Inside look: Shirantha Beddage

by | Feb 17, 2017 | A&E

Adam Bernards & Brandon Choghri
A&E Reporters

When he’s not on stage wowing crowds with daring saxophone solos, or working on a new composition, you can find Shirantha Beddage in a Humber College classroom working with his students.

A Humber College alumnus himself, Beddage, nominated for this year’s Juno for Solo Jazz Album of the year, is now the head of Theory and Harmony in the Humber music department, and teaches courses in composition, theory, music education, ensemble performance and giving private lessons. He is also very active in the Toronto Jazz performance scene, and regularly works with fellow Humber Music faculty Mike Downes, Mark Kelso, Dave Restivo, and Rich Brown.

“I’m so fortunate to be in an environment where we have such supportive colleagues who are not just teachers but also really, really high-level practitioners, said Beddage.

His music is powerful, complex, and accessible. He draws on influences from across the history of jazz and other genres, and influences from outside the world of music as well, and turns them into his own style of strong solo baritone saxophone work.

Beddage’s most recent album, Momentum, which is up for the 2017 Juno, is an exploration of the physical forces of the world through music, inspired by his “childhood love of science.”

“There’s tunes on the record that are referencing certain ideas like momentum and centrifugal force and gravity but they also have musical inspirations as well like JS Bach and as always John Coltrane and the music of New Orleans and Bill Evans and Sonny Rawlins and a whole host of other things too,” said Beddage.

It’s an example of two things coming together, physics and music, that might not be obviously connected in theory, but form exactly that veiled connection that interests Beddage. He says that those ideas and concepts from the physical world “apply in ways that were kinda strange.”

Momentum, released in the fall of 2016, is Beddage’s third album as leader, following his debut Roots and Branches in 2007, and Identity in 2012. Momentum earned Beddage his second Juno nomination in a row, with Identity being nominated for Traditional Jazz Album of the Year in 2013.

Beddage has also been awarded the Galaxie Rising Star Award at the Montreal Jazz festival in 2013, and composed and performed music for the 2014 Emmy Award winning TV show Fargo on FX.

Beddage has also worked with drummer Will Kennedy of the well-known U.S. based jazz group the Yellowjackets.

But aside from his accomplishment and accolades as a professional musician, Beddage is a passionate educator, who takes pride and pleasure in working with his students.

“I want them to be able to personalize the content and make it into something that is real for them. When I get to see the end result of that, it’s pretty neat because they’re creating something of their own, and it’s something that I had a small hand, I suppose, in helping to see come to fruition,” says Beddage.

Education is a two-way street for him as well.  His students are constantly sharing their music with him, styles he has never heard before. They add different perspectives to his own work.

“They inspire me as well to have new ideas, and to think differently, and to be able to understand really what it is that I do in a very different way too,” said Beddage.

Beddage says he takes a tremendous amount of joy in all sides of his work, whether it be on stage performing live, or in the classroom with his students.

With two Juno nominations in a row, he is an artist who is making his name known, and yet still on the rise, still getting better, and inspiring his students to do the same.