author: Denny Manchee, photo:Tracey Nolan
Watershed country is full of accomplished folks. You’d never guess who lives around the corner and down the lane
As he wraps his arms around the largest string instrument in the orchestra, Dave Young fuses with his bass, his left hand a blur on the fingerboard, while his right plucks deep, mellow tones from the wooden giant. At 77, this lean, white-haired virtuoso is still gigging regularly – he’ll be playing at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival in late June and at The Loft in Cobourg on July 29 with his trio Two Bass Hit (Joel Quarrington and Bernie Senensky).
“He’s prototypically Canadian and hides his light under a bushel,” says retired CBC music producer Eitan Cornfield, who is also President of Port Hope Friends of Music. “He’s classically trained and versatile, and can play Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Oscar Peterson with equal ease.”
“It’s not difficult to move from one musical style to another as long as you keep focused on your role as a musician,” says Young. “Mental preparation helps! I also practice on a daily basis – sometimes several hours and sometimes half an hour. I usually spend the majority of practice time with the bow working on classical repertoire.”
Using the bow is called playing arco, and that was the technique he needed as principal bass of the Edmonton Symphony (1970-72), the Hamilton Philharmonic (1972-74) and the Winnipeg Symphony (1974). Young joined the Oscar Peterson duo in 1975 and toured extensively with the jazz legend over the years.
The multiple-award-winning musician, who spends his down time at a 36-acre farm north of Cobourg, was born into a musical family in Winnipeg. His mother was a classical pianist and teacher (as well as an accomplished painter) and his father was an accountant who loved singing and performing vaudeville. His older sister Sydney was also a classical pianist, graduating from Juilliard in the 1960s.
“I played the violin, guitar, piano and finally the bass,” says Young. “I was always interested in jazz, since I was 14 or so when I played guitar. I took up the bass at 18 and then went to Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1961-62.” After a major detour into commerce – he got his Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Manitoba in 1966 – he began classical studies with Tom Monohan, principal bassist of the Toronto Symphony, in 1967 and became a full-time musician in 1969. “From that time on I pursued a dual career as a jazz/classical bassist.”
He still teaches at the University of Toronto – “It keeps me in touch with the younger generation! – but heads for his place in the Northumberland Hills whenever possible. “I don’t live at the farm full time, but my partner Barbara Lewis does and looks after everything, including me. I enjoy country life, and all the work that goes with it!”