Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2011: David Braid

George Colligan: Renaissance Man

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If life were food, George Colligan would weigh in at 12,000 pounds—he has a voracious appetite. He wants to live. He’s fascinated by everything musical: apart from his brilliant keyboard work, he plays a mean set of drums, and I’m happy to put him on gigs as a trumpet player too.

He doesn’t do anything poorly—whatever he’s doing, he’s all in, on every level. He decided to learn to play the bass, and then took it to the bandstand within a few months, playing one of the best bass solos I heard all year. He writes music like he’s the Winnipeg Free Press—there’s a new edition every day! Plus he keeps a blog (, and it’s one of the most fascinating jazz commentaries I’ve read.

George lets you know what’s possible from a human, and inspires all of us to do a little more than we’re doing. And all of this with a boyish energy and curiosity. I figure his tombstone will read, “I just want to play!”

As the new year opens up, George is busy with many different projects. We caught up with him for a quick check-in before he headed for New York for the holidays.

Jazz Winnipeg’s Nu Sounds series allows local artists to step out into new territory. What are your plans for that gig?

Well, for a start I will be playing drums—most people know me as a keyboardist, but I actually played drums before I got into piano. I think about drums a lot when I compose, so this is a chance for me to really interpret the music exactly how I hear it, in terms of the drumming. Secondly, Winnipeg will get a chance to hear my wife Kerry Politzer play piano and sing. Thirdly, we will feature songs of mine that include lyrics, which is a fairly new development in my music.

You have several opportunities to play with Kerry this winter.

Kerry and I have an ongoing argument about which one of us is more talented! I insist that it’s her: she smokes me at the piano, has better ears, and is also an excellent singer and songwriter. I think Winnipeg will be pleasantly surprised to hear Kerry present her formidable musical abilities.

Tell us about the Songwriter-in-Residence post at Aqua Books for February and March.

Kelly Hughes just asked me to do this out of the blue! Now, I have composed a ton of music in the last 25 years, but the vast majority has been instrumental—until very, very recently. I guess it’s taken 40 years for me to get over my fear of writing lyrics. Anyway, I have many brand new tunes which I am anxious to hear performed. I will be enlisting as many of the U of M vocalists (students as well as the prof Anna-Lisa Kirby) as are willing. There will probably also be some afternoon workshops for people to bring in their tunes—we’re still working out those details.

I love to write music, and adding lyrics has been really satisfying. I have no idea whether anyone else will dig the songs, but when you’re 40, it’s much easier to ignore your critics!

Your new CD is Pride & Joy. Do you think becoming a dad has had a bearing on your musical life?

Yes, without a doubt. It just makes you appreciate life in a whole different way. It makes you understand the delicate balance of life and to cherish as much time on earth as you can. Liam had a difficult birth, and he was on a respirator for the first few hours of his life. I try to make up for his traumatic entry into the world by being as nice to him as I can every day! I’ve also written a few songs for him. When you look at that zeiseh punim [cute face] you can’t help but write a song…

Is there anything you wish people would ask you about?

Generally, people in the music community have been friendly and welcoming. It can be difficult as an outsider, especially since it seems as though most people who live here are from here. I hope people are not afraid to talk to me: just cause I’m from the States doesn’t mean I’m armed! I want people to know that they can ask me anything from “How do you like the winter?” to “How the #&$@ did George W. Bush get re-elected?”

Oh, and I’d love it if people asked me about what it’s like to play with Jack Dejohnette! I toured with him in the summer and we have another tour planned for May and June. It’s been a thrill to be able to play with one of the few living legends of jazz drumming. I can see why Keith Jarrett moves and shouts so much when he plays with his trio—Jack’s groove is so intense, I felt myself gyrating à la Jarrett a bit myself at times…

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