Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


March/April 2009: Steve Turre

Curtis Nowosad

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Curtis Nowosad, a 20-year-old in his third year in the U of M’s Jazz Studies program, has been playing drums for only about 6 years, but he is already a force to be reckoned with. When I talked with him about his success, I found out that timing is everything!

When he was still a student at Silver Heights Collegiate, his band director Blaine Workman helped him get into jazz. “Blaine Workman had John Pittman coming in to teach a small jazz ensemble after school and I learned harmony, jazz piano, how tunes work. That was a huge step for me. I would haunt A&B Sound downtown and buy all the $10 jazz CDs I could get my hands on—Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones. Blakey was the first drummer I heard that really made me want to play straight-ahead jazz instead of fusion.”

At this time the Cool Monday Night Hang started at The Freehouse. Curtis was there, and he has been at The Hang almost every Monday since. “The Hang shaped me,” he says. When he first played at The Hang, he only made it through half a tune, but soon he worked his way up to playing with Steve Kirby, an experience that was both intimidating and exciting. (For those who wonder what Steve yells at the young drummers, Curtis offers these examples: “Change it up!” “Mark the events!” “Don’t just keep time—I don’t need a ^#*% metronome!” Or the kiss of death: “Lay out!” which roughly translates as “It takes an awfully good drummer to be better than no drummer at all…”)

For Curtis, getting to play with Steve at such a formative time was invaluable. It began a mentoring relationship that remains critical to this day. It also led him to study with Alvin Atkinson at the U of M, and then with Terreon Gully, first at the U of M Jazz Camp and more recently in the U of M Jazz Studies program.

Terreon has opened Curtis’s mind to a whole new way of approaching the drums—and jazz. “What I’m realizing is that culture is such an important component in playing this music. In order for me to get that edge as a drummer, I need the influence of other cultures. His culture is all about groove and dancing. Our culture is not based on that, but I can get some of that by studying with Terreon.”

“Terreon learned technique in marching bands. In the drum-line, you either got it together or you were out! His high school band experience was similar—their director, Dr. Ron Carter, had high expectations and the students did whatever they had to do to meet them. That’s what I’m getting from both Terreon and Steve. After that it’s up to us to do something productive.”

“I went to The Hang every week until ultimately I became the house drummer. It drives me nuts that so many players complain about not getting gigs, but they’re not out there playing. The ones that sit in and fall on their faces on the bandstand are the ones that get better and eventually get the gigs. Nobody owes anybody a gig—you have to earn it.”

Curtis is making a name for himself in the city. He’s a regular at several small clubs, and has been booked for some pretty high profile gigs too. His group—Keith Price, Julian Bradford, Neil Watson, and Will Bonness—has been featured now at the Groove-FM Jazz Winnipeg Festival, in the Jazz on the Rooftop series at the WAG, and in Jazz Winnipeg’s Nu Sounds series.

“We are getting a really positive response to our music,” Curtis says. “When people who don’t normally listen to jazz hear a rock tune they recognize, they have something to hang on to and they’re more likely to stick around and enjoy the more unfamiliar stuff. It’s kinda like sneaking vegetables into a kid’s meal without them knowing it!”

Jazz vocalist Anna-Lisa Kirby profiles local jazz artists in every issue.

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