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It takes an especially hardy jazz musician to tour Canada in the depths of January, criss-crossing the 4,500 kilometres between Vancouver and Montreal to bring original, improvisation-rich music to the people. But trombonist Nick Adema says he’s feeling energized and inspired in advance of pulling off his most ambitious project to date.
The Ottawa-raised trombonist, 24, is based in Amsterdam, where he pursued his graduate degree in jazz. But he’ll be bringing several classmates to Canada starting Jan. 11, and supplementing his group with the brilliant New York saxophonist Noah Preminger.
Below, Adema, who will play two hometown shows near the end of his tour which moves from west to east, discusses his musical origin story and his artistic development and priorities.
Tell me about your early steps as a trombonist and jazz lover. Why did you pick up the instrument, and what drew you into jazz?
After some years of classical piano that never seemed to stick at a very young age, I had the second chance to pick up a musical instrument at the age of 12 at Broadview Public School. Before school started, we had a chance to try out all of the different musical instruments in the school’s gymnasium to see what instrument would fit best for each student. After looking around the whole gymnasium, I locked eyes with the trombone and, as romantic as it sounds, I knew that it was for me. The reason behind my choice, however, came out of pure laziness, as I thought the instrument would be the easiest, as it lacked the keys all of the other instruments had.
Fast forward 12 years (as I’m 24), and I’ve always laughed at the naivete of my former self, as trombone is one of, if not the hardest, instruments in the realm of jazz performance and improvisation.
I was introduced to jazz immediately when I joined the public school, enlisting in the school’s jazz band, although I played tuba in the concert band. This small entry into jazz sparked the interest for me to go to a record store and buy some albums that just looked like good, famous jazz records. I ended up buying Kind Of Blue, a Thelonious Monk record, and Blue Train (with the great Curtis Fuller).
While dipping my toes into jazz and classical music, I first decided to go into classical music, and was accepted into the Ottawa Youth Orchestra on trombone two. After a year with the band, I realized that this stream of music wasn’t for me, as at the time I didn’t feel a deeper connection to the act of creating music this way, in an orchestra or as a soloist. Switching to the Nepean All-City Jazz Band, alongside private lessons with my teacher Mark Ferguson, I found composition, improvisation and a strong personal voice that gave me a deeper connection to the music I was creating.
Tell me about your progress as a student of the music. What are some of the key things that you’ve learned to date?
In my formal training as a student of jazz performance at the university level, I attended the University of Toronto for my undergraduate degree and the Conservatorium van Amsterdam for my master’s. I went to U of T because my high-school friend Evan Dalling and other high-level young musicians were all planning to go to U of T. I followed suit after receiving a full ride.
I attended my master’s for a number of reasons. I had always wanted to move either to New York or Europe to grow as an artist, the last year of my bachelor’s was a letdown as it was interrupted by COVID, and I am half-Dutch so I thought moving to the Netherlands could be a nice cultural homecoming of sorts.
I would say that the most important thing I have learned about music after travelling the world has been to create a loving connection to music that can transport you to a higher place. Without this, I wouldn’t be playing music.
Tell me about your growth as a composer.
I started as a composer with my first teacher, Mark Ferguson. He pushed me to compose, helped me follow the musical voices in the air while supplementing me with some jazz theory. My first major composition was for big bands at the age of 16. The song was a contrafact I wrote called Take the O Train, which was a samba contrafact of Take the A Train. I wrote this song for the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra, and it was premiered at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Today, composition is always dear to me, as I find an hour to compose daily. I have had a myriad of influences over the years, but my largest compositional influence has been Wayne Shorter, who I would say is one of the greatest musical minds/composers of all time. More contemporary examples that influence my music are Noah Preminger, Tineke Postma, Peter Evans, Steve Lehman, Vijay Iyer and Shai Maestro.
Why is your band called Urban Chaos?
My band Urban Chaos is influenced by the passing of my mother Demetra Langis. When I lost my mother a year ago, I had realized how out of touch I felt with myself. Through always pushing ahead, going to school, practicing music, I was taken back by my mothers passing as I had always felt like I had my head in the ground. I could never embrace the beauties of life, when I was caught in the hamster wheel of day to day hassles. My mother inspired me to create this body of work, which helps me to focus on taking control of my life, by focusing on my journey, and to be aware of all of the things I take for granted. Urban Chaos too represents the things we take for granted in the city, and can be applied to many facets of our lives.
Who’s in the band, and why are they in the band?
I’m joined by Joy Shechter on piano, Azubike Onwuka on electric bass, Chen Har-Evan on drums and Noah Preminger on tenor sax. The rhythm section members of the ensemble are all colleagues of mine who attended the same school as I did. Firstly I chose all of the players in the rhythm section because they are my friends. Secondly, I chose them because they can play their behinds off. Thirdly, they all possess a rare creative quality that allows for humility in the search of music we have every time we play.
I chose Noah Preminger, from the United States, to be in the ensemble because he has been a musical hero of mine. He is my favourite saxophonist in the world, and he has a unique, intervallic, intense, creative virtuosic sound that I try to emulate in my playing.
What constitutes a great night for you and your band?
A great performance for the band, is one where we let go of our preconceived notions of the music and get into a trance-like state where there is that magical flow in the air.
What goals do you have as a bandleader?
This is a really tricky question. I don’t think I have solid goals as a bandleader other than to make music that is true and is filled with love. I think I have always fit quite naturally as a leader, even at a young age. I am not a fan of conforming, so I just like to make opportunities happen and life decides to take care of the rest.
Is this upcoming tour your biggest project to date? How are you feeling about it?
This tour is by far the largest project I’ve undertaken to date under my name. It took me a month of phone calls and emails to make it come through. I am feeling totally energized and inspired to bring the music I’ve created in Amsterdam to my home and native land.
Nick Adema January 2024 Canadian tour
Jan 11 at noon: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos masterclass at Capilano University, Vancouver, B.C.
Jan. 11 at 8 p.m: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos featuring Noah Preminger at Frankie’s Jazz Club, Vancouver, BC
Jan. 12 at 8 p.m: NIck Adema’s Urban Chaos featuring Noah Preminger at Asylum for Arts, Calgary, AB
Jan, 13 at 8 p.m.: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos featuring Noah Preminger at the Yardbird Suite, Edmonton, AB
Jan. 15 at 4:30 p.m.: Noah Preminger/Nick Adema Masterclass at Long and McQuade Ottawa, ON
Jan. 15 at 8 p.m.: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos featuring Noah Preminger at Minotaure, Gatineau, QC
Jan. 17 at 8 p.m.: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos featuring Noah Preminger at Irene’s Pub, Ottawa, ON
Jan. 18 at 8 p.m.: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos Featuring Noah Preminger at Silence, Guelph, ON
Jan. 19 at 3 p.m.: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos masterclass at University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
Jan. 19 at 9:30 p.m.: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos featuring Noah Preminger at the Tranzac, Toronto, ON
Jan. 20 at 8 p.m.: Nick Adema’s Urban Chaos featuring Noah Preminger at Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill, Montreal, QC
More info: nickadema.com