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Mount Royal nominee jazzes up the Junos

There is an old adage that says, “those who can’t do, teach.” For Jim Brenan, chair and associate professor of the department of Theatre Speech and Music Performance, that’s not quite the case.

Sax player
Jim Brenan is looking forward to attending the 40th annual Juno Awards in Toronto as a nominee.

Brenan believes that those who teach should still ‘do.’ And Brenan definitely still ‘does.’

What Brenan ‘does’ is play tenor saxophone — and he plays it well. He recently played on each track of Earl MacDonald’s album Re:Visions, Works for Jazz Orchestra, which has been nominated for a 2011 Juno award in the Traditional Jazz Album of the Year category (Our First Set: John MacLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra Exquisite was the winner eventual winner inn that category). The Juno Awards were broadcast across Canada, March 27 from Toronto.

“We’re really close friends and went to grad school together at Rutgers University,” Brenan says of MacDonald.

MacDonald is a Canadian jazz pianist, composer and educator who is currently the director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut.

A teaching and learning experience

Brenan says he was humbled by the experience of having to lay down tracks and solos without the opportunity to take any “swipes” at them — meaning he didn’t have the opportunity to polish any of his efforts like some of the more accomplished and well-known artists who played on the album did.

“I didn’t get that opportunity, so when I talk to students I tell them this is your moment, you have to be prepared to go first,” Brenan says.

The experience is something he makes his students aware of in class. “You know what, this might be your only chance and when it’s done it sort of evaporates … you’re either going to make an impression or you’re not, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing it or it should at least encourage you to keep doing it.”

Brenan says his students appreciate knowing that their teachers are active professionals.

“I think the students want to brag about their teachers and it helps them feel more valid about what they’re doing … If they were studying music and we weren’t out there performing, they’d be like well why are we doing it?” says Brenan.

It’s a family affair

Brenan joined a full roster of talented musicians who contributed to Re:Visions.

“The band is made up of heavy New York jazz musicians,” says Brenan. “It’s all New Yorkers except myself and my brother.”

Brenan’s identical twin brother Craig plays trombone.

They often perform together as The Brenan Brothers and have started their own record label.

In fact, the album “Re:Visions” was recorded on their label, called Death Defying Records.

“Record labels are so dumb … we just did it because we wanted to establish some legitimacy,” says Jim. “All of a sudden we got this Juno nod on our record label so other record companies are contacting us.”

More to come

Brenan says that he plans to make more music with MacDonald moving forward.

“Earl and I have know each other since ’92 and I was the best man at his wedding and we’re close pals … we constantly do projects together,” Brenan says.

“It’s a very valid project … and it’s nice to be recognized because it is very difficult to be recognized in this industry if you’re not from Toronto … to get a nomination like this is pretty big.”

Fred Cheney, March 24, 2011