Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2015: big dig! band

Simon Christie

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When Simon Christie was a kid, he wanted to play saxophone, but at band tryouts, he couldn’t make a sound on it. He could play the trumpet right off the bat, so he figures trumpet picked him. Simon graduated from the Jazz Studies program four years ago, and brings his winning combination of musicality, discipline, curiosity, and warmth to a wide range of musical projects in the city. He’s also an accomplished teacher, working with Neil Watson in the Bridge program at Hugh John Macdonald School, and as an ensemble leader in the summer Jazz Camp.

Tell us about your musical projects.

I have been playing with the Dirty Catfish Brass Band (DCBB) for the past year now. We bring the New Orleans brass band tradition north of the 49th parallel—every time out is a party! I’m also playing with Jupiter Storm, a funk band fronted by Carlen Jupiter. Niall Bakkestad-Legare and I are the horn players in this group, and through years of playing together, we’ve developed a close musical bond that allows us to compose lines in real time on the bandstand. These days I am also playing with the Winnipeg Jazz Collective, Moses Mayes, the Danny Kramer Event Band, and most recently Dr Hot Bottom and the Soul Prescription. For me the most important thing about making music is not the genre but the people I am playing with.

What advantages do you find in working in a variety of genres?

Music is first and foremost about expression. I think playing multiple styles of music just allows for a greater range for expressing one’s thoughts and feelings. We are all extremely complicated beings and to try and limit our expression to one particular form seems unnatural to me.

Can you talk about the teaching part of your musical life?

For the past four years, I’ve been working with Neil Watson in the Bridge program. Figuring out how to teach an instrument to young people who frequently don’t speak the same language and almost certainly have led very different lives has been a steep learning curve.

It’s also led me to question the point of teaching music, and I’ve been watching the answers slowly reveal themselves. The way I see it, music follows the same form as speaking—namely taking an inner thought or emotion and conveying it through sound. Music is one of the most basic forms of self-expression and allows us to connect directly to our emotions. One of the dangers we face in the west, and increasingly around the world, is that we’ve become so preoccupied with arranging our outer material world in just the right way that we neglect our inner selves. We are seeing the results of this disregard for nurturing healthy mental states in the skyrocketing rates of depression, suicide, divorce rates, mass shootings, and many other manifestations of the inability to deal with difficult emotions. Music is a way to get in touch with those inner realms that are crying out for love and attention.

You were recently in India. Tell me about that.

I spent five weeks in India, and it was eye-opening. One of the more sobering things is the poverty. In the west we have poverty, but it seems to come with the belief that there is something that could easily be done to alleviate it—reallocating tax funds, creating community programs, and so on. I don’t sense that belief in India. To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming at times.

Experiences one inevitably has along their spiritual journey leave permanent marks upon a person. While the actual memories may fade over time, the ripple effects will continue to reverberate forever in countless unknown ways. That knowledge affects nearly everything I do in my life, including the music I play and why I play it. If you know that everything you do or say, however small, will have consequences that last forever, it becomes very important to be putting out only loving and compassionate energy. Obviously that is easier said than done, but striving towards it gives me clear direction.

Who are your musical inspirations?

I like so many kinds of music. In an average week, my playlist might include the Youngblood Brass Band, Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Clifford Brown, and eastern European groups like Fanfare Ciocarlia. I listen for what various artists have to say. I like hearing unexpected twists in the arrangements, or interesting harmonic choices—something that says the players are not just trying to sell a song but have really invested themselves in the music.

The musicians who inspire me most are exactly like the humans who inspire me the most—the ones who are motivated by love and compassion. Of course it is difficult to say with certainty what someone is trying to convey musically, but people like Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and many others all shine through their music, leaving us listeners in a better place.

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