Niall Bakkestad-Legare is a powerful young tenor saxophonist who graduated a couple of years ago from the Jazz Studies program at the University of Manitoba. He has a big sound and tremendous facility, but he also has an open, philosophical nature that gives his musical ideas reach and depth.
When did you decide you wanted to play saxophone?
I started playing alto saxophone when I was eleven. My parents had a few jazz records in the house, so I was exposed early on to John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Plas Johnson, although I listened more to Led Zeppelin and Buddy Guy. To be honest though, I have to give Lisa Simpson the credit—we used to watch The Simpsons every day, and I thought that playing saxophone looked like a blast.
What jazz artists do you consider your biggest influences?
I started off as an alto player, so my earliest influences were Sonny Stitt and Cannonball Adderley. Towards the end of my final year at high school I was fully immersed in Charlie Parker. I listened to him all the time, transcribed his solos, and sought out all his recordings. In my first year of university, when I switched to tenor and came under the tutelage of Jimmy Greene, I delved into Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Lester Young and Joe Henderson.
I’m still constantly returning to those artists, but I’d like to add a few more names to that list: Eddie Harris, Lucky Thompson, Don Byas, Wayne Shorter, George Coleman, Warne Marsh, Yusef Lateef, Wardell Gray, and Joe Lovano, among many others. I think we’re attracted to certain artists because we feel something in common with them—a sound, an idea or their concept. I still revere Bird as the greatest.
Who’s on your listening list these days?
I’ve been checking out some of the Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams records, The Cat Walk and Live at the Half Note. Pepper Adams is just a monster at playing through changes. The Grant Green record Solid, Booker Little’s Out Front, The Stylings of Horace Silver and also Ambrose Akinmusire’s new record The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint also come to mind. I’ve just begun digging into late 70s and 80s funk, and learning about bands such as Brick, Lakeside, Pleasure, Cameo, Zapp and Roger, and Shalamar.
What projects are you involved in at the moment?
So the project I’m most excited about is a group I put together this past March called fauxpasfunk. The band is rounded out by Kevin Waters, Jocelyn Gould, Carter Graham, and Carlen Malinowski. We play a unique brand of instrumental funk music, written by the band. We’ve played everything from house parties and late night underground shows, to the Winnipeg Jazz Festival, and Bboy competitions. Besides that I play with Carlen’s band, Jupiter Storm, which has a neo-soul, jungle/reggae kind of vibe. I’m also involved in a group that works on and plays original jazz music, a funk cover band, and a gospel project.
Are there ways that jazz prepares you for life?
Well, learning jazz requires patience, dedication, diligence, professionalism and it tests your creative problem-solving brain. More than that, though, it teaches a form of humanism, changes your idea of success, and morphs your very life-values. I believe that this is true of most arts.