Jazz guitarist lets strings do the talkin’

Reg Schwager performs with many jazz bands

As one of Canada’s leading jazz guitarists, Reg Schwager has performed with the who’s who of the international jazz world: Mel Tormé, Diana Krall, Rob McConnell, Pepper Adams and Hank Jones.

From 2005-2008, Schwager was the recipient of the coveted Guitarist of the Year Award from Canada’s National Jazz Awards.

So you would think the east-end resident is as outgoing as the music he plays and the awards that he receives.

Quite the opposite.

Schwager would rather let his guitar do the talking than his own voice.

“The guitar felt natural. It felt comfortable,” he says softly during a May phone interview about how he came to play the guitar at age 10. “I can hide behind it.

“If you don’t feel you have much to say with words then you can say with music.”

Shy or not, Schwager is no doubt talented at what he does.

He performs with the Darren Sigesmund Sextet at Nathan Phillips Square on June 26 then at the Old Mill on July 2 with John Sherwood as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

Before that, Schwager is in New York City to play at the 92nd Street Y venue with fellow musicians Renee Rosnes, Bill Charlap and Phil

After that it’s back to Toronto for the Netherlands-born Schwager. He’ll spend much of the summer playing at the legendary Rex Hotel on Queen St. West with jazz pianist Richard Whiteman.

“I’m not sure of how many groups I play with,” Schwager says, estimating it must be close to 24 different groups.

“You can’t support yourself with just one band. I play with as many people as possible, which is fun.”

Schwager says he likes the different approach each musician brings to the music.

“I like playing with them and trying to get their message across.”

When Schwager was three, his family moved to New Zealand where he studied the violin. He knew then that he wanted to work as a musician when he grew up.

Three years later, his family moved to Sudbury, Canada, forcing him to leave behind the violin and take up recorder, ukulele, flute and piano.

The guitar came into Schwager’s life soon after.

And it’s been with him ever since.

He was playing jazz gigs by age 15, along with his sister Jeannette, a singer.

By 1979, Schwager was settled in Toronto, performing with the top musicians of the day.

Along with an impressive amount of touring in his more than 30-year career, Schwager has played his guitar on over 80 commercially released recordings with such artists as Junior Mance, Gary Burton, George Shearing and Mel Tormé.

He has enjoyed writing his own music and has written hundreds of jazz compositions with Jeanette.

If that’s not enough, for seven years Schwager ran a popular blog dedicated to news about Brazilian music. As a lover of all things Latin, Schwager attended musical workshops with such Brazilian masters as Dori Caymmi, Marcos Silva, Jovino Santos Neto and Hamilton de Holanda to expand his blog.

While he closed the blog in 2009, Schwager still maintains his interest in the music.

“I like the rhythm…the harmony,” he says. “It’s a great example of good songwriting.”

But jazz is – and will always be – his number one love.

“I love the fact it allows you space to express yourself,” Schwager says. “That it has such a deep tradition and musicians to inspire you.”

Schwager describes Toronto’s jazz scene as active.

While such top venues as Montreal Bistro and the Top O’Senator have closed down in recent years, venues like the Rex and summer festivals like the Toronto Jazz Festival and the Beaches Jazz Festival keep the scene afloat.

“There are a lot of young musicians coming up all the time,” he says. “It is quite healthy…it impresses me.

“People always talk to me about how great it was in the old days, but I think it’s pretty good now.”

About this article:

By: Lorianna De Giorgio
Posted: Jun 16 2010 1:49 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto