A Musical Reality Check

If Bryden Baird had known more about the music business early on, he might have chosen a different career.

“I may have considered just doing it for fun and having some other type of job,” he admits.

“Fortunately, I’ve been fine, but if you monitor the way the major labels are shrinking year by year, I sort of wonder what will be left of the music business as a whole in about five years time. It’s hard to say.”

As a professional sideman, the Toronto trumpeter knows the rigours of the road. He recently spent nearly four years touring with pop singer Feist.

“You’re away from home a month at a time, and then in between those month-long episodes you’re home for maybe a week and a half or two weeks and you can pay some bills and cut the grass and what-not, and then you’re out again.”

That tour included appearances on the most coveted TV venues – Letterman, Leno, Kimmel, O’Brien, even Saturday Night Live.

“I was just kind of hopping on the Feist train, and her record company and management at the time were pushing her to do all that stuff. There aren’t that many slots available, so you need to have somebody who’s willing to get on the phone and email and hound these people, to get an appearance on air.”

In a career spanning nearly two decades, the 40-year-old Baird has backed such stars as Michael Buble, Kris Kristofferson, Sarah Harmer and Sean Lennon. He has also appeared with Blue Rodeo and both the Toronto and Vancouver symphony orchestras.

He is currently musical director for Steven Page, former frontman for the Barenaked Ladies.

“Right now during the summer it’s basically a weekend band. We’ll go and do festivals on a Saturday and Sunday and the odd Friday. If we were going to do a proper tour, that would probably be in the fall some time.”

Besides performing, Baird maintains a busy schedule as a composer, arranger and instructor. Next week he will be in Whitehorse conducting the concert band portions of the Yukon Summer Music Camp. Last year he played in the Guild Theatre production of The Man From the Capital.

“The life of a freelancer is that you have to have about 20 part-time jobs to fill your schedule,” he says.

Baird is also in demand as a session musician, with credits on numerous CDs, although long days and nights in the studio are now rare.

“The way technology is these days, I end up just getting a file emailed to me, and I’ll add my part on my computer system and then just email it back,” he says. “I kind of listen to the track and then see what springs to mind just from musing over it, and then the rest of it is just putting the pieces into place.”

While that process may miss the odd “happy accident” that comes from the interplay of musicians performing together, Baird says he takes the same approach he would with a studio recording.

“If you’re familiar with different styles, there’s sort of cliché things you know will work. Then you also want to add your own signature and your own style. I’ve got a bag of tricks that I draw from all the time that kind of scream Bryden Baird.”

Raised in a musical family, Baird took piano lessons for a few years and later played cornet in the Salvation Army junior brass band. Then one night in the early 1980s, he happened to be watching the Grammy Awards.

“I saw Wynton Marsalis play some insanely complicated music on trumpet. He played a classical piece; it might have been Flight of the Bumblebee or Carnival Of Venice, or something.”

Later, Marsalis came out to play a jazz number.

“That’s what really got me going. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” Baird says.

“I was a kid who grew up in Oshawa, where it was all hockey and General Motors, and I just happened to be watching television at the right time and was in the right place, and that’s what spoke to me.”

In an era of “disposable” music, of hip hop and MP3 players and YouTube videos, Baird says it is hard to predict what might have a similar impact on a young person now.

“The most unlikely kids from high school will be into something that you would never think they had an interest in. It depends on the person.”

Baird’s goal at next week’s music camp is to create that same sense of excitement and discovery in his students.

But he also intends to pass on some realistic messages about the music business.

“You could go for it and be a Lady Gaga, but it might be harder than ever. So you might just want to do this for fun, and every time you pick it up it will be purely for enjoyment, instead of picking it up and trying to worry about paying your mortgage, or feeding yourself.

“I would just be cautionary with the kids … get them excited about music the same way you would get excited about being on a house league soccer team or something. Put some effort into it, and try your best, and just really enjoy it.”

For a schedule of free public performances during the music camp, go towww.yukonmusiccamp.ca/performance/

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