Calgary jazz violinist one cool cat

By James Keller

Borrowing a page from the hip swing vocabulary of the ’40s, local violinist Karl Roth is a self-described cat in the Calgary jazz scene.

"I’ve just been around long enough and doing it long enough," laughs Roth, who plays the Blue Banana Lounge Fri. March 2. "There’s a lot of people that want to be one, but you know it just takes time. You don’t get to be one just by wanting to be one."

Roth definitely qualifies: he’s been involved with the Calgary music scene for the past 14 years with two CDs under his collar–Everybody Wants to be a Cat and Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas. While he started out playing his violin in blues funk bands, Roth has since moved deep into the swing genre. He still feels a little out of place in the local scene though.

"I think I’m an oddball," says Roth about his place in the Calgary jazz scene. "I think lots of people consider [violin] kind of a novelty instrument, for jazz in any case."

Roth sees the Calgary jazz scene as rather minute. He views Calgary as more of a blues town. This influence definitely comes across in the music he plays.

"You can’t help but get influenced by the city you live in," explains Roth, although he doesn’t feel the blues influence has hit him as hard as it could have. "I think that because of our isolation, you just sort of end up listening to all sorts of stuff and your references are… more international."

Roth’s sound is without question swing, but with the strong presence of his violin, his raw, deep vocals and the toned down tempos, he definitely creates a unique sound in his music. Despite this, Roth explains writing original material isn’t his style.

All of the songs on his Christmas CDs are covers–both of classics and seldom heard gems. Everybody Wants to Be a Cat features not only the Disney title track from The Aristocats, but also newly arranged versions of "My Favourite Things," and "It Don’t Mean a Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing." Roth just doesn’t feel he needs to write original music.

"In this form of music, playing covers is what you do," says Roth, noting his background in classical music has him looking at composing rather than writing. "I think the whole… original music thing is a little out of context for what I do anyway."

Roth says his own sound and voice come out in how the songs are arranged.

"I think it’s a more modern interpretation," Roth says about how he shapes the songs he plays, adding the changes are partly because of the times he lives in and his own personal tastes.

"I like leaving the listener more to listen to. I try not to say everything and I try not to have the band say everything."

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