Pianist Andy Milne brings his trio to Chicago featuring John Hebert on bass & Clarence Penn on drums, Friday June 24th at 7:30pm. We talked with Milne about his latest recording, his early studies with Oscar Peterson and much more during this Q & A session.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Your upcoming performance at Epiphany Center for the Arts (201 S Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL) on June 24th marks the first time you are back in Chicago since winning the Juno Award in 2021 for your recording “The reMission”. Can you tell us how the concept of the recording came about and the significance of the music?
Andy Milne: For several years, I had close musician friends urging me to make a trio recording. I avoided following through on their suggestion mainly because I kept finding myself prioritizing following through with existing or other new creative opportunities. The piano trio in jazz is such a formidable configuration that I think I was hesitant, out of concern that I might not be ready. In 2017 I had a life changing cancer diagnosis that required me to rethink many things in my life and I guess deciding to finally form a trio came from those experiences. The recording is really my artistic reflection of the pathway and thoughts that occupied that journey between 2017 and 2019.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: We are always curious to hear how you are able to separate your role as a composer of the music and your role playing the composition. Is there a process you go through once the recording is complete?
Milne: Once the recording is complete, I usually forget about it for a couple of months but in this case, I’ve had over two years. I think I my process for approaching live performance has in some ways, always been influenced by my compositional mind. There are generally decisions and outcomes that occur in the studio that I really savor but in order to keep the music fresh, I have to continue exploring the possibilities of the music when returning to it for live performance.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Over the years you have performed, recorded and toured with many different national and international artists such as Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Alessi, Carlos Ward and Carla Cook to name a few. In addition, you are an assistant professor of music at The University of Michigan. and the Assistant-Director at The School for Improvisational Music. However reading your bio we noticed you also studied with the legendary Oscar Peterson. Can you talk about how that relationship came about and what you might have learned from him that you continue to utilize today?
Milne: Studying with Oscar came in two phases really. The 1st phase came long before I met him, as he is undoubtedly the main reason why I gravitated towards playing this music. Growing up as a young black kid in Canada and discovering the towering magnificence of him as a renown cultural treasure, was very inspirational. Phase two came when I learned he was associated with the program at York University in Toronto. Generally my encounters were during ensemble rehearsal but Oscar helped me understand that a pianist’s sound isn’t in the piano but in their hands and their ears and head. Unknowingly, he also taught me to develop my sense of confidence, but one of the main things he articulated was that one needs to completely learn a piece of music. All of these things are essential tools for me today. I recently had the opportunity to perform at a ceremony in Toronto, honoring the renaming of an iconic music school, in his name. It was a huge honor to be associated with his legacy in this way.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Let’s talk about the upcoming performance at Epiphany Center for the Arts, who is performing with you on June 24th?
Milne: I’ll be performing with my trio Unison with John Hebert on bass & Clarence Penn on drums. These gentlemen are consummate sonic architects, with a keen sense of groove, adventure, and form. They are both fearless improvisors so there’s never a risk of things becoming stale. I love playing with them.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What repertoire can people expect to hear?
Milne: We’re just beginning our North American tour so most likely we’ll be performing material from “The reMission”, although we’ll perhaps have started to work in, some of the new material we’ll be recording at the end of the tour. I’d say generally, original material, but with an emphasis on lyricism, sound, groove and spontaneity. Might sneak in a familiar jazz standard or two as well.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What is the best way for our readers to learn more about you and hear the new recording ahead of the performance?
Milne: Probably my web site andymilne.com. I have plenty of videos, audio samples and reviews organized by project for people to get familiar with my work. I’m on social media platforms but I’m not super active so my web site is probably a good place to start.