Humewood saxophonist gains Momentum

Juan Arce reflects on being discovered by the Shuffle Demons

Humewood resident Juan Arce has a fond memory of his beginnings with the band Turbo Street Funk.

The 27-year-old sits in a copper-coloured recliner, listening to bandmate Casey Van recount how the Shuffle Demons came calling in 2011.

Hey, it’s not every day the writer of a song you’re covering on the corner of Queen and Spadina approaches you and asks to cut a record.

But for the jazz fusion quintet, they had Richard Underhill of the Shuffle Demons do just that when they did their own version of the troupe’s “Spadina Bus.”

Underhill heard it from some of his colleagues, Mike Murley and Jim Vivian, who taught three of Turbo’s troupe, Casey Van, Joel Eric Szabo and Juan Arce at York University. He caught up to the men, Van recounts, busking in front of the Horseshoe Tavern, and asked if they wanted to make an album.

“The idea was to get a small group together on the street and do it more consistently,” Arce says.

He and lead vocalist Van met in school during intro to jazz class at York, and they’re happy to be releasing their second album, Momentum. Their first album, To The Street, was produced by Shuffle Demons bassist, George Koller.

Now, Momentum‘s name is apropos of everything the bands experienced so far, going from buskers on the street to opening the show for the Shuffle Demons. They’re hoping to keep their success moving forward.

Arce’s path to get to where he is now starts in the small coffee-growing town of Armenia, Colombia. He wanted to be a saxophonist at 9, but the music shops didn’t carry them.

Once he came to Canada, at 12, he got his hands on the reed instrument in Grade 8, and would not stop practising.

“I was catching up because all the other kids had started before me,” he says. “They wouldn’t let me start when I first got here.”

It earned him a music award.

But his first music teacher was his dad, Alvaro Arce. The professional guitarist in Colombia, who brought his 15-year-old son on tour with him.

“I would play with him, with a little recorder, and I would jam the hell out of it,” Juan Arce says.

For the most part, the music was a hobby, however. Throughout his academic career, Arce studied to be an engineer.

At the beginning of his sophomore year at Ryerson, he decided to become the musician he is today. But not without consulting his dad first.

“I was two months in, sitting in the hallway, something just went through my mind,” he says. “You see people who are really into it, but I don’t have a passion for it.

“I went to my dad and said, I have this thought, ‘I was thinking of just doing music’.”

His dad approved, and even bought Juan his first alto sax, as well as a keyboard and clarinet.

Now, he’s in a band that has performed at the Tremblant International Blues Festival, Mariposa Folk Festival, CAN-AM International Festival in Sackets Harbor, NY and the Beaches International Jazz Festival.

It’s been a wild ride, and what’s next? Potentially a third album, one which elicits banter from Van and Arce.

“The third album? It might be called Crash and Burn,” Van chides. “No, Stratosphere.”

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Posted: Sep 7 2016 5:36 pm
Filed in: ARTS & LIFE
Edition: Toronto