Matt Dusk, a graduate of the St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto, is an acclaimed jazz musician and Juno nominee who is currently working on his 4th studio album. Photo by Sara Zickuhr

Choir school training launched jazz singer Matt Dusk’s career

By  Allison Hunwicks, The Catholic Register
  • June 3, 2012

TORONTO - Toronto-born jazz artist Matt Dusk originally got into the music business because of a cow.

“I don’t know if you remember, but there was this television commercial with a singing cow for HP,” said Dusk, and as though to jog the memory he croons out a snippet of a jingle in his signature silky tone, complete with “moo” at the end. Although, a more dulcet cow sound is scarce to be found.

“I would go through the halls of St. Mike’s (Choir School) and sing it — it was a funny commercial at the time and kind of a cheesy thing. One of my buddies said to me ‘why don’t you give it a try?’ and there was this all-girls school that had a variety night. So, I bought some karaoke tapes and wore a white suit and did all this stuff, and the girls went crazy,” Dusk told The Catholic Register, laughingly. Thus, a star was born.

Dusk, a critically acclaimed jazz musician, has been nominated for a Juno award and is about to release his fourth studio album. Incidentally, he is also warm, down-to-earth and extremely funny. He studied jazz at York University with the legendary Oscar Peterson after receiving his early training at St. Michael’s Choir School.

“Being at the choir school was an amazing opportunity not only from the music side of things, but also touring around the world and meeting people,” said Dusk. “It got me into where I am today… I guess at a very young age being there and learning and being immersed in music every day, is it really a surprise that I’m still in music?”

Where he is today is working on a collaborative tribute album to jazz great Chet Baker, an artist whose music influenced Dusk from an early age.

“As a kid growing up I really wanted to learn how to play trumpet, and I’m starting again because I kinda caught the bug. So I said: ‘why can’t I do a record with a bunch of his songs that he used to do,’ ” said Dusk.

“I’ve got a bunch of guest soloists who are coming who are also Chet Baker fans. So it’s kind of a collaboration of a tribute. But, it’s all original stuff in the sense that the arrangements aren’t copied.”

In addition to his hallmark vocal sound, Dusk’s calling card is in his unique interpretations of old standards, a task that is seemingly trickier than writing a wholly new piece of music, and hearkens to a bygone age of recording artistry.

“Jazz, and in some regards country music, was a culture based upon interpretation. Back in the (19)30s and ’40s it was a publishers’ world… where publishers were coming out with a song and everybody would put their own interpretation on it,” said Dusk. “That’s what’s cool about jazz. Then it just becomes a question of, how do you enjoy the interpretation of the artist? The good thing is that jazz will never die. It’s going to be around forever.”

Dusk released his first independent album, The Way It Is, in 2001, and his first studio album, Two Shots, in 2005. Since then he has evolved artistically, something that fans of his work can anticipate listening to on his upcoming release.

“The older that I get, especially with this kind of music, there’s just more experiences to draw upon and it gives a different perspective… It’s not necessarily better, it’s just different,” said Dusk, who argues that the artist is often their own best and worst critic during the recording process.

Dusk will be performing at Toronto’s Dundas Square on June 8 for CityTV’s Herbie Day. The concert is in support of the Herbie Fund, a charity that specializes in enabling surgical care for children around the world at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. While he won’t be performing any of the work off of his new album, Dusk hopes to bring a summertime, patio vibe to concertgoers.

“Toronto’s got a really close community of people who are musicians,” said Dusk. “There’s a lot of great talent here.”

The next six months will see Dusk touring nine different countries, and bringing a shot of extra appeal to his show in the style of two of his performance icons: Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.

“I find a guy like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, when they move, incredibly debonaire,” said Dusk, whose integration of the always alluring Kelly’s dance style will certainly add a touch of old-school flair to his live performances.

With such an extensive touring schedule ahead of him, one might wonder if Dusk ever finds difficulty maintaining balance between his very successful professional life and his personal one.

“With my job I’m either on the road for six-eight months straight, or I’m home for four months. It’s bittersweet,” said Dusk. “I got into this business because I love music, and if you love it that much and you’re fortunate enough to do it professionally, there’s a lot of trade offs. But I consider it a balance.”

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