Elizabeth Sadler and Connor Derraugh Have an Appetite for Jazz
Elizabeth Sadler and Connor Derraugh are fast becoming staples of the jazz scene in Winnipeg, and this week, they will be adding an international jazz festival to their CVs.
Elizabeth, a fourth year Desautels jazz vocalist, and Connor, a brand new graduate of the Desautels Faculty of Music’s Jazz Studies program who plays both alto saxophone and piano, will be performing at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival’s “Jazz for Lunch” series. Their set begins at 12:00pm on Wednesday, June 19, 2019 at Parlour Coffee.
Finding a partner
This will be Connor’s second time performing at the renowned jazz festival, having first played in 2018 with his own band, Ability. Clearly, his musical talent and winning personality made an impression last year.
“Mike Falk, the artistic director of Jazz Winnipeg, sent me an email asking if I could put together a duo [for the 2019 festival],” says Connor.
When it came to choosing a musical partner for the performance, Connor says he had no problem choosing a vocalist.
“I thought that Elizabeth would be a perfect fit!” he says. “She has a beautiful voice, is very talented, and works extremely hard. She is the most organized person I know, and is an overall great person!”
“This is actually our first duo project together,” says Elizabeth. “We have played in many other group settings, but never a duo project. I am always excited to work with Connor, first and foremost because of the energy he brings to a room and his positive personality,” she says. “He creates a comfortable atmosphere that allows one can express oneself. Musically, besides his natural talent, he is well versed in so many genres it’s hard not to have him on the gig!”
Elizabeth and Connor are no strangers to performing publicly. In fact, for as long as either can remember, they were performing for anyone who would listen!
“Before starting elementary music class and choir in school, I was told I walked around with a Fisher Price tape recorder singing Shania Twain songs!” she laughs. “As I grew older, I tried out a few different instruments, but singing always resonated with me the most. I find so much enjoyment in using my voice to connect with an audience, whether singing solo or in a group, and love connecting with other musicians as well.”
“I have been playing music ever since I can remember, playing piano since I was 5 and sax since I was 12,” says Connor.
“My parents put me into piano lessons, so I didn’t really have a choice in loving music, and I naturally gravitated towards the saxophone,” he adds.
Many professional musicians have life events in which they realize that they want to make music their career. Elizabeth and Connor both recognized the moment they chose their respective musical paths.
“I had no intentions of studying music as a career while in high school,” says Elizabeth. “It was something I always loved engaging in, but I never pictured it as a reality in my mind.”
However, one of her musical idols gave her the boost and reality check she needed to think seriously about singing. She met Dr. Jeremy Fox, a Grammy-nominated arranger and vocal jazz pedagogue, in high school at the School for Music VocationsVocal Jazz Summer Camp. Ultimately, he became her mentor for the three summers she attended the camp.
“He and the other camp staff and directors exposed me to jazz theory, harmony and jazz singing for the first time,” she says. “I was so taken with my first exposure to singing jazz harmony with other singers, I felt called to it.”
Connor’s birth as a musician arose out of a memorial for another jazz great.
“Oscar Peterson died when I was 12 years old, and he was the first jazz musician I ever listened to,” says Connor. “I wrote him a song entitled, ‘Oscar’s song.’”
Local jazz legend Ron Paley heard Connor’s song, and asked him if he would play it at the Oscar Peterson Memorial Concert that Paley was organizing for later that year.
Connor remembers the performance well.
“After I played the song, over 1000 people gave me a standing ovation and I had goose bumps from head to toe,” he beams. “When I sat back down beside my dad afterwards, I said to him, ‘This is what I want to do for a living.’”
Finding their place on stage and in university
When it came to preparing for their careers in music, Liz and Connor took different paths to the University of Manitoba’s Desautels Faculty of Music.
“Before starting my bachelors degree at the U of M, I graduated with a 2-year diploma in Professional Music from the School For Music Vocations, in Creston, Iowa,” says Elizabeth. “After I completed this program, I felt it was time to move back home to be surrounded by my family, again.
“It was a no-brainer to audition for the U of M Jazz Studies program to attain my bachelors in music,” she adds. “I was very excited to be part of the Desautels Faculty’s fantastic choral programs and thriving jazz scene!”
Elizabeth’s sister Ashley would join her in the jazz program a few years later, making jazz a family affair. They can both be heard as the vocalists for their respective ensembles in the Desautels Jazz Program’s Mardi Jazz series, which showcases student performances throughout the year at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain (CCFM).
Likewise, after Connor announced to his father that he was going to be a jazz musician at the memorial concert, his family was devoted in helping to support his goals.
“My Dad signed me up for the U of M jazz camp when I was 12 years old,” says Connor. “I fell in love right away, and knew that I wanted to go to the University of Manitoba to study jazz after graduating high school.”
From supportive families to a supportive community
Both Elizabeth and Connor found themselves at home in the Desautels Jazz Studies program, and built a family of talented musician mentors within the Faculty.
“There are so many supportive staff members, instructors and professors at the U of M!” says Elizabeth. “Catherine Robbins, Jody Stark, Will Bonness, and Karly Epp, to name but a few!”
“They are all incredible!” he says. “I take things from each of them. However, I would have to say Jon Gordon is my mentor, because I spent the most time with him throughout my degree, and he also hooked me up to meet my idol, David Sanborn.”
“I also want to single out professor Jon Gordon, who is the jazz saxophone instructor and teaches composition,” says Elizabeth. “He has exposed me to great musicians all the way from Charlie Parker to Bonnie Raitt!”
“On top of being an exceptional musician, he is such a kind person, and he deeply cares for all the students in the U of M program,” says Elizabeth. “Professor Gordon is always willing lend extra help to students, and I am very thankful for him.”
Jon Gordon feels the same about Elizabeth and Connor.
“Elizabeth Sadler is one of the finest students I’ve ever had,” says Gordon. “She’s an extremely talented vocalist, composer, arranger and teacher. She has a great work ethic, and has been a real leader in our program since she’s been here.”
We hired her to teach at our jazz camp in the fall of 2017, when she was only in her second year with us,” he adds. “It goes without saying that that’s very rare. The sky is the limit for her!”
As for Connor, Gordon, who was Connor’s Major Practical Study (MPS) instructor throughout his time in the Desautels Faculty, says he’s an integral part of multiple programs within the Winnipeg jazz scene.
“Connor’s got a great ear, knows a lot of tunes, has a great deal of natural talent as a musician, and has incredible passion for the music!” says Gordon. “He often subs for Will [Bonness, Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano in the Desautels Faculty of Music] on piano at our weekly jam sessions at Nicolino’s, and then picks up his alto and plays later in the evening on that.”
“I’ve always felt that Connor was going to find a way to make a path for himself as a musician, and that’s exactly what he’s doing,” says Gordon. “I’ve seen him be very helpful to younger students at the Massey High School Hang and jam session. I think he has great ability and potential as a teacher and mentor.”
Gordon says that Connor has also been instrumental in helping him with the Faculty’s Youth Jazz Collective, and has served as the assistant director for the past two years.
“Connor is a very special person, and a joy to know and work with,” says Gordon. “I look forward to seeing the different ways he’s going to make a contribution as a player, composer, and teacher in the coming years!”
In addition to finding the professors, instructors, and ensembles that would help them hone their craft, Elizabeth and Connor also found each other in the program.
“Elizabeth fell in love with me and my piano playing, and forced me to play with her, whether I wanted to or not,” jokes Connor.
“In reality, Connor and I met through our studies at the U of M,” laughs Elizabeth. “We attended group master classes together and ensemble performance nights, and very quickly became friends. We also realized we live only ten minutes away from each other!”
From the halls of Desautels to the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival
Elizabeth and Connor are looking forward to showing th Winnipeg International Jazz Festival what they’ve got.
“Most of our repertoire will be swing classics,” says Elizabeth. “We plan on performing a couple of our favourite jazz compositions, such as Let There Be Love, composed by Lionel Rand, and Triste, composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim. We also hope to perform one of my originals and a couple pop tunes as well!” she adds.
In addition to preparing for their show, they are also excited to hear some of their favourite artists at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival: Brian Blade & The Fellowship, Cécile McLorin Salvant, the Joshua Redman Quartet, the Curtis Nowosad Quartet, Ethan Ardelli, Laila Biali, and Bobby McFerrin.
As for what comes next for the jazz duo, Elizabeth is working to complete her Jazz Studies degree, and will likely prepare and audition for some music masters programs in both the U.S. and Canada during her final year at the U of M. She is also considering some of incorporating some of her other academic interests into her future.
“I have many other interests I’d love to pursue in some capacity, as well, such as languages and human rights studies,” she says. “Whatever it may be, I hope it takes me around the world!”
Now that he has graduated, Connor is planning to build on the freelance jazz career he has established during his teen years and his university studies.
“Look for our names around town!” they say.
You can find Connor playing once a month at the Palm Lounge in the Fort Garry Hotel or by visiting his website: www.cdmusic.ca
When not singing jazz or singing with her church choir, Elizabeth can be found singing as the lead vocalist for Winnipeg’s Flat Land Soul Band! Check out the FLSB on their Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as on June 30that the Osborne Street Festival.
Congratulations, Elizabeth and Connor! We are so proud of you, and look forward to watching you both bring the funk for years to come!
The Jazz for Lunch series runs Tuesday, June 18ththrough Sunday, June 23rd, beginning at 12:00pm at Parlour Coffee (468 Main Street), or Old Market Square (by The Cube). In addition to Elizabeth and Connor, the Jazz for Lunch series will feature Desautels faculty members Karly Epp, Karl Kohut, Desautels sessional instructor Aaron Shorr and past Desautels sessional instructor Ethan Ardelli. For complete details about the great events at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, please visit www.jazzwinnipeg.com/events