Posted On 22 Jan 2018
O ri Dagan is a world-class jazz singer-songwriter who wields mass critical acclaim for his work. His arrangements span from re-imagined infectious pop classics to jazz originals that push the boundaries of sound, while still paying homage to the founders of the genre. His newest single, “Sting of the Cactus” is a scat-filled confessional about the life of a musician, where his honesty pours out lyrically and instrumentally for an inside look into his life.
Israeli-born and Toronto-raised, Ori Dagan was born to swing, scat, croon, and entertain. Initially trained as a classical pianist, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from York University with a focus on Jazz and Classical vocal studies. Following his time at York U, he continued his music education at Humber College, honing in on performance, songwriting, and improvisation. These years of education proved their worth when Dagan began receiving widespread acclaim for his work, including “Best Jazz Vocals” at the 2015 Toronto Independent Music Awards and “Best Male Vocal” in NOW Magazine’s Reader’s Poll against the likes of The Weeknd, Bahamas and Peter Katz.
In January 2016, Ori Dagan released “Clap on the 2 and 4” as a single with a hilariously bubbly music video. This video opened up new doors to higher ground for this artist, being awarded for “Best Educational Jazz Short” by New York Jazz Film Festival, “Best Music Video” by Open World Toronto Film Festival and “Best Male Vocalist” Bronze by Global Music Awards, just to name a few. With all the recognition in the world under his belt, Dagan has returned to release his best work yet to a much broader audience.
Learn more about Ori Dagan in the following All Access interview:
– Happy New Year! Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
Just getting home from New York City, my favourite place on earth!
– Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your music career? What are you most excited about for this year?
2017 was definitely one of the most exciting years of my career so far! The highlight was releasing my third recording “Nathaniel: A Tribute to Nat King Cole” and its accompanying Visual Album, a collection of 12 music videos on my YouTube channel. The project was made possible by a crowdfunding campaign on PledgeMusic and the feedback so far has been very rewarding. Looking forward to continuing to present this project in 2018, leading up to Nat King Cole’s centenary in 2019.
2018: I’m most excited to share that I will be an official showcasing artist at SXSW 2018 in Austin Texas this March. I’m really honoured to be 1 of only 12 jazz artists worldwide selected for this festival.
– Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
I have been a musician my whole life, but did not realize I wanted to pursue it as a career until I discovered jazz music. Since the day I heard Ella Fitzgerald’s recording “Mack the Knife: Live in Berlin” I have been devoted to this music…that was in 1999, and while I know I have spent well over 10,000 hours on it so far, I would gladly spend 10,000 hours more. This makes me feel really blessed as I know this music – rooted in improvisation, freedom and the element of surprise – is my passion in life.
– I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your home has affected you and your music today?
Toronto has been my home since the age of 8, when I moved here with my family from our native Israel. Toronto is a beautiful city rich with diversity…it is a place that encourages its people to pursue every dream imaginable and live the life they choose. I’m grateful for this and have met countless people who are precious to me here.
– I am curious to know how you think that your music education has truly helped you be a better musician today? Would you recommend that all promising jazz performers seek a higher education?
Music education has been a blessing in my life, even when I did not know it. I began with classical piano studies since a young age, and while I did not have the discipline or passion for that music, it helped greatly to develop my ears. Later I pursued a degree in music with focus on both jazz vocals and classical voice, and in total I would say that I’ve studied with over 20 singing teachers in my life so far. That being said, in jazz specifically, I think much of one’s learning must take place on the band stand. In order to be a good improviser, one has to learn in the moment, experimenting in real time on stage, observing and absorbing from others as well as one’s own risks. It takes a lot of time and discipline, like fine wine. As my mentor Sheila Jordan says, “Dedication is the key.”
– Let’s talk about your newest single, “Sting of the Cactus.” Where did the inspiration for this track come from? How do you think that this is different or similar to anything else that you have released in your career?
“Sting of the Cactus” is one of five original songs on my latest project, “Nathaniel: A Tribute to Nat King Cole”. It was inspired by learning of Nat King Cole’s early struggles, his sneaking into concerts by pianist Earl Hines, and his humble beginnings when his trio struggled to make ends meet, playing their music for little to no applause. But they stuck with it, and that is really the key to success, I think. I was surprised to learn this about Cole because this part of his story is not well known, and come to think of it, the term “overnight success” is generally not true for most artists. So the song is about the dedication necessary for being a great musician – as I wrote the lyrics for this song I realized that it is a universal song for any artist – as such it has been greatly received by musicians and audiences alike
– The music video for “Sting of the Cactus” is super creative and clever. How involved were you with the whole process?
For all the videos in this project, my producer and I pitched our concept but let the directors have a lot of creative freedom. In the case of “Sting of the Cactus” we pitched a story-board of puppets, having seen Bekky O’Neil’s wonderful work to date. We further decided it would be cool to have the puppets representing the band, and sent her photos of them; and we also agreed on the idea of me busking at the start of the video. The rest was the result of her fruitful imagination, and we are so thrilled with how it turned out! This video has won several awards worldwide including the “Best Music Video” at the Toronto Open World Film Festival.
– How would you say that you are continuing to grow and mature as an artist over the years? Do you find that what motivates you to make music has changed or transformed at all?
One of my mentors, piano great Mark Kieswetter told me, “Be good to the music and it will be good to you.” I am finding this to be an inspirational truth. As time goes by I am always striving to challenge myself as a vocalist and in particular as a songwriter. I’m motivated to explore songwriting more and more with each release. I love singing the old classics and making them my own, and I bet that I’ll always be doing this. Yet there is something deep and profound about writing songs that I find endlessly challenging and consistently rewarding.
– We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
Music has always been, and will always be, a source of reflection on humanity. In times of struggle, it can either reflect directly on our challenges, or serve an escape from them. Either way, I am deeply devoted to this art form and am especially fascinated by the powerful vibrations of live music performances in particular.
– Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
The artists that have influenced me the most to date have in common that they were radical innovators in their time: vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O’Day hold a special place in my heart, for they both devoted their lifetime to singing jazz in creative ways. Instrumentalists I would gladly listen to on any given day are horn players Lester Young, who is my ultimate favourite for the beautiful melodies and tones in his improvisations and Charlie Parker who turned the jazz world on its head with his cutting edge concepts in harmony, rhythm and flawless technique. There are countless others, including Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, and the list goes on…
I am such a huge admirer of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and some of the artists who have come through it, like Aubrey Logan. I love the notion of taking songs that are a bit more modern and giving them the old school jazz treatment. Also the way that they interact with their audiences in the social media realm is brilliant and groundbreaking. Would love to collaborate with them!
– What do you hope your fans take away from your music? Do you find that a lot of your music has a greater meaning behind it?
I hope that they enjoy it! For the most part I take what I do very seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously…I think there is a great deal of value in joy and happiness. I strive to entertain and as such, I feel most at home on a stage, playing this music for people who want to listen.
As stated above, I am so excited for SXSW 2018! I’m also working on booking some European dates for the fall. Stay tuned!
– Would you like to share anything with our readers about yourself or your music?
Follow me on instagram, facebook and twitter, where I strive to keep good content going for my fans. Visit my website (www.oridagan.com) if you’d like to buy my latest CD, and feel free to comment on and share my music videos, that would mean the world! Thank You!