On any given day when the weather is warm and the sun is shining, you may hear the ambient strains of Howard Chymy’s saxophone drifting down Main Street in Whitehorse.
This year, the snow took a little longer to recede. It was a cool April, and when I listened for the sound of the sax, I didn’t hear it. In the cold, dusty streets, I realized the absence and how much I missed his music.
I met Howard 10 years ago, not long after I moved to the territory, and got to know him through a series of conversations and portrait drawings that he agreed to sit for.
He always struck me as someone who made his own way in the Yukon, so when I bumped into him last week downtown, I invited him to sit down and talk about his early life and some of his musical influences.
One of his first influences was his grandfather-in-law, who could get an entire room full of people up on their feet dancing with only an accordion and his stomping foot.
Howard’s own musical education began as a young child with music lessons. His father allowed him to walk by himself, despite the long distance. He credits these lessons and the sense of independence the experience gave him with setting him in the right direction and beginning a long musical journey.
Listening to the music of such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane also provided inspiration.
Howard moved to Whitehorse in 1996 from Victoria, B.C. He came partly for a change of scene and to get into a new headspace — but also, like so many others, for romantic reasons. It wasn’t just a girl, he said, but the girl, who brought him here.
Through performing to support himself, he gradually became a fixture of the summer streets. His music has graced a huge variety of venues — everything from Burnt Toast Cafe and the Chocolate Claim, to Arts in the Park and The Old Fire Hall.
He has noticed the city changing and taking on a much faster pace over the 17 years that he’s been playing music downtown.
These days Howard is turning towards recording at home — a relaxed, studio-based approach with a story-telling aspect. I was interested to hear that he avoided digital recording methods and instead gravitated to analog equipment. He’ll be compiling some of the recordings on the upcoming album At Home.
Now Howard is playing again, and with him comes the spring sunshine.