“Science nerd” by day, cool ‘KAT by night: SesayArts in Conversation with Sarang Kulkarni ~ Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

OCTOKATS West-Coast Jazz Octet (photo courtesy of OCTOKATS)

The OCTOKATS West Coast Jazz Octet (photo courtesy of The OCTOKATS)

The OCTOKATS will perform on April 15 as part of this season’s St George Music Knights series. Prior to this anticipated concert of West Coast Jazz, we chatted with Bandleader and Saxophonist Sarang Kulkarni about all things jazz, the octets’ brand new CD and … cloning. Yes, cloning! 

What should young people know about west-coast jazz in general and the music of OCTOKATS in particular to be able to enjoy your concert on April 15?

Developed in the club scenes in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1950’s, West Coast Jazz quite simply is a more relaxed style of music without sounding excessively busy, with a lot of notes, much like the style of the hard boppers from the East Coast Jazz musicians.  I’m not however, implying that West Coast Jazz sounds like “Elevator Music”. Many of the musical arrangements have elements of bop mixed with swing.  It is very pleasing to hear, very breezy, very smooth and yes you can even dance to it!

The OCTOKATS will be playing the music of West Coast Jazz Musicians such as Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Dave Pell, Henry Mancini, Art Pepper and Al Belletto.  Toronto hasn’t had this kind of jazz in the clubs for a long time and the OCTOKATS are more than enthusiastic to bring to all of you this exciting sound.

What do you hope people will be discussing when they leave your show?

I hope the audience will have an appreciation for the style of music we play.  There is much tongue-in-cheek humor in some of our musical numbers. We even have some charts where West Coast Jazz musicians produced arrangements from music that came from the East Coast. This resulted in a completely different feel of the original tune, and we hope that the audience enjoys this West Coast interpretation.

Sound Bites:

1.My favorite musicians (past and/or present) and why?

As a young teenager, my first foray into jazz was listening to Canadian trumpet player Maynard Ferguson.  I idolized him.  For those of you who don’t remember, he was the one that did the theme from “Rocky.” CITY TV in Toronto used to use that theme song on their news show, CityPulse, years ago.  I always loved the way Maynard would hit those high notes. Wanting to read up on Maynard, I learned that he had a HUGE contribution to West Coast Jazz Movement, as he played with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Maynard also went on to play with a few octets (8 piece bands), with Bill Holman as his arranger. I’m very fortunate to have a few those arrangements in our library.

2. Why jazz?

Jazz sings. Jazz communicates. Jazz has a language. Jazz is fun to play, fun to listen to, and fun to dance to…from ALL styles of jazz…not just West Coast Jazz. Jazz also has a history that is rich with personal stories and hardships of the musicians that struggled in life. The music that comes out them, either instrumental or a vocal, is a very moving story. When you listen, you travel back in time, and you begin to visualize in your mind what it must have been like.

3. My most unusual or memorable gig 


Without a doubt, my group’s most memorable gig had to be the one we did with West Coast Jazz Tenor Saxophone legend, Dave Pell on November 25th, 2013.  The last time Dave Pell was in Toronto, occurred when he was with the Les Brown Orchestra 60 years ago!  So I was simply thrilled when he accepted my invitation to come to Toronto and perform with The OCTOKATS. We performed with him at Hugh’s Room and we featured most of his popular octet arrangements during the first set.  In our second set, we performed a series of charts that paid tribute to Dave Pell’s own Tenor Sax idol, Lester Young.  To make this part of the show even more memorable, Toronto’s own Tenor Saxophonist Pat LaBarbera joined in on the action!  Pat used to play with the Buddy Rich orchestra from 1967 to 1974 and he is now a faculty member at Humber College.  That concert was recorded and it resulted in the OCTOKATS’ debut CD, Cool West Coast Jazz Comes to Toronto. We will be selling this memorable CD at our show at St. George on Yonge.

4. How I picked my instrument

I am a woodwind player. I play all the saxophones and the clarinet. In elementary school, I was “assigned” to play the clarinet. When I was told that I was going to play the clarinet, I read up on it and discovered “Benny Goodman.” Wow! I was hooked! Yeah, Maynard Ferguson was all guts and all flash and a heck of a trumpet player, but Benny?  As a clarinetist, he was King!  The King of Swing! After watching a few of Benny Goodman’s clips on TV, I thought I’d give the clarinet a try! It was an interesting experience when I brought the clarinet home for the first time from school.  I put it together, put it in my mouth and tried to blow.  NOTHING came out.  I gave it to my Mom; she tried it, and NOTHING!  She told me, “Sarang, you are going to have a tough time with this!  You’ll need breathing exercises.  Dismayed, I went back to school and told my teacher that I wasn’t cut out for this.  She asked why, and I told her.  I even tried to play for her.  She said, “No wonder!  You forgot to put the reed on the mouthpiece!”  Duh!!

5. What I love about playing 

I love jazz arrangements.  When you play a song from a variety of different arrangers, you get to hear different interpretations of the same melody.  When I play in a section, I get to hear everyone and when we harmonize, the sound is amazing.  As a saxophonist, I especially love playing Saxophone sectional pieces…. the Lester Young tribute charts that we did with Dave Pell and Pat LaBarbera is an excellent example of this.

6. Something about me that might surprise you

The one thing that the general public does not know about me is that I have been a scientist in a high profile Cancer Research Laboratory at Mount Sinai Hospital for the past 20+ years!  Being a science nerd is my alter ego.  I got a chance to monkey around with DNA, make glow-in-the-dark mice, did cloning and all kinds of cool stuff!

You can have the last word. What would you like to add that I’ve neglected to ask?

I’d like to end with the following message to all audiences: “Go out and support your local artists and bands…whether its Dance, Art, Culture or Music. Toronto has the some of the finest artists and musicians out there. I should know because I have played with a lot of them. I have the privilege to be surrounded by the talented musicians in my own octet:

  • Gary Martin (Alto/Tenor Sax)
  • Jim Shea (Trumpet/Flugelhorn)
  • Josh Bird (Trombone)
  • William Bryant (Piano)
  • Stephen Landsberg (Guitar)
  • Mauro Bellotto (Bass)
  • Leigh Robinson (Drums)

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money.  Just go and give them your love.”

News You Can Use

What: The OCTOKATS at St George Music Knights

Who: Audiences of all ages

When: Friday, April 15, 2016, 7:00 PM

Where: St George’s on Yonge, 5350 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON

For information and tickets: [email protected] or 416-225-1922

FYI: Octokats.com

© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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