Jazzing Up Paisley Park

Petr Cancura was working on some music when he heard that the man who he describes as “living a fairy tale” had died. Like the rest of the world, there was the initial shock followed by the feeling that such a talent that was Prince was claimed much too young.

As a teen, it was hard to escape Prince’s seminal recording Purple Rain. "When Doves Cry" and "Lets Go Crazy" were all over the radio. It was in the early 2000’s, however, where the saxophonist and Programming Manager of the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival really discovered Prince’s music from the perspective of a musician. The multilayered sound would be a big influence Cancura’s own.

Petr Cancura - Photo by Andre Gagne
Petr Cancura – Photo by Andre Gagne

“The man was a true legend. He was an astounding musician on many instruments and he kept re-discovering himself. You could tell he was on a journey and everything was an authentic expression. That’s something I strive for and Prince is a real inspiration in that regard,” Cancura tells Ottawa Life.

The saxophonist already had a pretty diverse musical pallet. Born in Eastern Europe, raised in Canada and later honing his skills in the jazz clubs of New York City, Cancura is known for his ability to work within various styles. His recent series at the National Arts Centre, Crossroads, has seen him resting comfortably on the edge of the genre with a foot blissfully thrust over a cliff of artistic freedom. There he’s been joined by musicians like Kathleen Edwards and Lynne Hanson for a stylistic collage of jazz, rock, folk, pop and country. 

His latest project, 33z, continues down this path with a bit of a twist. Cancura says that he has often strayed away from participating in just cover projects but, ultimately, the thought of gathering a group of local talent together to tribute somebody like Prince (purple wardrobe optional) was one he couldn’t resist. The end result would not be so much a replica of the music most have heard before, just a different coat of paint on the same room.

“A lot of projects I do are heavily arranged or original music and those are my bread and butter, so to speak. I wanted to do something that featured some of the incredible singers in town backed up by a great house band.”

Along with Cancura on sax, The 33z band consists of Ed Lister (trumpet), Alex Moxon (guitar), Clayton Connell (piano/keyboards), JP Lapensee (bass) and Stephen Adubofour (drums).

Choosing Prince as their first project for the festival wasn’t a tough choice. Not only did the new group have a lot of tracks to choose from but the music gave way to a lot of varied interpretations. The band also saw this as a way to feature different voices on each song.

“Ed and I thought about a lot of the singers in town and then tried to think about who would go well with Prince,” explains Cancura. “We both had some ideas and together came up with this group of fantastic singers. I think there are a lot of great singers in town and it would be fun to do this with another artist and involve some of the other singers we couldn’t get on this one.”

Who they could get, though, represents some of the best vocalists in the city. Joining the band will be Angelique Francis, Debbie Braham, Emmanuel Simon, Jeff Rogers, Matthew Chaffey, Megan Jerome and Rebecca Noelle. If the band provided that new coat of paint, the singers will add some art to the walls, each frame containing a different, unique take on the familiar, all of them honouring the legacy of the original artist.

“As other artists who will stand the test of time Prince united popular culture and the art culture,” Cancura says.

“His music appeals to the musician as much as to anyone else. That is hard to achieve! He also had a message in his music, he stood up for the integrity of the art, and for humanity and all this came through in is music. The whole package of what he did is his legacy!”

The 33z Play Prince Saturday night at the TD Winter Jazz Festival’s Studio B stage inside La Nouvelle Scène. The event is now sold out.