So, my jazz nerd boyfriend (saxophonist Nelson Beattie) has converted me from someone who just enjoys jazz as much as the next guy (you know, like the occasional Billie Holiday or Oscar Peterson album on the record player while prepping dinner) to a full blown jazz lover! I’ve been learning more about the language, history, and intricacies of jazz over the course of our relationship, and it’s been totally eye opening. And if there’s one local jazz artist and band he won’t shut up about, it’s Tyler Wagler and his band HWO (Thom Hammerton, Tyler Wagler, and Dave O’Neill). These guys are pros who know their stuff inside and out, and they’re right here in our neck of the woods!
Tyler reached out to me recently to discuss their show THIS FRIDAY, March 23rd at Heartwood Hall in Owen Sound. Joining them will be 18 year old trumpeter Kaelin Murphy, who is quite the young prodigy (I’ve heard a lot of amazing things from Nelson about this guy as well, partly because Kaelin is now touring with a band that Nelson co-founded—but is no longer involved with—My Son the Hurricane). Kaelin’s folks used to own a jazz bar in Owen Sound called The Avalon, which HWO played at a few nights a week, and where Kaelin and his younger brother Riordain would sometimes sit in with the band. Tyler told me about trying to keep up with Kaelin at a jam night a while back, remembering, “It was so much fun, but at the end of the night I rememberbeing just completely exhausted mentally and physically. I thought to myself, "I've got to get my shit together and start practicing more, this kid (he was maybe 16 at the time) is kicking my ass!"” He says that Kaelin has been a natural fit with HWO, and he’s so pumped to play with him again on Friday.
I asked Tyler and Kaelin some more specific questions about their music and the local scene. Here’s their feedback.
LC: How long have Hammerton/Wagler/O’Neill been making music together? And how did you come together?
Tyler: The band started as a piano/bass duo with Thom Hammerton andmyself. Thom and I had attended Humber College at about the same time, had a lot of the same tastes, played with a lot of the same
people and went to a lot of the same shows but somehow never really
crossed paths. When he moved to Guelph we hit it off immediately and started playing together in a bunch of different contexts. We played duo every other week at place called Manhattan's in Guelph. We mostly played jazz standards, but we also started sneaking some songs by Radiohead and The Beatles into the set. I have to acknowledge the
influence of The Brad Meldau Trio, in that we basically just started by lifting their interpretation of Radiohead's "Knives Out". From there, we started working more and more modern covers into the sets
including songs by everyone from Sufjan Stevens to Tom Waits.
After we had been doing that for a year or so, we met Dave O'Neill at some jams in Guelph. Dave was really enthusiastic about playing with us and there was definitely some instant chemistry. Dave is a REALLY
intense musician and adding him to the mix caused us to work harder. Much of what we were doing as a duo sometimes veered into background music, as we were playing at a venue that was more of a restaurant. But playing with Dave, there is no background music. He sort of commands an audience to listen! Aside from being a fantastic drummer,
Dave is also a great writer and just generally really knowledgeable about music, theory and improvisation so he was pushing us in a lot of different directions. After playing with Dave for a while we started doing more originals and expanding the scope of our covers. We actually started rehearsing, which is somewhat unusual in jazz. We
released our self-titled CD which features all originals in 2014.
LC: Your interpretations of pop music songs are gorgeous! What ones have you been working on that you’re most excited about for Friday’s show?
Tyler: Your readers will have to come to the show to find out! At thispoint we have a pretty long list to draw from. We're going to throw a bunch of ideas at Kaelin and see what sticks in rehearsal. But it's a safe bet that there will be a couple of Radiohead songs and a couple of Beatles' songs. Chances are that we will also touch on Joni
Mitchell, Tom Waits, St. Vincent, maybe some Genesis. People will have to come to find out!
LC: Your trumpet player, 18 year old Kaelin Murphy, sounds like quite a young prodigy. How would you describe him to new listeners?
Tyler: How would I describe Kaelin? He is certainly one of the most uniquely talented and hardest working musicians I've ever met. I don't know if HE feels like he's hard working. I think he grew up in an environment surrounded by so much different music that constantly learning new things was just what you did. I've known his parents since before he was born, and they are both really wonderful people, and talented musicians in their own right. And both his brothers are as well.
I used to hear the family busking at the Owen Sound Market and Kaelin definitely caught my ear. Several years ago we did an impromptu show at The Frog Pond, just playing standards. It seemed like a good idea, but then just before the gig I remember having second thoughts. We had never actually played together, we didn't rehearse or anything and I think he was about 14 at the time. I was hoping he would be able to
improvise on the fly at that level. But it was great! He just showed up and we called tunes and had a wonderful time just playing.
The next time I heard Kaelin was when I asked him to guest on one of my solo singer/songwriter gigs. We rehearsed and it was a little sketchy. I think it was a very different style for him, definitely
not jazz. The rehearsal wasn't great, but on the gig? Man...he played so beautifully it just about choked me up in the middle of the
So what will Kaelin sound like? He'll sound beautiful, but beyond that I don't know. Kaelin has done so much over the last few years, playing all over Toronto as well as in Ottawa and NYC. Not to mention touring across Canada with My Son The Hurricane. Every time I hear him he is evolving in leaps and bounds. I'm really looking forward to playing with him again!
LC: Who are some names in modern jazz that have been inspiring you lately?
Tyler: There's lots of great things happening in modern jazz right now. My biggest influence is probably Brad Mehldau Trio. Although I guess they've been around for close to twenty years now, it depends on how you define modern! Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott and Nate Smith all have great new records out.
Frankly, most of the time I spend just listening to records is when I'm hanging out with my one year old. And in that context I've really been reaching back into older jazz styles. Much of my jazz education has come from studying bebop and everything that came after, roughly 1945 and on. But I've been really digging Louis Armstrong's bands
from the 20's and SO much music from Duke Ellington, both big band stuff and his work with Mingus, Coltrane, Ray Brown. There's so much traditional stuff that is so heavy, I feel like I'm playing catch up.
Kaelin: Right now, I'm really enjoying listening to trumpet players Ambrose Akinmusire, Peter Evans, and Marquis Hill. I've also been listening to a lot of Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman's music.
LC: What do you think of the Owen Sound music scene and Heartwood Hall?
Tyler: Heartwood has been such a huge influence on the music scene. Just having a beautiful venue, with good sound that people want to hang out in. It attracts more people out, so more bands from out of
town want to play, which attracts more people out....it's a beautiful circular thing. I play in a reggae band from Toronto called The Human Rights. Before Heartwood opened, when we would come to OS we would struggle to bring 60-70 people. Since playing at Heartwood we've sold
out every show there. (Also, were coming back April 21st!)
I come back to OS pretty regularly to see my family. I like to go out at night and it used to be that I would be really bored wondering
where to go for a pint. Since Heartwood opened I'm always checking the calendar looking for an excuse to come back, because more often than not something wonderful is happening there.
Kaelin: The Owen Sound music scene needs more jazz going on, and I'm glad that
Heartwood is offering this space for musicians to come and play this
type of creative music. There's a lot of music happening in Owen Sound, but it's really nice when something different than your usual
folk/indie/rock/funk show happens.
LC: Where can people go to hear more of your music?
Tyler: People can here from HWO athttps://soundcloud.com/hammerton-wagler-oneill as well as our youtube page at
Kaelin: I play a lot all over Toronto, you can find me in lots of the jazz venues there usually a couple times a month, but I have also played my music in Ottawa and New York over the past year. I am also touring
with My Son The Hurricane, so you can find me all over the continent with them.
Cheers for the excellent words, boys! This sounds like an incredible group of players and an amazing show.