Calgary jazz mainstay Sheldon Zandboer finally free enough to release his debut Tipping Velvet

In the immortal words of Funkadelic: Free your mind … and your ass will follow.

Sure, you could take that in the psychotropic manner it which it was intended by Sir George and the gang. Or you could take it as a metaphor, as sage advice that you need to do whatever you can to get past whatever mental hurdle it is that’s keeping you from doing what you want or what you should, and then it will all come together.

It’s something that veteran pianist Sheldon Zandboer discovered recently.

The longtime figure on the Canadian jazz scene has had a remarkable and eclectic career, from studying classical piano before he was five to performing for luminaries around the world — including the Queen, every Prime Minister since Brian Mulroney, and athletes at the Vancouver Winter Olympics — and playing with such names as Guido Basso, PJ Perry and Holly Cole.

His ridiculously diverse resume also includes: writing for Decidedly Jazz Danceworks; working at Critical Mass composing music for commercials for such companies as Mercedes Benz and NASA; acting as the music director for Tim Tamashiro; helping to compose the music for the movie Bellyboat Hustle, which is now in the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art; writing an instructional jazz book called the Tao of Jazz Improvisation; and, of course, being on the jazz piano faculty at the Mount Royal University Conservatory.

But the one thing missing from it, the one thing that Zandboer — a man of so much musical experience and expertise — had never done is release an entire album of his own compositions.

Until now.

After all this time, Zandboer is pulling an Al Muirhead and releasing his debut, Tipping Velvet, on the local Chronograph Records label.

Why now? What was his hurdle and what was it that freed his derrière?

“I’ve kind of harboured a thing all my life that there’s so much music, so much beautiful music, what can I add to it?” says the Edmonton-born, Calgary-based Zandboer. “What could I possibly add to all this music in the world? And I always compared myself and I always went, ‘I could never be Herbie Hancock, I could never be Chick Corea or I could never write something like this.’

“And it wasn’t until I actually met Herbie Hancock at the Jack Singer (Concert) Hall, and he talked to me and he said, ‘You have to make music like you’re the only one who knows how.’ Or, more specifically, ‘You’re the only one who can.’ And that statement just set me free basically.

“It stuck with me and then I went, ‘Oh my God. No matter what I do it’s going to be me anyway, so me is going to be (incomparable) to anything.’ So I just went ahead and moved ahead and wrote an album that I would like to listen to and I thought, ‘Well, if I like to listen to it, maybe other people will, too.’

“And I just went at it purely from that point of view and those were the keys.”

Actually, those were the initial keys to Tipping Velvet, which he’ll celebrate the release of with a local show Sunday, May 27 with a show at Junction YYC.

Another big factor was a vacation he took to Spain. He was staying at an Airbnb with his girlfriend, and when he walked in discovered that lo and behold, one of the unmentioned amenities was a piano.

“It was like, ‘Bang’ a door opened and I went, ‘OK, this is a sign,’ ” he says. “Every morning I would wake up before my girlfriend and make myself an espresso and I would write.”

He calls the experience “sublime.”

You could call his debut the same.

Recorded live, off the floor at OCL studios with acoustic bassist George Koller, trumpet/flugelhorn player Bob Tildesley and drummer Andy Ericson, with Johanna Sillanpaa taking vocals on the track I Will Wait, Tipping Velvet is a sumptuously elegant and emotional work of art.

All of the gorgeously rendered songs have a fluidity to them, the stellar performances by all of the players layered onto casually blissful piano motions that ease you in and all the way through.

“That’s what I wanted. I wanted to create the first album with earworms,” he says, noting that he wanted to harness “female energy” that he feels is lacking in jazz, more specifically melodies, which was the “ground zero” for the songs on the album.

“It is the melodies is what connects us as humans, it is the melodies that have the emotional content which compels us.”

Those attending the release on Sunday night will get the full treatment as Zandboer and the same band, with the exception of Koller, who will be replaced by Jason Valleau for the evening, perform all but one of the songs on the record.

“I’m playing everything but the last tune,” he says of the lovely nine-and-a-half minute solo piece Tipping the Velvet. “The last tune is actually a bonus track and the last tune was me pressing record at midnight. And that’s what came out. That’s a one-time deal, I don’t think I could ever recreate that the same. I might do something similar, but never like that.”

And that’s actually a pretty good description of what might be to come from Zandboer.

He admits that now the dam has burst, in all likelihood there will be a followup to Tipping Velvet.

As to whether or not he’s sent a copy of it the Hancock, the man who freed his mind so that his music could follow, Zandboer just laughs.

“No. Maybe I should. Actually I haven’t, but that’s a great idea. And thank him. And actually put the quote on the album of what he told me, and emancipated me.”

Sheldon Zandboer releases his album Tipping Velvet with a show Sunday, May 27 at Junction YYC, 628 8 Ave. S.W.