Nick "Brownman" Ali
"I live my life by
an Einstein quote"
photo by Steve Stober
Ali had, by all accounts, a great year in 2005. The Toronto-based trumpet
player was named NOW
Magazine's Toronto jazz artist of the year. He also was personally
invited by legendary pianist Chucho Valdes to represent Canada at the Havana
Ali's band for the fest was called Cruzao Havana. It was comprised of an all-Cuban rhythm section featuring members of the world famous Afro-Cuban ensemble Irakere performing original Ali compositions. This appearance led to a two-month tour of South and Central America that ended with a gig with jazz saxophone legend Gary Bartz in Belize.
But 2006 was arguably a better year for Ali. He was nominated for a 2006 National Jazz Award as 'Latin jazz artist of the year', worked with the girls in Brazilian Trifecta, toured Argentina for three weeks, played the main stage at Montreal's Jazz Festival with his 15 piece band Cruzao Grupo Monstruoso, performed at more than a dozen shows during the Toronto Jazz Festival, and had an opportunity to tour with a good friend who is part of one of Toronto's funkiest band.
"Touring with God Made Me Funky was one of the highlights for me this year," Ali says. "Put me on the road with Phatt Al any day! I'm surprised we weren't arrested."
Ali's joking when he talks about being arrested on tour, but what isn't a joke is how respected he is as a musician. And that respect has grown over the past year.
|Ali was asked
multiple times to be the musical director for some heavyweights in the
business as they passed through Toronto, including New York-based Brazilian
harmonica great Hendrik
Meurkens and Guru,
the legendary hip hop rapper from Gangstarr and Jazzmatazz fame.
"I was honoured to be the MD for such musical giants," says Ali. "The gig of MD is about helping another artist achieve their musical vision using local players. My job was to get the music and the players quickly to a point where the artist feels comfortable standing in front of backing musicians he's never met. It's very challenging and I learned a lot from those experiences."
After working with Guru, Ali was asked to replace famed trumpet player Roy Hargrove on the next Jazzmatazz record (due this summer). Ali will appear alongside the likes of hip-hop royalty Common and Dead Prez and jazz legends David Sanborn and Kenny Garrett.
"I'm honoured to be living this," Ali says. "And I'm thankful for the opportunities that have come my way."
The Trinidadian-born and New York-schooled Ali says he was put on this earth to play music. He was trained by Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker and one of his biggest musical inspirations is Miles Davis -- something he credits his parents for.
|"I can't remember
those days as a baby when I was being soothed by Miles," Ali says. "But
from the tales I've heard recounted, something must have gotten triggered
deep down -- enough to go from crying brown baby to smiling brown baby."
Ali graduated from high school at 17 with a 97% average and graduated from university with a physics degree. When he isn't busy performing or recording -- he currently leads and composes actively for six of his own groups -- he likes to design web pages on the side.
Despite his obvious intellectual and musical genius, Ali credits hard work for his success.
"I live my life by an Einstein quote that I have up on my wall," Ali says. "'It's not that I'm smarter than anyone else, it's that I stay with problems longer.'
"When I was doing my physics degree, it's something that always stuck with me -- that determination, passion, focus and sheer hard work can often outstride any advantages genetics may have provided."