Sylvain Gagnon, Hong Kong-based jazz bassist, has new album out

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 January, 2015, 10:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 January, 2015, 12:50pm

Canadian bassist Sylvain Gagnon accepted an invitation in February 2000 from Eugene Pao to play in a "dream band" of international players the local guitarist was assembling for a tour.

Gagnon liked the band - which included Japanese drummer Tamaya Honda, Ted Lo on keyboards and Filipino saxophonist Tots Tolentino - but he liked the weather in Hong Kong even better. "Just before that it had reached a record low of -15 in Montreal," Gagnon recalls. "I thought 'That's my cue'. I had a life plan to move to a warmer place."

Gagnon played accordion as a child, moving later to guitar, and finally settling on the bass. He plays both the upright double bass and various bass guitars. "I discovered jazz in my teenage years. I was very impressed by the virtuosity and the intellectual prowess of the musicians," he recalls.

"It's mathematical and I always had a logical pragmatic mind. I studied to be an electronic engineer, but after two years I decided to take a sabbatical, and then I realised I should stick to what I really loved, which was play jazz. I was hooked by the virtuosity and the feeling that can be expressed."

While still living in Canada, Gagnon earned a formidable reputation for the precision and the expression of his playing. He recorded and gigged with some A-list international jazz names, including pianist Joey Calderazzo and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, and established his own record label, Lost Chart Records.

He moved to Hong Kong full-time on June 1, 2000, and after a few years in Discovery Bay bought a home in Mui Wo where he set up a home studio. "I like it here. I wouldn't live in the city itself, but Lantau is a quiet place, full of nature," he says.

Once settled in, as well as playing with most of the leading Hong Kong resident jazz musicians, Gagnon swiftly filled his diary with session work and tours with Canto-pop artists. But he found it hard to get the time to compose his own music.

"Then last year at Chinese New Year I had a few free days, and thought, 'Now it's time to write something', so I wrote a whole bunch of new music. Then I called my friend [and fellow bassist] Peter Scherr and booked his studio, and we went in and recorded."

For the sessions, Gagnon assembled a quartet comprising himself on acoustic upright bass and electric bass guitars, Yoyong Aquino on piano, Paulo Levi on saxophones, and Cameron Reid on drums. "I've been working with Yoyong forever, and Paulo also. We were roommates on a Jacky Cheung [Hok-yau] tour. We listen to the same music and have the same influences. Cameron was in Hong Kong for a year and a half, but he's now back in Sydney," says Gagnon.

After the sessions, his professional life got busy again. Gagnon was asked to be musical director for shows by singer Bianca Wu, with whom he works regularly, and told her about the album, to be titled Blue Moon.

A jazz fan who has previously recorded jazz adaptations of Canto-pop favourites, Wu asked if she could contribute some vocals. Then her manager volunteered to undertake distribution of the CD, which Gagnon is hoping will also appeal to Wu's Canto-pop fan base.

"It's the first time she has guested on somebody else's record," he says. "We recorded three new tracks. A ballad [ Wind is Blowing composed by Ryudo Uzaki and popularised in Hong Kong by Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing], a real nice new arrangement of Abba's Dancing Queen, and a duet on Blue Moon."

Blue Moon also includes three Gagnon original tunes, Violetta Para's Gracias A La Vida, Antonio Carlos Jobim's Ela é Carioca, and three Chinese folk songs. One of the originals, Boa Viagem, was inspired by a visit to Brazil, where he attended a concert by Milton Nascimento. "There were 5,000 people, all clapping in time. Only in Brazil would you hear that," he says.

It is a strong and varied album, and is now available at various retail outlets in Hong Kong and through CD Baby.

Take Three

Three other albums featuring the bass playing of Sylvain Gagnon, shortly to be reissued online and expected to be available through CD Baby and iTunes.

  • Readers of the Lost Chart (1995, Lost Chart Records): a bebop and funk-based quintet recording featuring Gagnon on double bass and six-string bass guitar.
  • Simply Music (1996, Lost Chart Records): a formidable trio - Gagnon, pianist Joey Calderazzo and drummer Jeff Watts - playing a mixed bag of standards and original compositions.
  • New Friends (1998, Lost Chart Records): Gagnon teams up with singer O.S. Arun for a project which merges jazz with the Carnatic music of southern India.