Death Defying Records

Jazz Music

Welcome to Death Defying records site. We are a Canadian record label supporting talented Canadians and their recording projects!

Liner notes: Open Borders

Here's a sneak peak at the liner notes to Earl MacDonald's coming album, "Open Borders."  It is scheduled for release on Oct. 31, 2017 but you can pre-order advanced copies until 07/14/2017 at:

Borders, restrictions, divisions, limits, boundaries, barriers, separation, walls --- to me, all of these words have such negative undercurrents. Maybe I’m oppositional by nature, but just reading these words arouses some unrest within me. I feel myself bracing, preparing to question, plot and defy. I see this oppositional trait in my children too, and frequently have to remind myself that obedient conformers don’t typically become world changers.

In the arts, coloring outside the lines and challenging convention is celebrated. It’s what makes a work special and leads artists to finding their own unique paths, voices and identities. Artists and creative musicians spend their formative years learning the rules of their disciplines, only to devote the remainder of their careers to challenging, wrestling and deconstructing these practices.

When artists stop questioning, and quit attempting to extend the limits of their boundaries, their work loses impact/significance. Closing themselves to external possibilities and influences leads to stagnation and ultimately, failure. Playing it safe isn’t considered virtuous or a recipe for favorable outcomes. Consider the biblical parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and look how it turned out for the servant who buried his talent in the ground rather than investing it. (It might not be merely coincidental that “talent” is a word closely associated with artistic pursuits.)

Perhaps society as a whole could learn from the artist mindset. When and how did America lose focus and memory of her story --- a triumphant story of impoverished and oppressed groups of people coming from far away lands, seeking to start afresh? How did the United States reach the point of building walls and taking an insular, protective stance in place of welcoming, open arms? Being a land of immigrants, how did extreme patriotism, national populism, and separatist hate creep in, take hold, and become part of America’s defining fabric?

Aside from asking rhetorical questions pointing to faults, it’s important to remember and celebrate the struggles in American history where deep societal divisions and restrictions have been fought and barriers have been cracked and in some cases, crumbled --- whether in race, gender, age, or sexual orientation.

In jazz alone, the integrated trio of Benny Goodman with pianist Teddy Wilson played a significant role in breaking down America’s racial divide and paved the way for musicians of all creeds and cultures to collaborate freely. Likewise, Mary Lou Williams made strides for women in jazz through her example, and Billy Strayhorn’s being openly gay in an era when same-sex relationships were typically concealed, made it easier for others to eventually follow suit.

For the album in question, we shouldn’t overlook why and how such a diverse group of individuals could come together to collaborate on this recording project. It certainly wasn’t the result of a closed-border mindset or the complacency of those who came before. In all, there were twelve musicians, representing different ages, races/ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, incomes, educations, religious beliefs, geographic locations, parental status and marital status. To give some specifics: the band’s ages range from 20 to 62; some of us are straight, and some are gay; three women were involved; two members identify as being Black; one musician is Latino, while one more is the Jewish grandson of a holocaust survivor who escaped to America with his brother. At the helm is a displaced Canadian, trying to find his way and make sense of things.

Both in and adjacent to music, so many positive outcomes can come through openly collaborating with people from different backgrounds, life experiences, perspectives and skillsets. Several pieces on this album, for example, were originally composed (by this Canadian) as part of collaborative, performance pieces created with two visual artists - one African-American and the other, Russian. If one listens carefully, it is easy to hear the varied contributions of strong individuals on a jazz record. (Ricardo Monzon's congas and shekere, for example, give a special, needed Latin flavor to the tune, “Dolphy Dance.” Without his contribution, the piece would lack vitality.) In “real life,” by being intentionally engaged in building relationships with our neighbors, mutual appreciation will replace fear, more barriers will be broken as society, and together, humanity will become stronger.

I’m probably not the right person to make an impassioned, informed commentary on whether or not open borders could work for North America as a whole. However, I do see the value in exploring this idea, whether utopian or not. At the very least, I believe it is important to challenge the notion of closed borders and adopting an immigration policy that cuts off and stifles. If goods and products can flow freely across the arbitrary borders between our nations, why not ideas, music…and people?


Steal like an Artist

I was led to a new book about what artists do by my pal Jon McCaslin. Steal like an artist. It seemed weird to buy a book about the habits of what I consider myself to be --an artist-but there was some great stuff in it. I always like the quote from Dave Leibman which goes something like "....If you drink enough toilet water your breath starts to smell like sh*t..."  Austin Kleon has a nice info graphic which amounts to the same idea. It's always great to be reminded of this!

Read More

New Look!

oh man! re-organizing the deathdefying world has been......tricky! Squarespace is cool and as far as migrating websites goes this one wasn't too difficult. Not all transitions will be seamless, but hopefully there will be more info to come as I slowly rebuild the deathdefying website.

I "hope" to continue to develop this space less as an info dump and more as a "whats happening now" site filled with things that interest me and the music I like to check out!

more to come


April 26 the regular cast of the trio will be presenting a special two set show at the new Edmonton Jazz Festival sponsored venue called “The Cellar”.

Jeff, Bill and I will be playing our regular improv. inspired shakedown as well as the entire – yes – entire West Side Story musical. (Or Sound of Music- I can’t decide – or maybe we will just play one long set and see what happens. Let’s face it- we have no idea.) Opening for us will be God Save the Trio. I heard they are good.


Hey all - this summer I have been posting the first album that started it all from the artists on Death Defying Records.  John, Earl and now Jim weigh in on what turns out to be a pretty serious decision.  If you enjoy reading these - comment on the first album that inspired you - The Album that started it all: this is a tough one, I have been thinking about this ever since you asked the question and a lot of early records come to mind such as Phil Woods/Ritchie Cole side by side, Grover Washington Jr Wine light, Tom Scott Apple Juice and Spyro Gyra morning dance.

These albums definitely peaked my interest in jazz music (I really just enjoyed the music) but I'd have to say I never really imagined becoming a musician or even thought of repeating what I heard on records until I heard John Abercrombies Night (1984) featuring Jan Hammer, Jack DeJohnette and Michael Brecker. I really fell for the track Ethereggae-Breckers solo is pretty simple but has a great singing quality. This album led me to a bunch of other fantastic records like the Brecker Brothers straphangin' and heavy metal be-bop which led me to more and more great music.

Check the vid below - 


Earl MacDonald - first impressions

Part 2 of the album influence comes from Earl MacDonald - enjoy - cb Body and Soul

This question brought to mind a vivid memory from high school of listening to “Mira, Mira”, a Matt Harris piece from Maynard Ferguson’s LP, “Body and Soul”.  I remember thinking “wouldn’t it be cool to tour with a band like this someday, playing similar great music”.  It’s ironic that until now, I hadn’t remembered this, and hadn’t pieced it together that by touring with Maynard (1998-2000) I accomplished an aspiration I had inadvertently set for myself in high school.

The other album that comes to mind from this period is “Pat Metheny Group”.  I listened to this hundreds of times, and learned to play all of Lyle Mays’ piano / synth work on “Phase Dance”.  My high school combo performed this piece at the Optimists Music Festival, and I remember feeling so hip, playing Lyle’s solo.  I still think this record stands the test of time.  Check the video below.


John Hyde - the beginning

This summer I will be posting some information about the death defying artists - this new thread focusses on the first album that started it all - as musicians we all have one - Here's John Hyde's

I was born in 1955 and at the time my father had an extensive jazz collection which he must have played all the time when I was sleeping. I discovered some of his collection after I spent time in Montreal studying jazz and when I played the presage Lp "All Morning Long" by Red Garland I had the feeling I knew exactly what was coming as the needle rolled over every groove. Everything on this album is what I love about jazz, hard swinging and massive solos that I could listen to forever. This is the era that is dwelling in my subconscious mind.

The question you ask deals more with the conscious mind, so I have to say Miles Davis "Bitches Brew" really caught my attention as a jazz album. It was a bridge to the rock, funk and blues music I was listening to as a young player. I was really smitten with the emotional content of that album as well as the beautiful artwork and fantastic production.The players on that album represented some of the finest innovative players in jazz (Dave holland, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Don Alias, Tony Williams).  Miles did a lot to bring my generation into the world of jazz and create a new direction.

Boston and beyond

It was old home week here at the Deathdefyingrecords fake office.  I had the very good fortune of reconnecting with a great pianist friend of mine from my NEC days.  Tyson and I started together at NEC in the graduate program and he is one of those people that you can connect with right away - very open and very interesting - even now he holds these same characteristics.  He was on tour with a serious country music heavyweight and we got to hang for a few hours before he headed down to Montana.  Chinese food and a lot of conversation (thanks Buddy Wonton) -  I loved hearing about his path from grad school to country music greatness.  A self proclaimed indie/jazz/pop/county artist, Tyson is a survivor - he reads the winds like a true sage and makes big decisions that have put him in good stead.  Very smart, very happening, very much at peace with himself as a musician and the path he has taken - awesome to see, and be reminded of again.  Not one to complain about the industry - he truly saw where the music industry was heading way before it happened and acted - I like that.  Check him out at

Fuller's favourite fruit

For the longest time I have been a fan of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - this is no secret to anyone who knows me.  I never did get to see them live, however a friend of mine went to New York and saw them at a club - while they were playing she called me and left a message of them playing one of my favorite tunes - one by one - very nice - very thoughtful. It was a few years after that that I got the opportunity to study with Curtis Fuller  - THE trombonist with the group - no matter which version of the group you listen to (my favorite is from 61-64) Curtis is the best trombonist Art ever played with - hands down.  Regardless - Curtis was coming to the school I attended and he needed a student assistant - I leaped at the chance, and with the help of fellow Canadian Steve Fisk (killer guitarist) I picked him up at the train station.  Here is as close as I can remember what the meeting was like:

Short dude, very concerned and very chatty.  He immediately found me (I was holding a sign) and we did the usual pleasantries.  Once I got the stars out of my eyes, Curtis asked for the pre-arranged bananas and two bottles of water - (hmmmmmm very odd to me that this was a request but we complied)   Once he had the food and drink - he pounded a banana and proceeded to talk about his travel and performance anxiety, he said that bananas are the key to keeping it together - mentioned Coltrane a lot and how bananas were very important to keeping his system balanced -

OK at the time this was kind of weird - but guess what?  I tried it  - it works, bananas before a gig - try it - you'll like it.


Met Victor Wooten this past year - he was nice - so nice in fact that he gave me his book "the music lesson."  I would love to say that I ran home and devoured the book, but that would be a lie - I skimmed it, and got a good (or what I thought) understanding - well this past week I really read it - completely - I even nerded out and took notes - referenced other philosophers, made charts and graphs etc. . . . good book - lots to think about - what did you think?  let me know.

Eric Bloom

Had a gig with Eric Bloom at the beatniq this past weekend - dudes got the chop - trained at NEC (my brother's  Alma mater and with his teacher Jerry Bergonzi )- working with soullive and lettuce - nicely done -

blue note - only half lame in 2011

I own a total of 3 blue note albums - somehow I always thought they were the lame cousin of impulse, riverside, etc. . . .I also thought that Blue note jumped the shark when they paired Willi Nelson's demented ramblings with Wynton Marsalis - and then they came out with a live album  - for shame! then - somehow - a blue note add made it through the filters at gmail  - it mentioned trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire - I was intrigued and checked him out - and am happy I did  - nicely done Blue Note - you are only half lame  -

Brad Turner

Had the opportunity to work with Brad Turner over the weekend - holy crap he sounds good - super strong chops, great ideas - and a great hang

the cool thing about Brad is that he was killing it working with a group of students - this is no one trick pony - dude has thought about his craft on a very deep level - do yourself a favor - check him out.

Earl the Pearl -

More accolades for the recent Death Defying project member, Earl MacDonald - as if a Juno nomination wasn't enough, Earl has recently won the 10th Annual Independent Music Award for best Jazz Composition - oh snap! The Independent Music Awards celebrates artists that follow their own muse – with over 250 Nominees there’s plenty to please the most discerning music fans.

check the link below

And it begins -

OK - after the huge success of our last five releases (Juno nominations, Western Canadian Music Awards Nominations and Winner) we begin the discussion for the next project - 7zark7 was interesting, Origins was really fun  -  but we think it is time for the Brenan Brothers to up the ante - details coming soon -

John McLeod

I had the opportunity to work with recent juno award winner John McLeod and I can say he is truly a gifted musician and great guy - congrats John on the Juno - you have had a long and distinguished career.  On another note - the Juno posts the judges names each year for the categories - hmmmmm - I wonder why Western Canadians get blanked year after year - as most of the judges came from out west  - just sayin'

what up

ok jazz fans - life is good - we are getting a billion requests about our catalogue, the artists, and how to join our collective of sorts.  If you are interested in joining the family - email Jim  - you can get to him by going to his website at  

first three people to contact Jim about this get a free CD of your choice from the catalogue - oh yeah and a limited edition death defying records t-shirt


happy email

Earl MacDonald and Death Defying Records

After years of working with Earl MacDonald on a variety of gigs, including the bands of Maynard Ferguson and  P.J. Perry and on tours that include an Art Blakey tribute - we at Death Defying Records are pleased to announce that our good friend Earl has been nominated for a Juno Award in the traditional Jazz category. Last year in November, we made the trek with Earl to the famed Bennett Studios in Englewood New Jersey to spend the next three days recording the album:

Earl MacDonald, re:Visions - Works for Jazz Orchestra

* Death Defying Records. (2010 release)

recorded: November, 2008 at Bennett Studios, Englewood, NJ.

What was amazing about this project and consequently Earl, is that he assembled an incredible group of generous musicians who's sole purpose was to make the best music possible.  This was a labour of love and  here at Death Defying Records we believe that this is what makes this album stand out.  Not only is the writing mature and purposeful, the performances he drew from each musician is as well.  Check out his website - look around, dig deeper, read all the reviews and soon you will understand how deserving Earl and this album truly are.

Perhaps Dave Douglas said it best:

"Incredible band, sound is great, nice writing, nice playing, good team effort clearly inspired by an inspired leader. Glad to hear it !" Dave Douglas (June, 2010) Two-time Grammy nominated jazz trumpeter / composer / bandleader


Earl MacDonald lives jazz, as a performer, composer and educator. Director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut, the Winnipeg native earned a bachelor of music degree in jazz performance at McGill University and a master of music degree at Rutgers, where he apprenticed with Kenny Barron. Earl is dedicated to music education, participating as a clinician, guest conductor and teacher at summer camps, in addition to his teaching at the University of Connecticut.