Jazz pianist and composer
Photography by Constantine Tanasiuk
WHY HE'S A TOP 40: He encourages musicians to stay in Edmonton to find success — and he leads by example.
KEY TO HIS SUCCESS: He finds a balance between artistic pursuits and paying gigs. "I still get satisfaction from the gigs, but they finance my creative side. A corporate gig will set me up to pursue my artistic endeavors."
Making a living as a musician in Edmonton is a tough gig. So when Chris Andrew was invited by Paul Brandt's producer to play keyboard on the country star's 2006 Christmas album, A Gift, the local jazz pianist was thrilled, even though country music isn't his favourite genre.
"Paul loved my playing, loved my vibe personality-wise and everything," recalls Andrew, who is also a composer and teacher. The experience led to an invitation to play on Brandt's 2007 Risk tour. For a working musician, the pay was great but, more importantly, it helped Andrew show his students at Grant MacEwan University that they don't have to leave Edmonton to find success — a move he says is far too common.
"That's what the students pull away from me. They see me out touring with Paul Brandt, touring with ¡Bomba!, the Hutchinson Andrew Trio and doing all these different things, and they see that's possible," he says.
Andrew says the key to his success is finding the balance between paid work and artistic pursuits that allow him to remain passionate about his art. So although he's usually a jazz man, playing a country gig allowed him to work on his own projects. And that list of projects is long.
Between the soft melodies he plays as part of the Hutchinson Andrew Trio and the furious toe-tapping Cubano beats with the group ¡Bomba!, Andrew has released four albums and has a fifth in the works. His playing has also been featured on three compilation discs. As for his work as a composer, dozens of artists, including P.J. Perry, Wendy McNeill and Dave Babcock, have recorded 45 of his songs.
Outside the studio, Andrew has played with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Edmonton Jazz Orchestra and for the Queen during her 2005 visit to Edmonton. In 2001, he helped start a jazz program at Augustana University in Camrose.
His career began in 1988 as a music student at MacEwan college. Almost immediately, the aspiring pianist was absorbed into Edmonton's thriving music scene, where he cut his teeth playing gigs up to six nights a week for a range of bands spanning several genres. He was nominated a number of times for Western Canadian Music Awards, and his ever-growing body of work was recognized in 2008 when he received the CBC Galaxie Rising Stars award.
"It was a big deal, not only for me but the scene in Edmonton, because so many artists leave here because they don't think you can be here and win these kinds of awards," he says about the national honour. "My work had finally been noticed."