There are some Saskatoon-based artists that can really rip, but to see some truly incredible local chops, look no further than Saskatoon’s jazz bands — especially homegrown University of Saskatchewan graduates the Rory Lynch Trio, who will be playing live at d’Lish by Tish Cafe on Nov. 17.
Lynch’s musical roots are grounded in terrain familiar to most musicians — beginning with childhood piano lessons and an adolescent fascination with the guitar.
“That’s kind of when I really got into music and it became a really important part of my life. After high school, I switched again to the saxophone and was just playing around town, jamming with people,” Lynch said.
Lynch completed a Bachelor’s of Arts in Music degree and a Certificate in Jazz in April, saying that he mostly focused on the jazz side of his education. His degree, he believes, has helped him find an artistic niche.
“I knew I wanted to get deeper into music, but past that, I didn’t really have a lot of direction. During the course of the degree, I was able to really focus into that and just happened to fall into the jazz thing,” Lynch said.
To dedicated musicians and listeners alike, there is something intoxicating about the raw improvisational vulnerability of jazz.
“In a live setting, the energy is totally different, and you can’t capture that on a recording,” Lynch said. “Even just at the Bassment, over the years, getting to see bands come play and just blow your mind… There’s lots of good stuff happening there.”
Jazz is incredibly accessible in Saskatoon thanks to the Bassment on Fourth Avenue and the annual Sasktel Sakatchewan Jazz Festival.
“I go there a lot. It really inspires me — going and seeing a band and just thinking, ‘wow,’ and having something to chase after. And the Jazz festival — it’s a lot bigger than a lot of other festivals, especially for a city of our size. There’s lots of nice venues around,” Lynch said.
Lynch says that the diversity of opportunity for jazz musicians is one of the factors that sets the U of S apart from other jazz schools.
“[There were] lots of opportunities for classes and stuff but also for gigs … through the [U of S Jazz Ensemble] and lots of university events around where they hire students to play background music — lots of opportunities to play and play with other people. I really liked that,” Lynch said.
However, given the landscape of jazz in Saskatoon, Lynch says there are certain pros and cons that come along with the tight-knit community.
“On the one hand, a bigger city and a bigger jazz school would have more players, more venues, stuff like that, but at the same time, it might be more competitive and harder to break in. There’s lots of opportunities available here in Saskatoon, which I’m really grateful for,” Lynch said.
But Lynch also notes that, for those looking to participate in the wider Canadian jazz scene, this could be viewed as a limitation.
“You have to be careful not to get too passive, sitting on your laurels or something like that, because there’s lots going on in the broader context of the country, so it’s good to try and keep in touch with that. As long as you keep that perspective in mind, it’s great here,” Lynch said.
Overall, Lynch appreciates his experience at the U of S and says that one of these opportunities was the Rory Lynch Trio.
“It’s something I’ve been working at for a couple of years now. Sometimes, it’s a trio. Sometimes, it’s a quartet — depending on the gig. It’s really an opportunity for us to play our original music. I write a lot of music for the band, and sometimes, the others have tunes they contribute as well. Having the band pushes me to write,” Lynch said.
Lynch says that writing has become more important in the contemporary jazz scene and that he enjoys the process.
“There’s a lot of jazz bands right now playing a lot of original music, so I think I naturally fell into that pattern. But I really like writing songs because you get to learn a lot about music,” Lynch said. “Writing a tune is almost like a vehicle for improvisation.”
Lynch views the writing process for jazz as existing somewhere between the technical and the improvisational, citing the importance of a solid melody but also acknowledging a collaborative aspect.
“It’s kind of a balancing act between getting a melody that you like and chord changes that you like and then also having it being open enough that it’ll be a good song for the band,” Lynch said. “Jazz music, in general, is very collaborative, and that’s the way we play it, too. We try to leave it really open. We’re all sort of equally contributing.”
This openness is especially idiosyncratic of a bass, drums and horn trio like Lynch’s.
“It’s more freedom but also more responsibility. If there’s a piano player, they’re outlining the chords — the chord is there. If there’s nobody doing that, there’s a little bit more responsibility to outline the harmony… It does change the dynamic and opens things up a bit, which can be fun,” Lynch said.
With local bassist and U of S alumnus Nevin Buehler, Lynch says this responsibility is in good hands.
“Other times, [Buehler] plays with the Whiskey Jerks, and lately, with [the] Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra and tons of other groups,” Lynch said. “We’ve been playing together for a while now. He’s a really solid bass player. I really like getting to play with him.”
Lynch hopes to bring the trio into the studio to record and possibly tour in the future.
The Rory Lynch Trio is playing at d’Lish by Tish Cafe at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17. Admittance is “pay what you want.”
Photo: Rory Lynch / Supplied