by the L’ACFA (Association Canadienne Francaise de L’Alberta, is 7 p.m.
It’s been an exciting season for Schwonik, as his quintet’s latest CD, the exquisitely crafted 1+4, was recently nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award (Jazz Recording of the Year).
The Karl Schwonik Jazz Ensemble with Montreal saxophonist Rémi Bolduc is indeed an engaging combination of five of North America’s finest musicians. Rounding out the group are pianist Chris Andrew, virtuoso Chicago trumpeter James Davis and bassist Kodi Hutchinson.
Capturing the magic of live performances for the CD meant merging such raw singular talents in a singular fashion. The guys pulled it off admirably, with the CD brimming will all kinds of catchy, polished musical gems.
Working alongside such remarkable talents certainly suits Schwonik.
“In terms of the music, it’s definitely a very collaborative approach with this group,” he explains during a recent chat.
The quintet wrapped successful tours of Alberta over the past couple of years which focused on towns with larger Francophone populations, and were received with loads of energy and large audiences across the board.
For Schwonik, music in general and jazz in particular offer the best means of self-expression.
“There is such freedom in jazz to create something new for every piece,” he explains. “I’m free to bring as much creativity to every song as I can. It’s liberating.”
Schwonik, who is visually impaired, grew up in rural Alberta where he was exposed to musical influences ranging from polka tunes to jazz. His folks got him started with violin lessons early on, although he never really took to the instrument.
In Grade 5, band was compulsory at his Wetaskiwin school so he opted to take up percussion. Immediately, he knew he had found the right instrument for him and asked his parents if he could take drum lessons. But they still had their heart set on the violin, he adds with a laugh. Initially they even suggested that if he wanted to take drum lessons, he’d have to pay for them himself. But it all ended up to be just the right thing.
Like the genre of jazz itself, playing drums offers plenty of opportunities for improvisation. “I love the freedom that is part of playing the drums.”
When he was fresh out of high school, he hit the road with two-time Canadian Country Music Award nominee Heather-Dawn. This was followed by an invitation to study at the Banff Centre where Schwonik was the youngest artist ever to be a part of the long-term career residency program.
The accolades have been plentiful since — Schwonik was named one of Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2009 by Avenue magazine. He also enjoys sharing his skills with emerging musicians — he recently become the president of the Wetaskiwin Jazz Society and artistic director of the Wetaskiwin Jazz Camp.
It’s a meaningful event for Schwonik, who relishes the opportunities to share his skills with the up-and-comers.
“The camp is amazing – it’s a very exciting time,” he says. “There is also such a strong sense of community in Wetaskiwin, and there are lots of people engaged in the arts for it being quite a small community.”
In demand internationally as a guest artist and instructor, Schwonik has taught at more than 200 schools and post-secondary institutions. He regularly lectures on a range of topics in jazz, music business and artists coping with disabilities.
He’s just happy to be able to share his passion with others – even on those days when he’s feeling a bit road weary. No matter. Once Schwonik hits the stage, he’s infused with an electric energy and gives it his all.
When you spend your life making music, there really are no limits, he points out.
“I definitely get quite excited about things that are new – I love playing new places, performing with new musicians and recording albums.”
He also couldn’t have picked a better genre to dive into. “I love the emotion that comes out of it.”
For tickets and more information, contact the L’ACFA office at 403-986-4350. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.