There’s a new kid in town taking the Jazz world by storm. And, as Thanksgiving quickly approaches, we have a new song, The Sweetest Moments, to celebrate the occasion. With a penchant for all things Sinatra and a 2022 JUNO nomination, Alex Bird is breathing new life into the Toronto Jazz community with his sophomore album, You Are the Light and the Way, written alongside his piano partner Ewan Farncombe.
We sat down with Alex to discuss growing up in the Jazz scene, – he’s been frequenting Jazz clubs since the age of two – learning from the greats, and the Thanksgiving song that has shaped his skyrocketing jazz career.
Tell us about your personal journey in the Canadian jazz scene
The past four years have been a whirlwind of hustling and getting myself out there. I’ve done a lot of developing, making new musical connections, growing with my songwriting, and learning from as many people as I can. If you want to do your best work you just have to surround yourself with the best. I was calling myself a jazz singer for a long time, but not doing anything about it, just singing at home, making youtube videos and such. It wasn’t until I met my partner Lola, and then the band at Vintage Prom that I got the kick I needed to start really going for it. It hasn’t been easy…I feel like I’ve been working twice as hard to make up for lost time. I’ve certainly received twice the rejection as well. Rather than let it get me down (for too long), I use it to boost my momentum. Why not? Seems like the sensible thing to do. You need a few special people and places to help you along the way, and I’ve had several help get me closer to my dreams. Part of me will always feel like an imposter though. I’m clearly making this up as I go along…
Who do you look up to in the jazz world?
Growing up going to jazz clubs, I was knocked out on a regular basis by so many artists. But, when I started singing in high school, the music of Frank Sinatra was probably my first real “wow” experience. I got my first MP3 player in high school from a cereal box, some no-name thing that held like 50 songs. I stacked that thing with all my Sinatra discoveries. He inspired my initial spark to sing, but then I fell into the music of Peggy Lee, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie, Sam Cooke, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, etc. Expanding a bit here…but my biggest influence in music came from discovering the music of Bobby Darin. He was terribly underrated and left us at the age of 37 in 1973. In his short time, he wrote about 200 songs and spanned musical genres from Rock ‘n Roll, Pop, Jazz, Folk, Country, and even Motown. If we’re talking about today, especially here in Canada, Caity Gyorgy is my favourite new singer/songwriter on our scene. She is a tremendous talent. Her upcoming album, Featuring, is out in November, add it your collection. Jon Baptiste is one of the biggest jazz artists to emerge in the last while, and I look up to his work a whole lot as well. But, then I look up to some people outside of the jazz world too. Billie Eilish is easily one of my favourite artists today. Also, super hip that she cites three of her biggest influences as Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Julie London.
When did you team up with the Jazz Mavericks?
It happened by chance. I was booked in 2018 as one of the Jazz singers for Toronto’s Vintage prom at The Great Hall. The band was already hired, and I was going to do a couple of numbers with them, and in that band, I met Ewen. It was kind of my first official gig performing with a band. Things took off from there and I started booking my first gigs with my own band. I was listed as The Alex Bird Quartet etc.. Later that year I was feeling inspired by band names from the Rock ‘n roll era, like Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and I thought we could use a name in that vein, instead of So and So’s Quartet. My partner Lola and I love the show The Mighty Boosh, a British show created by Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt. There’s a character, Howard Moon, who is a bit of a jazz nut, and calls himself a jazz maverick. Alex Bird and The Jazz Mavericks sounded good to us. Shortly after that, in early 2019, we recorded our first album Whisky Kisses.
How did you come up with the concept for your Thanksgiving song?
Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays, which is why I couldn’t believe it didn’t have a song, and why The Sweetest Moments happened in the first place. It’s a holiday full of laughter and special times. Here in Canada, it’s a different experience than American Thanksgiving. We’re far enough away from Christmas that there isn’t that added pressure. You just have to show up and share good times with family and friends. It’s celebrated by so many different people in many different ways too, there’s no one way to spend Thanksgiving. I just followed those sights, smells, and sounds of Thanksgiving, and then the song came out on its own. We wanted The Sweetest Moments to be a song that could both be timely, and timeless.
Why was creating a song specific to the Thanksgiving holiday important to you?
Because it was the one holiday Michael Bublé didn’t have a corner market on. He’s got Christmas locked down tight. Michael, can I have Thanksgiving? It’s been a while since we’ve been able to have a “normal” family gathering, complete with the big turkey on the table. Hopefully, this year brings that back for all of us. There’s a line in the song that I think particularly rings true, ” What’s lost can now be found, within a smile”. We’ve missed people, seeing people. Some of my favourite memories are from Thanksgivings throughout the years. Like the joy of hearing someone tell a story at the table, even if it’s one you’ve heard a hundred times. If I wasn’t writing my own songs right now, and finding my voice through that creative process, I don’t think I’d be having the same degree of positivity coming my way. I’m really trying to take this genre I love so much and do something unique and fresh with it, focusing on original sounds inspired by my many loves of different types of music.
Your music is now regularly played on the jazz station. How does that feel?
I grew up listening to Jazz FM; I remember staying up late and listening to it on my little bedside radio. To be in a position where I’m being played on that station and many more around the world is wild to me. It’s a truly special experience having our music reach new audiences and also resonate with them. In particular The Sweetest Moments. It has since been picked up by Think Turkey and made into a national campaign across the country. We’re very grateful and lucky to have that in the mix with everything else going on.
Bringing jazz to the next generation is important to you and the Mavericks. Tell us how jazz has evolved and your part in that.
I come from the perspective of The Great American Songbook, and all those classic tunes and singers. I want to keep that tradition going, but take it to new places with my songwriting. I guess you could say I’m blending elements of the old crooners with my love of jazz music and jazz musicians. I try not to think about it too much, and just try to make good music. I feel we’re headed in the right direction though, as a lot of the people who come to hear us are younger audiences. Jazz is many things to many people; with a rich history full of unique stories and rhythms. I’m not entirely sure what part I play, if any, in the grand scheme, but I know I have to stay true to myself to make a go of it.
Can you share with us what is coming up for you?
I’ve been writing a lot of new music, working on a couple of collaborations, and gearing up for some great gigs. We just debuted at The Kensington Market Jazz Festival on October 1st, and we opened up for The Jackson’s this past September at a charity event in Toronto. Looking ahead, I’ll be making my Montreal debut at Upstairs Jazz on October 7th, which I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. Really hope our new Thanksgiving tune keeps getting out there this holiday season.
If you take the time to listen to our music I sincerely hope you enjoy what we’ve got to offer. Means a lot!
Connect with Alex Bird and The Jazz Mavericks