Toronto Star

Toronto flutist flaunts first Grammy nod

Ron Korb gets his first nomination in 30-plus album internatio­nal music career


As the Weeknd, Drake and Taylor Swift accumulate­d Grammy nods like points in a pickup basketball game this week, one honour arrived with significan­tly less fanfare: a best new age album nomination for Toronto-based flutist Ron Korb. Two weekends from now, while Abel Tesfaye mounts sold-out shows in Miami and fellow nominee Justin Bieber headlines Atlanta’s Jingle Ball, Korb will be performing Christmas concerts at churches in Ajax and Oakville.

And on that scale, just one Grammy nomination weighs a ton.

“Even just getting nominated, it changes your whole life,” an elated Korb said Monday, hours after his Asia Beauty was named a Grammy contender.

“If you had said a year ago that I was going to be nominated for a Grammy, I would have laughed in your face. It’s that far away from a dream. It’s like saying you’re going to go to Mars.”

As Korb chats, his attention occasional­ly wanders to the never-ceasing flow of congratula­tions setting his phone aglow. Plaudits have arrived from artists all over the musical and physical globe. He’s heard from rap, European pop, R&B and Klezmer artists, and congratula­tory emails have chimed in from Russia, Japan and France.

The worldly nature of Korb’s cheering section shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Aside from his proven facility for Irish, Celtic and Latin sounds, Korb has establishe­d a particular­ly robust following in Asia since first studying music in Tokyo as a fresh graduate from the University of Toronto in the early ’90s.

He’s now launched 25 tours in Asia, where he’s earned both renown and a litany of colourful nicknames, including Dragon Flute in China, Thunder Blessing in Taiwan and Prince of Flutes in Japan.

Asia Beauty — a concept album that comes bundled with nearly 40 pages of liner notes — was recorded in Toronto, with help from dozens of local musicians handling a range of rare Chinese instrument­s including dizi, dadi, xun, bawu and the guqin.

Prior to the Grammy nomination, there were signs the record was res- onating: Korb fetched collaborat­ion requests from rappers and EDM artists, and the album won best of show at the Global Music Awards.

“But I’ve never seen any award be anything like this,” he said.

Indeed, Korb has released more than 30 albums since 1989’s debut Tear of the Sun, and only submitted this one for Grammy considerat­ion as a sort of lark.

So the fact that pop music’s biggest pageant is considerin­g his Asia Beauty at all seems unfathomab­le.

“It’s actually my wife who thought I should submit to the Grammys. I thought, OK, let’s try it, but I had absolutely no expectatio­ns at all,” he said.

“Now, I just can’t believe it. It’s such a huge thing. If I said, ‘OK, you just won $100 million’ — you just can’t really digest it.”

Now, the Prince of Flutes can add a new prefix to his stacked list of monikers.

“From now on, I can put ‘Grammynomi­nated’ in front of my name.”

“I just can’t believe it. It’s such a huge thing. If I said, ‘OK, you just won $100 million’ — you just can’t really digest it.” FLUTIST RON KORB

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