Vol. 1 no. 3

An Interview with Mike Murley

I first met Mike Murley in 1985; he had come to Montreal to play with Kevin Dean at Le Grand Cafe. Kevin had somehow convinced me to play the piano in his quintet, which at that time consisted of mostly out-of-town players. There was Mike and drummer Barry Elmes from Toronto, and bassist Skip Beckwith from Nova Scotia, as well as Kevin on trumpet and myself on piano. I remember being petrified at the thought of working with these guys; I hadn't been playing piano for very long and I didn't really consider myself seriously as a pianist, but Kevin insisted, and so I worked hard to prepare myself for the engagement.

What I couldn't foresee, because I'd never heard these guys, is just how good, how inventive they really were. I'd never played with a bassist and drummer that played so accurately and strongly that you could physically know when you were not "in the groove." The sense of vertigo, teetering on the edge of a cliff, was so terrifying, it took every ounce of concentration I could muster. I went home exhausted every night.

On stage, however, even though it was a powerfully demanding experience for a novice like myself, I became aware of just how dedicated and innovative Murley was. His playing wasn't particularly reminiscent of one great saxophonist or another, but he had elements of all the great players. His unique sound was unlike most saxophone players his age, and he seemed very open to all styles of jazz. I never sensed any kind of "attitude" on his part, as you sometimes get with successful young musicians, and he made everyone feel right at home.

The same can be said of Barry Elmes; his time feel and imaginative soloing place him up amongst the top Canadian drummers. Every time he played some fours and eights, I found myself wishing that I could just stop worrying about the piano and go out into the audience and listen to him.

Some years later, Kevin Dean did his first CD in Montreal; I was in Banff during the summer, and returned a few days early in order to participate in the recording. Mike hadn't had much of a chance to see and play the music, but he performed flawlessly. His solos are little gems on Kevin's tunes, and I noticed that his sound had gotten even more lush and expressive.

In the last couple of years, I've had the pleasure of seeing Mike perform with his quartet featuring Dave Restivo on piano, Jim Vivian on bass, and Ted Warren on drums. Mike has worked hard to make this a working band; all the members seem to be dedicated to really making the band grow into something, to achieving its own sound. Recently I participated in recording their latest CD, which also features trumpeter/fleughelhornist John McLeod. There is quite a stylistic variety amongst the material, and yet the Murley band retains its identifiable sound.

Whether he's playing with Time Warp or featured with his own quartet, Mike Murley exemplifies what most of us Canadian musicians are striving for; an original sound and approach to the music that doesn't reject the past but embraces it without sacrificing innovation and creativity. He provides the example that there can still be freshness, subtlety, and surprise in the music.


Title Label
as a leader The Curse Unity 102
Two Sides Unity 116
Time and Tide Unity 131
Departure Cornerstone CD 104
with Time Warp Off Center Parkwood 111
Live at George's Unity 118
There and Back Cornerstone CD101
with The Shuffle Demons Streetniks Stubby 001
Bop Rap SPL 1124
What Do You Want? SPCD 1152
with Brian Dickenson October 13th Unity 103
In Transition Unity 120
with Barry Elmes Climbing Unity 122
East West Cornerstone CD 102
with Kevin Dean minor indiscretions McGill 750041
with John Stech Rectangle Man Terra Nova 9004