Joseph Shaba­son

The Toronto sax­o­phon­ist breaks down jazz for be­gin­ners


If you’ve ever heard Joseph Shaba­son add a sul­try sax solo or some vibey, am­bi­ent skro­nks to songs by his band DIANA or along­side De­stroyer and the War on Drugs, his first solo al­bum, Aytche (pro­nounced like the let­ter “H”), might seem like a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of his sound.

But there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween tex­tu­ral am­bi­ence and a full-length, am­bi­ent nu-jazz al­bum. I’ve known Jo for more than 10 years, and when I lis­tened to his solo de­but, I re­al­ized two things: I don’t know what jazz is, nor have I ever asked my dear friend, who grad­u­ated from jazz school, any­thing about it.

So I asked him to send me a few of his favourite jazz songs as ref­er­ence points to help me un­der­stand how, in a time when pod­casts are de­voted to de­con­struct­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of Top 40 hits, I might wrap my head around these ex­ploratory, stub­bornly soft tracks. And then I asked him to call me.

What kind of mu­sic did you lis­ten to in the Shaba­son house­hold? When I was re­ally young I would lis­ten to like, La Bamba and the Beach Boys, but no rock. Other than that, Daddy was just lis­ten­ing to Afro-Cuban jazz or jazz. And then I had to fig­ure stuff out on my own, like I lis­tened to jazz and punk rock and grunge.

So when you were 17, you were putting on a Moneen record and then a Dizzy Gille­spie record? Yeah. Three of the songs I sent you have been huge sta­ples for me since high school. So, like the Count Basie At New­port? That Lester Young solo, where he plays the melody for Polka Dots And Moon­beams that I’ve been lis­ten­ing to since I was 17. Same with the Dizzy Gille­spie/Sonny Rollins al­bum (Sonny Side Up) and Wayne Shorter (Speak No Evil). They’ve been su­per-in­flu­en­tial and rep­re­sent the type of sax­o­phone play­ing that I want to sound like.

Can you sing along to those songs? Yeah. Like ev­ery solo. I can sing ev­ery part.

How do you think peo­ple will lis­ten to Aytche? Will peo­ple sit down with head­phones? I hope so, but I also thought about that whole Brian Eno am­bi­ent mu­sic the­ory, which is ba­si­cally say­ing it’s mu­sic you can ac­tively lis­ten to, but you can also not. I re­ally took that to heart. I wanted it to be back­ground mu­sic that will make you feel cushy and nice. But I also made it so that if you put on head­phones, there are some very “spoicy” mo­ments where you can re­ally zone in on a sound or a part. I would be stoked ei­ther way.

When I heard that Brian Eno/Jon Has­sell track I sent you (Delta Rain Dream) for the first time, I was like, “This is in­sane. I have been search­ing for­ever to hear some­thing like this.” And I think Aytche also came from me ba­si­cally try­ing to skewer sounds I was hear­ing in the same way that I would try to lift some­body’s solo and write it down and in­ter­nal­ize it. I was like, “How did they do this? How did they get these sounds?”

Let’s talk about this Miles Davis song, Rated X. It’s one of the cra­zi­est things I’ve ever heard. It shreds. So, ev­ery­one who’s heard that song for the first time has had their mind blown and it’s sent them down this path of try­ing to hear more stuff like it. Ev­ery­one has a story about hear­ing that song for the first time and how it changed their mu­si­cal lives.

It’s the most seething, an­gry track. It’s so re­lent­less.

I could hear cer­tain el­e­ments of it in your song Smokestack, par­tic­u­larly the gui­tars. Who is Nic Bragg? Nic plays gui­tar in De­stroyer and ev­ery day at sound­check he plays these beau­ti­ful, ex­pan­sive EBow sounds. So I sent him this track, ask­ing him to play on it. But he sent that back, which was the most ag­gres­sive, an­gry thing.

Why are so many of these peo­ple men? Sex­ism? Look at Miles Davis. He was one of the worst misog­y­nists... he was a ter­ri­ble per­son. There were a lot of prom­i­nent jazz singers who were women. But in terms of in­stru­men­tal play­ers, there were a lot less, and I think that’s very much due to sex­ism. I’ve been lis­ten­ing to a lot of Alice Coltrane. She’s an amaz­ing pi­ano player, harpist, singer and synth per­son. But, yeah, for so many years women were told that if they’re not singing, they shouldn’t be do­ing any­thing else. Fucked up, right? Aytche is out on Western Vinyl Au­gust 25. mu­sic@now­ | @katierow­boat

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