A TRUE HALIFAX LOVE STORY - Mike Cowie
Musicians are drawn to each other by their sounds. It is spiritual. They hear a musical voice and harmonize with their own. There is a communication that transcends spoken words and actions, a beautiful language that knows no evil. Some can speak it, all can understand it. Musicians give to each other and to the music, and then give the music to the audience.
The great Halifax musicians are world-class players who have the talent and commitment to create their own sound and personality with a musical instrument. They make the music sound beautiful, deep, intense and soulful. When you play with them, they make you sound better. It is profound making music with these people, and it is why I love it here!
When I was 16, I was told there was some good jazz at the popular Middle Deck Lounge, so
I snuck in to hear it. The sound of the music went into my body like a clap of thunder. BANG! I remember being completely awestruck as I introduced myself to the musicians after the set. I told them I played the trumpet in my school jazz band. They told me to come back with my horn and sit in. The next weekend I did, and that turned into a three-year mentorship where I would play with them and they would tell me how to make it better. It was never technical. Sometimes it was painful. Stuff like “work on your sound,” “learn the melody,” “play less notes,” “take your time,” “play off of what we are doing.”
Heady stuff for a 16-year-old.
I went off to college, toured in Canada and the U.S., and worked as a musician while living in Toronto, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago. Those great Halifax musicians gave me the foundation to build my career on. If you're playing in a biker bar in Cleveland or a West Indian bar in NYC, you better be able to reach your audience. I was also lucky enough to play with some heavy cats who took the music to places I never knew it could go, and I was able to hang on.
Speaking of biker bars, my first gig was with Dutch Mason at the Waverly Fire Hall for the 13th Tribe. Dutch’s band at the time was one of the greatest blues bands on the planet, and they were made up of a cast of characters you couldn't make up if you were writing a book. To give you an idea of what they were like, Dutch told me he was on the Toronto subway late at night and was staring at a punk rocker with a bright multi-coloured Mohawk. Noticing him staring, the guy snarled, “What are you looking at, old man?” Dutch replied, “I don't know . . . I fucked a parrot once, and I'm wondering if you're my son.” During the gig, my high school self was in way over its head musically and socially. I tried to follow without having any written music while dodging the serious drugs some of the tribe thought I should try. The sax player, who was also my teacher, dropped me off after the gig on my little suburban cul-de-sac and said, “You gotta learn to do gigs like these if you're gonna survive” and roared off into the night. I stood there under the streetlight in the silence, and in that moment knew I could—and would.
After 10 years away, I came back to Halifax and became a part of the live music scene. I've stayed because on every one of the hundreds of gigs I do every year, the great Halifax musicians play with a level of commitment to the music that is awe-inspiring. Every year more great musicians move here while others mature into the sound. Who are they? You'll know right away when you hear them. Makes me feel 16 again!