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Take Five With...

Take Five With Ken Avis

By Published: March 20, 2011
The worst was breaking down in a van just coming of the M6 while heading to a gig in Leeds. A nice milkman took the whole band and equipment to the gig, making four trips in his electric milk delivery cart! When we got there, it turned out there was a wedding party at the venue and a fight broke out mid set between all the women. Tables were overturned as barricades. Bottles were thrown, and the band bravely played on.

Favorite venue:

Bistrot Lepic in Georgetown, where we play every month, is an absolute joy. The food's great. The staff is wonderful. We sell out every month and the audience has become like family—albeit a huge one. The cost of induction into the family is to just show up and enjoy.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

That's easy: the new one scheduled for release in spring of 2011. It's called Joi De Vivre, and it captures the sound of our new band (Véronneau) doing something different. I'm particularly fond of the way the voice mixes with the two nylon string guitars. That's the core of the sound. We added violin and saxophone on some tracks for some salt and pepper.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Take Love Easy.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

To begin with, we've got an international flavor. That's occurred naturally since I'm from Northern England, my wife Lynn is from a village outside of Montreal and our guitarist David Rosenblatt studied extensively in Brazil. We also have the ability to engage an audience through performance. We like to make every show an event and leave the venue with new friends. I particularly enjoy the positive reaction from audiences who don't typically listen to jazz, for example, when we play for a younger audience.

Did you know...

There are several things I might share. My life has been a bit surprising, even to me!

Growing up I played music during my school days with both Dave Ball of Soft Cell and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys. I spent five years as the vocalist with the (WC Handy Blues Award-winning) Otis Grand Blues Band, and toured much of the UK and the rest of Europe with them.

I also had a music agency license and worked as a musician and booking agent/promoter in the UK at the age of 18 until Punk Music took over English Music in the '70s. Then I went back to the drawing board. I got a BA in urban studies from the University of Sussex and took two years of graduate school at the London School of Economics.

My son, Tom Avis, seems to be following in my footsteps. He just graduated from the University of Toronto, with a degree in English literature and he's a performing musician and songwriter. My daughter is at the University of Guelph, studying international affairs. They both definitely have the traveling in their blood. We'll see about the music.

All told, I've lived in four countries: England, France, Switzerland and the USA, where I am now.

CDs you are listening to now:

I'm listening to music by Lorraine Feather
Lorraine Feather
Lorraine Feather
, John Jorgenson. I'm especially enjoying Susie Ariole and Jordan Officer's That's for Me, and Half the Perfect World, by Madeleine Peyroux. I recently saw a great documentary about Harry Nilsson and I'm rediscovering all of the old vinyl albums I used to enjoy so much of him; Ringo Starr said, "Harry Nilsson is my favorite band."

Desert Island picks:

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Take Love Easy;

Van Morrison, It's Too Late to Stop Now;

Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt
1910 - 1953
, Anthology;

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
, Birth of the Cool;

Snooks Eaglin, Street Corner Singer;

Nat King Cole Trio, The Best Of;

Etta James
Etta James
Etta James
1938 - 2012
'Life, Love and the Blues;

Taj Mahal, Like Never Before;

Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Jazz today is eclectic and global—boundary breaking. I love that, particularly in the UK, it's increasingly difficult to define jazz. It comes in different flavors and languages.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

I'd say, welcome eclecticism. Step away from The Real Book. Smile more. Engage the audience.

What is in the near future?

We'll continue to build on the band's success with audiences. In May 2011, we'll launch Joie de Vivre (Joy of Living), with concerts in the US, UK and Canada.

By Day:

I've worked with the World Bank for about 15 years, travelling to most corners of the world dealing with organizational development, team building, staffing and strategic facilitation issues. Music has always been an essential part of my life. At times there have been other things to attend to during the day, but my guitar has never been far from my reach.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

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