British Columbia

How two jazz musicians recreated the sounds of their fallen mentor

Mike Allen and Miles Black's new album Bob's Piano, features their own renditions of compositions from their old mentor Bob Murphy — as well as some unreleased tracks from the man himself.

Mike Allen and Miles Black release Bob's Piano features both reimagined and unreleased tracks from Bob Murphy

Mike Allen and Miles Black spent hours on the piano trying to recreate the sound of their late mentor, Bob Murphy. (Bob's Piano)

When pianist Bob Murphy was just 14 when he found himself thrust onstage to Vancouver's Smilin' Buddha Cabaret for his professional debut.

Over the next five decades, he'd become one of city's premiere jazz pianists, a musical director for numerous Canadian programs, including the Alan Thicke Show, and a mentor to many artists that continue to shape the city's jazz scene.

Murphy died of a stroke in 2015, but he left behind a treasure trove of unreleased music. Now, some of those tunes are featured in a new record that pays homage to the late artist, aptly titled Bob's Piano.

The project was spearheaded by Vancouver saxophonist Mike Allen, a longtime friend and collaborator of the late Murphy.

"We had recordings Bob and I had made through the years from these sessions we had done at his place,"  Allen told host Margaret Gallagher on CBC's Hot Air. "They just were saved on his hard drive."

Murphy's widow, Monique Van Dam, passed the music on to Allen, who was surprised Murphy had held on to them. He had a listen, and got the idea to release them as a tribute to his mentor.

But there was one problem: there wasn't quite enough material to round out a full record.

"We had to finish the unfinished album," he said.

Allen recruited pianist Miles Black to recreate some of Murphy's classic compositions on the seven-foot Yamaha grand piano the jazz great had played and adored for decades.

Bob's Piano

"Bob loved the piano so much ... he would spend hours and hours at it just composing and playing — and just being inspired by its sound. I think for any pianist to have an instrument that inspires them is almost more than you can ask for. And he had it."

While Bob Murphy's (right) grand piano was often confined to his studio, it inspired the compositions he brought to live audiences in Vancouver. (Emmanuel Santana Photography/YouTube)

The pair entered Murphy's studio to honour his sound, and try to recreate his complex harmonies, with Black on the keys. They settled on some of Murphy's personal favourites, including "And You Become the Moonlight" and "Monique," a tribute to his wife.

Allen admits the project was emotional for both of them.

"The recording session itself gave me goose bumps when we were doing it," he said. "The whole session had a reverential sense to it at first — we really felt the significance of what we were doing. Bob's spirit was in the room with us when we were recording."

Allen and Black collaborated on the piano bench in the same way Allen used to work alongside Murphy.

Allen says the mood eventually lightened. They began to remember Murphy's humour and playfulness, and soon it felt like the old days when they would record in the studio by his side.

The experience also brought back memories of Murphy's passion.

"When you hear Bob, you sense there's a lot more to the music than just the notes and the style. He's deeply connected to what he plays. People often say they think he's spiritual in the way he approaches music."

With the album now set to release next month, the duo can't help but ponder what their old friend would say about the finished product.

"I think he'd love it — Bob was one of those people who was very hard on his own playing. I know he would love the gesture, he would love to hear these compositions played by somebody else."

Allen and Black are currently touring Bob's Piano throughout the lower mainland, including a show at Frankie's Jazz Club on March 10.

With files from CBC's Hot Air

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: How two jazz musicians recreated the sounds of their fallen mentor