Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Although the tenor saxophone ranks second only to the trumpet in Barry Kernfeld's Instrumentarium of the most frequently played instruments in Jazz, it was an instrument without a lineage until Coleman Hawkins joined Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds in the early 1920s, codified a style with Fletcher Henderson's big band in the 1930s and became a mainstay of American popular culture in 1940 with his seminal recording of Body and Soul. Hawkins's mastery of tone and harmony, improvisatory ideas, rhythmic drive and swagger with the horn informed and shaped the tastes of a listening public for nearly a century. In turn, Hawkins inspired (to greater or lesser degrees) such saxophonists as John Coltrane, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Michael Brecker, all of whom have become nearly as influential as The Bean himself. A younger generation of saxophonists (Joel Frahm, Eric Alexander, Phil Dwyer and Grant Stewart) have formed their respective styles with more than a passing nod to many of the above-mentioned Jazz masters. Like Armstrong's trumpet vocabulary or Bing Crosby's singing, aspects of Hawkins's saxophone language (sometimes three or four generations removed and in highly variegated forms) is alive and well and living in the playing of many contemporary musicians. With so many top-drawer Jazz players gigging and recording today, new musicians walk a tight rope between honouring past performances and carving out their own place in Jazz history. Confident, musically mature and consistently swinging, twenty-eight year old Ryan Oliver has succeeded on both fronts with Convergence, his debut recording.
Born in Williams Lake, British Columbia, Oliver has been lighting up the bandstands of Canada's West Coast, Switzerland (Montreux Jazz Festival), Amsterdam (where he spent a year studying at the request of Misha Mengelberg) and Toronto since he was a teenager. Oliver is now a familiar face in many Toronto Jazz ensembles. As a single listening to Convergence makes clear, Oliver has synthesized his many influences into a coherent Jazz sound that is both reverential to his musical mentors and altogether sui generis. His unique musical voice caught the collective ear of many musicians, including bassist Dave Young, guitarist Pat Coleman and pianist Bernie Senensky, all of whom employ Oliver in their ensembles. Further, his unique voice distinguishes him from other Jazz saxophonists working in Toronto, Amsterdam and New York - three Jazz communities in which Oliver has participated. As the album's title rightly acknowledges, the lessons and influences of his various teachers and mentors (Coltrane, Gordon, Shorter, Rollins, Pat LaBarbera, Ralph Bowen, guitarist Pat Coleman and the aforementioned Dwyer) have converged into a singular improvisatory approach. The respective talents of Oliver and his well-chosen side musicians have similarly converged on this mixed program of standards and Oliver originals for a result that captures the immediately identifiable sound that is good Jazz music.