Weddings. Shops. Bars. You name it, he played it
Honey Tolintino photo
Making a name for oneself in music, as Adlai Waxman is well aware, requires playing in some rather less-than-ideal locales: Weddings, crowded bars, corners in coffee shops ...
Granted, some unexpected surprises could occur. The Toronto singer-songwriter-pianist recalls one instance in which an audience member requested his microphone be adjusted louder so that she could better hear his lyrics. That listener? Author Margaret Atwood.
"As I looked up, I wondered, ‘Wow, could it really be her?’ " says Waxman, who’ll turn 31 in February. "And yeah, it was her. She was there with her husband, a few feet away, listening attentively."
For the longest time, Waxman — whose melodic sensibilities instantly channel the stylings of Randy Newman, Steely Dan or Joe Jackson filtered through a mature Ben Folds — would play just about anywhere, and with anyone, for experience’s sake.
"I’ve played everything from farm equipment auctions to bar mitzvahs where all people want to hear is (Chris De Burgh’s) The Lady In Red," Waxman says. "And I was always playing in other’s people’s bands as a sideman. But I found I was taking on those things just to pay the bills and my creativity was dwindling. And that eventually took a toll on me. I didn’t want to become ‘a jobber.’ "
Of the experiences Waxman did warm up to: A three-year stay in Vancouver, where he spent time taking music classes at Capilano College, performed in a number of the city’s live venues and eventually landed a gig at the Vancouver Jazz Festival. The city would also creep its way in to Waxman’s lyrics for Caledonia Street (off his 2004 EP Pomona Valley) and The Cove (from a newer four-song demo).
A decision to focus more on crafting more originals meant an inevitable move back to Toronto. "I sacrificed great scenery and a laid-back lifestyle for more opportunities, more networking, and to play at more venues," says Waxman, who has cut two EPs (Pomona Valley and 2005’s Flight 73) and regularly tours with a backing trio.
And speaking of networking, it seems an uncle of Waxman’s knew of a legendary producer and passed on some of Waxman’s CDs to him. That producer decided to phone the musician directly. His name? Jerry Wexler, whose clients included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and George Michael.
"I was driving when I got a cellphone call (from Jerry) and had to pull over," Waxman says. "He liked the grassroots approach I was taking, offered some interesting guidance and great feedback and we’ve kept in touch ever since. In fact, we were talking recently and he had to put me on hold because Joni Mitchell was calling him — very surreal."