Meet our city’s Brazilian pop ambassador

David Ryshpan on his transition from Montreal exile to Kalmunity member to Trio Bruxo leader to creative director of this weekend’s LuzArts Festival .

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David Ryshpan. Photo by Jessika Duquette

Perhaps you’ve seen and heard jazz piano man-about-town David Ryshpan with Kalmunity and affiliated projects at some point over the past decade.

Maybe you’re more familiar with either one of his bands, Indigone and Trio Bruxo, not to mention countless other collaborations. It’s possible you’ve read his blog or freelance music reportage, and if so it’s likely you’ve heard his CKUT show. You may have even taken music classes from him.

This weekend, Ryshpan dons a new cap as creative director and curator for annual Brazilian and Lusophone music fest LuzArts, a series of music seminars, cultural events and two nights of live music at la Sala Rossa.

So there’s a lot to learn about the self-described “detoured Montrealer,” a gifted and ridiculously diverse player.

“Thank you, René Lévesque!” says Ryshpan, 28. “I was the result of that mass exodus down the 401.”

Raised in Toronto until age 17, his ex-pat parents noticed his attraction towards instruments when they’d visit a friend who owned a music shop. By age six, little David had already tried lessons in violin and guitar, but neither was a natural fit. Then one day, everything changed.

“They bought me a little Radio Shack keyboard and I was on it all the time,” recalls Ryshpan. “They’d have to tell me like, ‘You’ve got homework to do!  Stop practising!’

“They had to kick me off. Piano was it for me.”

His first taste of jazz came from a Louis Armstrong album borrowed from a teacher. As a 10th birthday present to himself, he purchased Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which he had noticed hanging on a wall in a Billy Joel documentary.

“I figured it had to be a good record, so I bought it,” Ryshpan reasons.

By the time serious studying, training and playing found him eligible to enter McGill’s jazz program at age 17, the Ryshpans were ready to see David off when they learned that, as a minor, the university would become his legal guardian.

“They were like, ‘Fuck, no!’”

With both parents self-employed and disenchanted with Toronto by that point, the family returned to Montreal.

Ryshpan had been gigging regularly with jazz ensembles and at jams in TO since age 14. In new surroundings, with a new city to explore, he learned about Kalmunity while “flipping through the much loved and lamented Mirror.”

“I saw this open-mic-slash-jam-session-slash-improvisation thing happening at this tiny café up in Little Italy,” Ryshpan says, referring to KVC’s earliest haunt at the Sablo Kafé on St-Zotique.

“So I just figured I’d go check it out, and I just really fell in love with it.”

“At the time,” he continues, “[Kalmunity backbone] Jahsun had this little black book where you would sign up, kind of. If you were patient, he might email you,” he remembers.

Ryshpan and his extraordinary piano chops would become a pillar of the collective, which values discipline and devotion above individual contribution.

Dedicated as he is to the artistry of music, Ryshpan’s immersion into the local community over the years goes well beyond one scene, as evidenced by a devout appreciation for musica popular brasileira, or Brazilian pop music.

(The p-word in there can be tricky to the uninitiated — we’re talking bossa nova and the Latin jazz tradition, something the author admits to having zero prior knowledge of.)

Familiar with the basics of the form, Ryshpan began to explore different genre elements after being given a list of Brazilian records to check out in 2005, fostering an interest he would pursue digging through the crates of la Grande Bibliothèque and on music blogs.

“[CKUT host] Swan Kennedy played me a Milton Banana record, and I started going down the rabbit hole of Brazilian piano trios from the ’60s.”

Ryshpan enlisted trusted collaborators Mark Nelson on drums and Nicolas Bédard on bass to form Trio Bruxo, who play LuzArts on Saturday night.

Formed with the intent to not only stand on their own in the tradition they embrace but as a fully-functional backing rhythm section for bigger bands, Trio Bruxo travelled to Brazil together in 2010, performing in Sao Paolo and holding court with genre legends.

Taking on the role of LuzArts creative director for the first time, Ryshpan admits there are certain challenges in programming such a niche, community-involved type event, not to mention in being an ethnic outsider to the culture — albeit one who went characteristically full-throttle, learning to speak Portuguese. He stresses the welcoming vibe of that community, above all else, and what you can find when you dig.

“The history and tradition of Brazilian music is so deep, and the community here is so deep, too.”

He and Trio Bruxo do right by that community and the spirit of the music they honour with one rule only.

“We do not play ‘The Girl From Ipanema.’” ■

Trio Bruxo plays alongside Rogério Boccato and Jean Rohe at Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent) on Saturday, Sept. 14, 9 p.m., $15

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