Calgary jazz pianist Tricia Edwards’ musical journey imprinted on the eclectic Intaglios

The journey to jazz can be a long, strange one.

Musically. Personally. Even geographically.

For Calgary pianist and Mount Royal University faculty member Tricia Edwards it’s been a rich, rewarding life that has taken her from classical studies in Alberta and Germany, to a stay in the Middle East and back to this city, where she set her sights towards Latin America and how it could and can further influence her own unique jazz stylings, help her navigate the path she’s on.

“I like being able to say my own thing,” Edwards says, sitting in the warm confines of Edgemont coffee shop Friends, as minus 30 weather stood frosty watch outside the window.

“I like the creative aspect of jazz, having your own voice.”

That she shows off on her sophomore release Intaglios, which she’ll release Saturday, Jan. 13 with a show at the Ironwood.

It highlights Edwards’ “fusion” approach to the music, which includes elements of her classical training as well as those new Latin influences and everything else the artist has gathered along her journey.

“That’s why I called it Intaglios,” she says, referring to the album title which is a term for artistic engraving, leaving an imprint, “because I think it is the sum total of a lifetime of experiences.”

OK. So, again, to understand how she got here, it’s important to know where she began.

The starting point, really, was her formal training in the classical music realm, which saw her  earn a Masters Degree in piano performance at the University of Alberta, and then more training in Austria and at the (now) Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

And then, life took her even farther, with her husband taking a job in Abu Dhabi.

But far from entirely stalling things in her professional music career, it actually pushed things a little further, with a “huge expat community” in the oil and gas compound that craved a little taste of home. That allowed her to perform at house concerts with a violinist that she met, and, due to the fact a higher-up in the company was one of her piano students, make good use of the concert hall that they owned.

It was, she says, a pretty great time for her, admitting that she was even a little disappointed when her husband was transferred back to Calgary.

It didn’t help that in 2003 she had tendinitis which required a forced break and which, Edwards says, “ended up being a good thing, because I don’t think I would have take the time to stop and start again without that.”

She continues. “It’s one of those things where, at the time, it was the worst possible thing that could happen, but it ended up being really the best, just in opening my mind and being willing to try a new thing.”

That would be jazz. Edwards began taking lessons and her interest in the music increased,

eventually attending jams at Beat Niq hosted by Gerry Hebert, her slowly getting her feet and confidence in her grasp of and ability at the music. She admits that although the transition took time because she was almost “a beginner again,” the community was a welcoming one and more and more opportunities were presented to her.

One was a local jazz lover who offered to be her benefactor, financing her first album in 2009, Joyspring, which was an all standards effort recorded with local luminaries John Hyde and the late, great Keith Smith.

Her journey, however, wasn’t entirely over, as she began immersing herself in the local Latin jazz scene, incorporating that into her music, working with the incredibly talented artists this city can lay claim to.

Edwards’ repertoire of originals began to grow, as well, her finally getting enough and getting the funds to put together Intaglios. The album features seven originals, inspired by everything from The Chronicles of Narnia to Calgary spring snowfalls, and three covers, including a version of the Cyndi Lauper fave Time After Time.

It’s a beautifully realized affair, with Edwards showing off her remarkable range, while the band she has assembled — bassist Jeremy Coates, drummer Raul Gomez Tabera, percussionist Hector Murillo, saxman Jim Brenan, and Luis Elpana Tovar on the congas — add extra colour, help propel the material forward with their many varied solos and showcase moments.

“What I love about jazz is the collaborative element of it. The sum is greater than its parts,” she says. I don’t think I have all the answers. I think better things happen when you let other people do the thing that they’re good at. They make you better.”

She points specifically to the percussionists who are lending their Latin American influences to the sound, and advice she gave them during a recent rehearsal for Saturday’s release show. “I told them to take long solos, like go for it. I want people to know that we have this in Calgary. Outside of Toronto, maybe Montreal in Canada, we have this wealth of Latin musical talent.

“It’s my project, but I want to highlight them, too. I want people to know that this an awesome thing that we have in this city.”

In fact, although Intaglios has yet to have its official release, Edwards is already looking ahead and plotting a musical path that will take her further into that territory. She took a recent trip to Cuba for lessons from a local player, but, because of inconsistent and unreliable telecommunication, was unable to connect with her would-be teacher.

“I think I’ll go more towards that, because there’s so much there,” she says of Latin jazz. “You think, ‘That’s where I want to be, that’s where I want to go,’ and you get to that point and then you see, oh, there’s a whole other mountain range beyond that, there’s so much to learn.”

For now, though, she’s happy with where the journey has brought her, putting all of her styles and influences together in a cohesive and easy, pleasing way on Intaglios.

“After the first CD, the standard comment I got was, ‘I don’t like jazz, but I like your CD.’ ”

She laughs. “And then someone said that to me yesterday, someone I’d given an advance copy to, ‘I don’t like jazz, but I like your CD.’ ”

Edwards laughs again. “I said, ‘OK, I guess that’s my schtick.’ ”

“There’s a danger in trying to please everyone, right? But that was one of my goals to make it something that all different people could listen to and like.”

(Photo courtesy Rachel Gilliatt, That’s Me Photography.)

The Tricia Edwards Sextet celebrates the release of Intaglios Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Ironwood. For reservations, please call 403-269-5581.