Curtis Nowosad :: A Man About Town

By Holden Bunko

Chances are if you are familiar with Winnipeg’s jazz scene, you have probably heard of today’s interviewee. Curtis Nowsad has been an active and participating member of Winnipeg’s music community for many years, but has recently come into his own as a musician. Weekly gigs, cross-country tours, and even an upcoming album release means that Curtis is a pretty busy dude, yet he absolutely loves what he’s doing, and shows no signs of slowing down. With talent like his, we hope he never does.

Stylus: How long have you been drumming for?
Curtis Nowsad:
Since I was twelve. I actually still play the same drum set. I’ve gotten a couple others, but my first drum set was a vintage Rogers. I got it from one of my drum teacher’s other students who was getting rid of it, and it was in shitty shape. But they’re super nice drums so I’ve restored them these past years so they actually look good for the first time.
Stylus: Are you recording at the moment?
Yeah, I’m planning on putting a record out in September. It’s gonna basically be arrangements of contemporary pop, rock, hip-hop, and reggae tunes, but completely re-arranged for jazz. So I’ve got some Bob Marley, some Pink Floyd, some Tupac, Michael Jackson… If I hear a melody that sticks with me, something where I can figure out a way to make it interesting then I’ll use that. I mean that’s what they were doing in the thirties and forties, taking pop tunes and fixing them up a little bit.
Stylus: Do you have anyone working with you on the album?
Well I’m doing all the arrangements but the band, as it stands, will be the faculty at the U of M, so it’s going to be Jimmy Greene, Derrick Gardner, Steve Kirby, Larry Roy, Will Bonness, and also Julian Bradford.
Stylus: Quite the team. When did you enroll at the U of M?
Fall 2006, I went in right of high school. Back then they didn’t actually have a drum professor or a jazz studies program. So I was actually taking lessons with Steve Kirby even though he is a bass player, but I got so much from taking lessons with him. From the time I started my degree, I was on every single gig with him. So I was just continually getting my ass kicked. It was pretty hectic but very rewarding. So there were two years like that, and then in my third year the jazz studies program went through, but since it came in my third year I had to decide whether to finish a Bachelor in Music and do four year degree or do a Bachelor of Jazz Studies and do five, which seemed like the lesser of two evils. It was just kind of hard to be in school for five years. So I was in the first graduating class of the Bachelor of Jazz.
Stylus: When do you feel you started playing professionally?
I started playing gigs in high school, probably in grade eleven or twelve, but I haven’t had a regular job since the summer after grade twelve, so since I started at the U of M I haven’t had a job of any kind, I was just playing music. Even that summer before I started, I was barely working at the job I was at. I always had to book off so many days because I had gigs that it kind of was just not worth it.
Stylus: Who are some of the other musicians in the city you have worked with?
There are a couple of different groups that I have been playing with. One is a trio with Will Bonness and Julian Bradford. We have done quite a bit as a trio, and I’ve got some of our trio work on the record. There are also some younger guys I have played with who are still students at the U of M. There’s Niall Bakkestad-Legare, he’s a great tenor player and I’m pretty sure he’s still in his second year. Niall just exploded from the moment he got there. He’s studying under Jimmy Greene and doing everything Jimmy tells him. Aaron Shorr is another one and he’s actually doing a re-arrangement of Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, like the whole record rearranged. I did a show in November that was Bob Marley’s Exodus, and Shorr was on the gig with me and that was in the same series. On February 2nd I’m playing with Karl Kohut who is a fantastic bass player. We’re doing another show of the same series, doing Radiohead’s Kid A. It’s going to be really electric and really cool, and this is all with Will and Julian as well. This is all at Aqua Books, that’s sort of like our home base of operations.
Stylus: Any plans for touring in the near future?
I’ve been playing with Keith Price for a long time, he’s a guitar player. We actually used to play in a quintet a few years ago. There was myself, and Keith, and Julian Bradford, and Will Bonness, and Neil Watson. But Keith also has a trio which is myself and Julian Bradford, and we are doing a Western Canadian tour. So we are playing at the CCFM on February 7 and then we leave on the 8th. We’ll be gone for ten days. Then I come back for two days and then I’m doing a week of gigs in New York with Steve Kirby and Anthony Wonsey.
Stylus: Where are you planning to go on your tour?
We are going to Brandon, Edmonton, Kelowna, a few other interior B.C. cities, and then Calgary, Lethbridge. It’s going to be a great tour. I mean I’m doing it with my friends, these guys were my wedding party. So it’s kind of like a road trip.
Stylus: Do you have any other gigs coming up in the city?
I’m still ironing out the details, but I’m doing my own show at Aqua Books on March 2nd, because they will be moving to a new location at the end of March. I’m on the board, and it’s been an amazing learning experience. It’s great to be involved with everything, I mean Kelly Hughes has a lot of vision and a lot of great ideas. They are re-creating as a non-profit organization after the restaurant closed, so they are trying to sell off as many books as possible and move to a smaller space. We were just doing a demo there the other day and talking about how great that room sounds and it’s just going to get gutted, so my idea for March 2nd is to get maybe three, four, five bands and do a live recording. That room sounds so good, especially for recording. It’s all carpet and wood and it just sounds great.

You can catch Curtis Sundays at the King’s Head Pub and Tuesdays at Silver Heights Restaurant. He also has a radio show, Tomorrow is the Question, airing Thursdays from 4 – 5pm on UMFM 101.5 FM in Winnipeg and online at

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