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Honouring a jazz great in Kanata

Metro's Trevor Greenway talks about the tribute at the Options Jazz Lounge

Zakari Frantz will play Alto-saxaphone in the tribute.

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Zakari Frantz will play Alto-saxaphone in the tribute.

Zakari Frantz is learning to fly.        

The alto saxophonist will play the role of Charlie “Bird” Parker, essentially note for note when he and his crew of jazz cats take over the Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata this Saturday for Bird is the Word: A tribute to Charlie Parker.

Even he knows that he has his work cut out for him.

“It's definitely a furious book of repertoire,” says Frantz with a laugh.

“I never really though myself capable of stepping up to do a whole night of Bird. It has taken a lot of playing and a lot of building to get to the point where I would even feel comfortable doing that with my friends in the audience.”

Parker has been one of the main influences for Frantz's sax career since he started listening to jazz as a teenager. What's funny is that Frantz had studied Bird's music intently through transcripts before ever even hearing it all together on a recording. He knew all the solos, all the B sections, the cadence and the changes, without ever hearing a note.

“When I first heard the tunes, I was blown away, because not only did I know every note on the recording, but I had never heard them before,” he laughs.

“I remember the first time I had ever heard a Charlie Parker recording, I jumped up out of my seat and ran straight to the stereo and sang along to every note of his solo and everyone said, 'wow, do you know this recording?' and I said, 'no, I've never heard this guy in my life.'”

Frantz soon became obsessed with Bird. It was the speed at which he could execute his sonic ideas that really made him a curious cat. He saw Parker's music more of a language than just sound – a sonic toungue with various dialects throughout that allowed him to truly express himself. And, like any language, practice makes perfect.

Everytime I get into a tune, I learn something new. It's kind of like you are learning a language that he wrote,” adds Frantz.    

“This guy is a human being expressing his own language that he wrote, and the more you listen to it, the more you understand it.”

One guy who speaks the same language is drummer Michel Delage, who has been putting on these tribute nights for the past year and a half.

He's done over a dozen tributes honouring everybody from George Benson and Wayne Shorter to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Delage typically gets an out-of-town player to come in to jam with local musicians, and he's gotten some pretty big names to come in, like Juno winners Mike Rud and Allison Au, along with Montreal jazz heavyweight Jean-Michel Pilc, who chose a tall order in agreeing to do a solid three hours of  pianist and composer Thelonius Monk. Delage says he won't soon forget night of Mad Monk.

“( Pilc ) is such a high energy player and one of the most receptive players that I've played with,” he says.

“He is very into communicating and making music on the spot and really taking things to leftist field.”

Part of the appeal of playing a gig like this is the fact that the players get to completely bury their ears in one of their iconic sonic heroes for weeks – and with that comes a newfound appreciation for the music, and a discovery of new auditory details that, while subtle, are essential to the collective greatness of the track. For Delage and Frantz, it's like unlocking not just the sound of their favourite greats, but decoding the feeling it gave them so many years ago. It's clear these cats are ready to fly from the Bird nest.

The tribute series goes once a month at the Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata. This week features Frantz, Delage, Alex Moxon on guitar and Alex Bilodeau on bass. Cover is free and music starts around 8 p.m. this Saturday.

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