British Columbia

Vancouver jazz bassist says late Canadian trumpeter is a big influence on his music

Double-bass player Paul Rushka, who studied Kenny Wheeler's music for his PhD, performs with his sextet at Frankie's Jazz Club in Vancouver July 17.

'[Kenny Wheeler] gave me a bunch of his music ... he was really encouraging' says Paul Rushka

Left: Kenny Wheeler, seen performing at the London Jazz Festival at Royal Festival Hall in November 2013, was the focus of double-bass player Paul Rushka's (right) Doctor of Music studies at McGill University. (Left: David Redfern/Redferns via Getty Images, Right: Angela Fama/Fama Photography/)

Some years ago double-bass player Paul Rushka — an award-winning Vancouver performer who has played throughout the world — figured that the best way to support his "music habit" was to get a job as a professor of music.

When it came to deciding what to focus on for his PhD, he quickly chose his idol Kenny Wheeler, a renowned Canadian composer and trumpet and flugelhorn player who became involved in the jazz scene in London, England from the 1950s onwards.

"Before I even started the doctorate, I went to the library and I started looking around, and I realized there was almost nothing written on him in academia," said Rushka, who is performing with his sextet at Frankie's Jazz Club in Vancouver on July 17.

"It was this huge hole, and [he was] a Canadian to boot, which was perfect."

Kenny Wheeler's legacy

During his studies at McGill University in Montreal, Rushka said he had the opportunity to go to London and visit Wheeler a few times before the musician died in 2014, and also contributed substantially to helping organize the Kenny Wheeler Archives at the Royal Academy of Music.

Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler performs on stage, circa late 1960's. (David Redfern/Redferns)

"He gave me a bunch of his music personally … and he was really encouraging," Rushka told Hot Air host Margaret Gallagher.

"I met his son and his wife and they really were just so supportive of the work I was doing. It meant a lot."

Rushka has become a renowned musician in his own right, having performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

However Rushka said Wheeler — who was known as a skilled arranger who also focused on free improvisation — left an indelible mark on his own style of composing.

Writing music

"Certainly digging into anyone's style that deeply can't help but affect your own writing," he said, adding that Wheeler was very deliberate in how he wrote and arranged music.

Rushka joined host Margaret Gallagher on Hot Air before his upcoming performance at Frankie's Jazz Club on July 17. (CBC)

"It's definitely made me go over my own music with a fine tooth comb. The editing process has become a lot more substantial for me … solo orders, song orders in sets, all those things I think about a lot more than I used to."

Rushka said he does consciously try to not write songs just like his idol Wheeler would've done.

"I need to develop my own voice," he said, adding that even though he finds writing music to be a challenging process, it's one that is very fulfilling.

"There's not many rewards in life that I've found equal to that opportunity to present your own music, and I guess that's the exact reason: the greater the toil, the greater the reward."

Rushka, who recently returned to his native Vancouver with his wife and three young boys, joined the faculty at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music earlier this year.

He told Hot Air he has a new album in the works, set to be released within a year.

With files from CBC's Hot Air

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