Atley King hosts a weekly music series that regularly showcases emerging talent from the CapU Jazz Studies program
Freya Wasteneys // Managing Editor
Students mill, forming a line behind the neon “self service” sign at the bar. It’s Tuesday and a single bartender in her fifties hustles back and forth pouring drinks, delivering food and occasionally shouting names into the crowd under a burden of fry plates and $3 tacos. The neighbourhood pub turned live music joint has all the makings of a good jazz bar—slightly seedy and unassuming.
As the jazz troupe prepares, event organizer Atley King—sporting a backward baseball cap and oversized jacket—climbs onto the platform to hang a print above the lopsided black curtains that frame the stage. Propped askew, it shows a familiar image of Jack the Bartender pouring a martini—a nostalgic Canadian classic in hyper-saturated realism. It has the makings of a good inside joke, but King assures me the choice is totally random.
At 23, King is friendly and unpretentious. The fourth-year jazz student answers his emails with smiley faces and greets newcomers with an equally ready smile. In January, he started the Maplewood Jazz Series on a whim because he wanted to give CapU Jazz students a chance to showcase their music and play regularly. “I told my friend Tyler and he thought it was a really good idea,” said King. “That night I went home and made a big list of places we could hold it.”
King admitted that Maplewood Pub was originally low on his list of venues, but after visiting the pub on a scouting mission with his girlfriend he was quickly sold. “I’d looked at a few other places that had a slightly hipper, younger crowd, like Colony or Seymours,” he said, “but when I went to Maplewood and walked upstairs, I looked around and immediately knew the place was perfect.”
The high vaulted ceilings of the Maplewood Taphouse are lit by a haphazard collection of chandeliers, with “Miller Genuine Draft” and “Original 16” signs acting as fluorescent wall décor. For all its quirks, there’s no denying that the acoustics are to die for. And the yam fries aren’t too shabby either.
Tonight, the four-part ensemble consists of sax player Adam Kyle, guitarist Alvin Brendan, with Derek Maroney on bass and an enthusiastic Tyler Murray on drums. The music begins and the inconspicuous troupe of students finds their groove. Eyes closed, they’re no longer just students, but professionals buoyed by spontaneous applause.
The Tuesday night series features a rotating sampler of student jazz bands of varying experience. King noted that some nights are busier than others. On this particular night, approximately 40 students crowd the upstairs lounge—a number which is “about average” according to King.
“In the first week of school or second week of school, we had a huge show—the place was packed with students from all years. Everyone was there. Maybe not everyone, but it was full,” said King. “It was just this big crazy night of community. You typically get one night out of the month where you’re like ‘wow, this really feels like something special.’”
As the sole organizer, advertiser, and procurer of musicians, King wears many hats. The jack of all trades brings the same vigour to his own music, playing in multiple bands in various capacities—most notably as a member of Wax Cowboy. “I mostly play vibraphone. But also a little bit of guitar. And drums and bass too,” he said. “Practically everyone in the program plays multiple instruments.”
King takes a community-first approach in most of the things he pursues. Whether it’s in his band Wax Cowboy, as a music teacher at the Resound School of Music, or as a student in the CapU Jazz Studies Program, his passion for sharing and pursuing knowledge and mentorship can’t be overlooked. But as a student himself, and with his impending graduation in the Spring, he knows he can’t carry on organizing the event forever without some support. “I worry sometimes that people take it for granted and forget that this won’t be around forever,” he said. “I understand that people get caught up in their classes and school work, but there’s more to school than that. We can learn a lot from other students. And typically what you learn is relevant and contemporary, or you come away with new people to collaborate with. People just have to put in a bit of effort and come out to these things.”
Most in attendance are jazz students, lending to the strong sense of camaraderie, but amidst the close-knit clusters are a few notable enthusiasts. One student from Liberal Studies notes that she attends whenever she can, and several older couples in the back corner sit tapping feet and fingers. “So many talented people come through here,” says the sole bartender sliding a cider across the bar. “It’s a fun idea.”
As the band winds down a brisk and brassy number—a Jazz Standard called “On the Trail”—the lead sax promises to play one more tune. “Teresa’s here, right?” he calls to the crowd. “This one is for you…”
We’re carried away on a sultry rendition of “When Sunny Gets Blue” while the encouraging yet static face of Jack the Bartender oversees all. Looking around the room, I’m filled with a feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on—but whatever it is, it’s definitely something special.
You can follow the Maplewood Jazz Series on Instagram @maplewood_jazz