A love song – or 14 – for Montreal
Musician Mike Rud shares his devotion for city that has become his hometown in compilation album that will melt winter blahs
Montreal-based jazz guitarist Mike Rud has composed an album inspired by Montreal. Notes on Montreal is available on iTunes or cdbaby.com.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala , The Gazette
MONTREAL — Mike Rud loves this city’s mountain and river, its quaint cafés and old-world delis, its sprawling markets and specialty curio shops. Hell, he even loves the polar vortex that is our winter, and has come to terms with potholes.
Born in Edmonton and having lived everywhere from Vancouver to Ottawa to New York City, Rud is head over heels in love with Montreal, now his adopted hometown.
However, unlike others so infatuated with our city, Rud went to enormous lengths to demonstrate his love. A jazz guitarist, Rud, 45, spent four years researching, writing, composing and then assembling the CD, Notes on Montreal, inspired by the views of the city by some of our most renowned wordsmiths — Yves Beauchemin, Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, Gabrielle Roy, Michel Tremblay, among others.
Not only an incredibly ambitious undertaking, but the result is a soothing, soulful 14-track compilation, enhanced by an eight-piece ensemble, including the deft guitar work of Rud and a string quartet, and the angelic honey vocals of Toronto jazz crooner Sienna Dahlen — who had lived in Montreal for 10 years.
“I have to say, I was completely decked out listening to Sienna — everything was just ear candy,” says Rud, taking refuge from the cold at his favourite haunt, Café Matina on Bernard St., around the corner from his Mile End apartment. “I don’t know anybody who renders a lyric more coherently and sympathetically than she does.”
Hard not to concur with Rud’s assessment of Dahlen’s talent. But all the elements come together here, and if this disc doesn’t melt away your winter blahs, nothing will.
Rud had lived a nomadic life as a child. His dad was with the Canadian military, and the family was forever being uprooted.
“We basically lived all over creation,” he says. “I guess that having moved so much as a kid and as an adult, it generated a backlash for me, where I am nostalgic and forever looking for a hometown. I feel that to an extent for Edmonton, where I grew up. But I’ve spent more actual hours of my life in Montreal.”
Rud moved to Montreal in 1988 and stayed four years, then spent another four years wandering around the country and New York. He returned here in ’96 for another four years, to do a degree in psychology. He then took off for Ottawa and Vancouver, before permanently setting up stakes here in 2007.
“For a long time, I had been looking for a project, a topic that would animate me, a full robust expression with the vocals of Sienna. We had done a few one-off things with strings over the years. But I wasn’t sure what it would be.”
Then it hit him. “A nostalgia for Montreal came to me when I was living in Vancouver, and started listening a lot to Leonard Cohen and thinking about his first two novels. When I returned to this neighbourhood, I started reading Richler’s works set in this area and got really absorbed.”
At the same time, Rud had been studying to become a cognitive psychologist. He had been working in the lab of renowned McGill psychologist and author Dan Levitan, whose specialty is music cognition and neuroscience. Rud was about to begin a graduate degree in the neuropsychology of music.
“I had a crisis, and suddenly, I decided that wasn’t me. I’m not a research scientist. I was sitting here in this café, reading all these books about the city. Then it dawned on me that putting together a music project about the city with Sienna was the right thing for me to do.”
The work was intensive. Rud knew how to deal with the musical aspects of arranging and performing. Financing was something new, and he went around the country to get the necessary funding to put together the CD. “I spent every nickel on the production,” he notes. Which means there is no marketing machine behind him.
His concern was that his lyrics reflect the city. “If you’re not actually born and raised here, you wonder if you are really capturing the essence of the city. But all I could do was soldier on and ended up spending four years on the writing. I really wanted to capture the issue of what these writers were expressing about the city and its characters.”
The research has paid off. Rud’s lyrics are particularly evocative. For example, Streetcar 55, Rud’s take on Tremblay’s La Grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte about a group of friends on a streetcar along the Main: “Past the bustling beehive blocks, and Schreter’s with its discount socks; A rolling coop of happy hens, clucking through the city.”
Rud points out that he took a little liberty with the latter, because the streetcar was originally the 52 — “anything for the rhyme” — although now the 55 bus does make the rounds in the ’hood.
Smoked Meat and the Main, Rud’s interpretation of Richler’s Barney’s Version, would seem to capture the essence of the titled character: “Now I take my seat, at this bar on Bishop Street, where I waste my time, with lawyers that I meet; And I reminisce, ’bout evenings at the Ritz; The women and the rain; Smoked meat and the Main.”
Rud had attached lyrics on some of his single compositions in the past. But his first three discs were essentially “be-bop guitar records — all instrumental without a single syllable of lyric.”
“I had spent the whole time in the closet, beavering away as a lyricist. Finally, I decided I had do it eventually if it was in me.”
The Notes on Montreal package, replete with the eight-piece ensemble and the vocals of Dahlen, would seem to be a natural for presentation at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
The idea has not escaped Rud. “That’s the hope. I would love nothing more.”
As is the case with any jazz musician in this city, Rud must support himself playing in all manner of gigs — from clubs to private cocktail parties. He is also a “full service guitar teacher.”
“Between these things, I’ve been able to put together a really low-grade living,” cracks Rud, who shares custody of his two daughters with his former partner. “But at least I get to make my art.”
Inquiring minds wish to know if there are any aspects of this city that don’t captivate Rud.
“I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with some,” he says. “But because I’m sort of a permanent tourist here, I will always see the place with rose-coloured glasses.
“What really staggers me about the city is that people do love it so much that it goes on functioning in spite of whatever infrastructural shortcomings are currently plaguing it and continues to ramble on. The place is still populated with tons of brilliant, compassionate people, and I have trouble believing that anything really alarming can emerge from that.”
To which Gazette photographer Dario Ayala quips: “Could you get me some of them glasses, please?”
There was another side benefit to Rud’s extensive research on the city. He spent much of his days walking around the city and soaking up its flavours.
In so doing, along with moderating his diet, he was able to shed much excessive weight, coming down from 335 pounds to 150. He tips the scales at 160.
“I just got so focused on the research and writing and the walking,” Rud explains.
“The whole exercise has been a real double bonus as a result.”
Notes on Montreal is available on iTunes or cdbaby.com.