By Andrew Bardsley
CALGARY – Al Muirhead knows what he is doing, after all he has been doing this since before many of us were born. Entering his seventh decade as a musician, the 83 year-old trumpet player is on the cusp of releasing his fourth studio album, Undertones, in four years. Inspired by the jazz greats, Muirhead has been playing since the age of twelve when he was growing in Regina during the late ‘40s and early ’50s.
“I remember we were getting all these radio stations in Saskatchewan from New York and Chicago and there was a new jazz movement going on at the time called be-bop. It was people like Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie and I was totally blown away and that when it all started.”
For much of Muirheads career he has played with others, having credit on 26 albums as a backup player. It took some prodding by Kodi Hutchinson of Chronograph Records to convince Muirhead to finally take center stage. “I remember Kodi sat me down and said, ‘Come on Al we have got to make a CD of you.’ I just laughed and thought, ‘Not at my age, my goodness,’ and then they proved me wrong.” Sure enough, Muirhead’s first album, It’s About Time, was nominated for a Juno Award in 2016.
Returning to the studio to record Undertones, Muirhead is once again confident in his ability and in his band. Playing on a rare bass trumpet, the album brings together some of Muirhead’s favourite musicians such as Kelly Jefferson on sax, Reg Schwager on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass and Ted Warren on drums, all led by Muirhead and his decades of experience.
While he’s seen a serious shift in the way music is being created, Muirhead remains hopeful of the future of jazz, having taught many of the up and coming artists himself. “I would say that now in Calgary there are better jazz players then I can ever remember, the level of playing is just incredible.”
Although Muirhead and many other aficionados bemoan the lack of a dedicated jazz club in the city, he remains hopeful. “While there is no specific place that is all jazz all the time, these guys are playing somewhere and that’s nice. It is refreshing to see what’s happening.”
Age isn’t slowing down Muirhead any time soon. The elder statesman remains busy and popular.
“This week I have five gigs for godsakes,” he exclaims. “The wonderful thing is that I can still do this, and that more importantly people are still asking me to do it. I guess I am just going to keep playing till the phone stops ringing.”
Al Muirhead releases Undertones on September 28, 2018 on Chronograph Records.Al Muirhead, Chronograph Records, jazz, Undertones