Ottawa Jazz Festival: It’s all about the freedom with the Joey Calderazzo Trio

Joey Calderazzo brings his trio to the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Winter Weekend.

Joey Calderazzo was studying classical piano as a kid but even then he liked to improvise while practicing Mozart. Over time, Joey started to get interested in the music of players like McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.

And then he visited his brother Gene, a jazz drummer, at the Berklee College of Music where Joey also met some guys who would become friends — guys named Branford Marsalis, Wallace Roney, Donald Harrison, and Jeff “Tain” Watts.

After that Joey dropped out of Long Island University and started to play jazz seriously. It was a good decision. Calderazzo is now considered one of the leading jazz pianists of his generation whether playing in Marsalis’s quartet or in his own trio.

This Sunday Calderazzo will bring his trio to Ottawa for a show during the Ottawa Jazz Winter Festival weekend. The trio includes
Orlando le Fleming (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums).

It’s a pretty busy life when you add in the fact that Calderazzo also teaches at North Carolina Central University and is the divorced father of a five year old son.

“For the most part things connect,” he said in a phone interview from Scottsdale, Arizona where he was touring, something he is often doing.

“Things were hectic from 1998 to 2005 because I was trying to do trio things and also touring with (saxophonist) Michael Brecker and with Branford. It was crazy then.

“But now I get some down time.”

Not sure Calderazzo’s version of downtime is the norm.

“Branford works out quite a bit. I am right now touring with him. I’m back with from  Feb. 14 through 20 and then from Feb. 27 to March 19 and then  April 2 to 14. It’s pretty busy. Then I’m off May, June and July Most of August and September. Now I’m scrambling to fill in that period of time.” Then he’s back on the road with Marsalis most of next fall and winter.

“It’s a lot.”

He considers his trio “my outlet.”

“We just play. It’s all about playing. I have figured out a way to pretty much do it. Whether for 50 people or 5,000 people, it still has same thought process. We are just going to go out there and play. There is no set list. There is a freedom in the trio that I like.

“It is harder to do in the quartet with Branford, although there is a lot of freedom there. The quartet  has a new record coming out March 1, so we have a show and we have a set list.”

There isn’t a lot of difference in Calderazzo’s approach to playing in the trio and the quartet.

“In the trio, I take more chances.”

It’s usually all improv with two guys he trusts.

But, “there are songs. I play a song based on Charlie Parker’s Confirmation. There is a vamp I play that has been everything from boogie to a new Orleans type vamp to a more modal vamp. There have been nights where I just solo on the song.”

Or he reacts to the song played before and takes a new direction with his riff on Confirmation.

“I did this song before, so I am going to play it like this. I may feel like experimenting on the vamp. It’s things like this.

“We have a way of playing together so that it doesn’t matter what the song is. The communication of the trio is what it is about. The songs are just sort songs for us to do what we do.”

Even after a couple of decades steeped in jazz, Calderazzo still credits his classical training.

“I think I learned the fundamentals with eight years of classical studies. I learned how to play the piano properly I believe and that is important, without a doubt.

“What it helped me mostly with is the sound that I have achieved in terms of volume, clarity and the quality of tone and the precision of it. I like the quality of tone. Some guys when they try to play loud what ends up happening is the harder they play the thinner the sound can get.”

There are also hints of classical in his music too.

“There are chords and voicing that I have completely lifted from Ravel and Brahms. I’m not the first to do that. Herbie did it. Chick Corea does and many others. It’s there to be done, so why not do it.”

In Ottawa, because the show is between tour dates and is what he calls a one-off, “I’m gonna play the songs the guys know. … I just want it to be fun and easy and for the guys to enjoy the song and not have to worry.”

When Calderazzo lands in Ottawa he’ll have just finished a trip to Brazil, a country he loves and just after the show he’s on the road. No rest for the weary piano player.

Joey Calderazzo Trio
TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
Where: La Nouvelle Scène Studio A
When: Feb. 9 at 9 p.nm.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.