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February 7, 2002 Love gets a hand from Michael Golden and friends



Michael Golden

Michael Golden jazzes it up after his day job.

Photo by Francisco Reyes

by Robert Scalia

On stage, Michael Golden looks like the perfect crooner. He keeps his fingers snapping and his shoulders swinging, as if riding the crest of the sound wave pulsating from Robin Chemtov’s piano.

Their rendition of Lulu’s Back in Town struggles against the buzz of conversation and a grinding cappuccino machine. Golden sings on, unshaken, smiling and scanning his audience at Upstairs Jazz Club for signs of approval.

“I like to see how many couples we can get kissing throughout the whole night.” He counted four lip-locked couples last week alone.

“Maybe we said the word ‘love’ 80 times that night and created an atmosphere where people felt comfortable making out,” he said, sipping on water with no ice between sets. “To expect an audience to listen to every word from beginning to end is unrealistic.”

For this duet, carving out a name in Montreal’s all-too-quiet jazz scene is far more important than hushing audience members who are just trying to have dinner.

“There used to be [jazz] clubs on every street corner in this city,” Golden says, as Chemtov agrees. “It’s not like that any more. You’ve got to have thick skin in this business.”

The 24-year-old 2001 Concordia music graduate got his first taste of the business at age 9, landing the role of Spencer Green on The Rockets, a weekly national children’s series. Born into a musical family in Winnipeg, Golden remembers performing for relatives before elementary school. He was into musical theatre by the fifth grade. “I was doing it before I was thinking about doing it.”

Golden left Winnipeg to take part in a Concordia theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s take on the Brothers Grimm, called Into the Woods. There he met Professor Andrew Homzy, who would introduce him to the beautiful complexities of jazz and convince him to pursue a degree in jazz composition and performance.

“For me, Concordia was a great fit.” Several teachers helped him tackle the spiritual side of music, something he sorely needed. Golden was introduced to vocalese, a style developed by such bebop artists as Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks that involves setting established instrumental jazz solos to lyrics and singing them.

Golden is now coordinator of student life in the Dean of Students Office. Despite the security of a nine-to-five job, he has not lost sight of his true ambition.
“I want to be a jazz star,” he said, glancing at Chemtov before breaking out into a fit of laughter. “I feel like I’m on the right track: working with the right people and making the right connections.”

Chemtov is one of those connections. A graduate of Concordia and McGill, Chemtov now teaches the jazz choir course at Concordia. The two have been working together for over a year and are presently cutting their first professional album.

It will include some of their original music and will serve as a calling card for future gigs, perhaps even the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Both admit the road ahead will be anything but easy.

“I think that [live jazz] is generally on the decline in North America,” says Chemtov, who has been performing in Montreal for more than 10 years.

He admits that there are opportunities for jazz musicians on cruise ships and in countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia. However, having a wife and two young children have forced him to rethink some of his career ambitions.

“Before, it used to be about working the music, and having a good time. Now, I can’t really get near a piano without getting jumped on by my kids.”

For Chemtov, this simply means turning down three-month cruise gigs for shorter ones, like a recent two-week stint off the coast of Alaska. He recently spent eight days performing in Vienna.

Golden, meanwhile, is keeping his options open.

“I definitely want to work in Vegas one day — it just makes sense,”” he says lightheartedly. Though he has never been, he hears it’s a trap.

“I don’t want to be 55 years old and wake up in a hotel room [celebrating] my 20th anniversary with some piano player named Frank.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

The Michael Golden Quartet performs with guest vocalist Coral Egan at Upstairs Jazz Club, 1254 Mackay St., on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.