If you’ve ever gotten out and seen a local cover band or jazz concert in Vancouver, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard Jason de Couto play the piano, organ, or synthesizer. One of the city’s most in-demand keyboardists, he has performed with acts such as Meridian, Rain City 6, Side One and Steely Dan tribute band Steelin’ In the Years, as well as various formations of his own organ trio.
He has also been a sideman for Gabriel Mark Hasselbach and Goby Catt, has shared the stage with Cory Weeds, Jodi Proznick and Bill Runge, and has performed at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Harmony Arts Festival, Illuminaires Festival and the Vancouver Writers Festival. And this weekend (July 30th and 31st) he’ll play two shows at the Powell Street Festival.
The guy really gets around.
“I’m caught between two worlds in the local music scene,” says de Couto, who is on the line from his home in South Van near Fraser and 41st. “You’re kind of in jazz funk and the creative kind of music that I really love and is almost more like passion projects, and then I’m also in the more lucrative world of event band playing.
“I’ve played with a lot of different cover bands,” he adds, “and right now I’m in a couple that I really enjoy. The one that I’m really proud to be a part of, which I just think is nice. I’ve found my way into a band called Side One over the past few years. I really enjoy working with them because they are so professional, so well organized and they pay very fairly. And they seem to really respect the musicians that play with them.”
De Couto, who has taught music at various elementary and high schools in Metro Vancouver for 15 years and will be a teacher at Lord Byng Secondary this fall, has been making music for most of his life. He grew up in a household where his parents eagerly encouraged him.
“I realized early on that it’s something that really appeals to me and is very important to me,” he says. “Obviously on an emotional and spiritual — and I think psychological — level, it’s hit me hard. But also on a biological level. I’m on the perfect pitch spectrum, so it was one of those things where when I was taking piano lessons early on, I could always pick things up a little bit faster, especially the ear training exercises and stuff. I somehow realized that there was just something inside me.
At the age of five, de Couto studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and he grew up listening to classical music, but when he was in high school, in the early ’90s, his musical interests took an abrupt turn.
“I got really interested in rap music and hip-hop,” he explains, “and as I got into high school I was trying to get deeper and deeper into where the samples came from in a lot of stuff, which I was because, like you.” you might know, a lot of hip hop music from that era back then was just doing some really creative things with sampling, and I remember being really intrigued by a lot of the musical aspects of it. So I actually started DJing and making records collecting, and began to realize that a lot of the sampled music came from those old jazz and funk records.
“That really got my interest, and then I was like, ‘Oh, maybe this could be a new direction for me with my piano playing,’ because I liked classical playing, but I didn’t love it. I was getting a little dry towards the end of high school, and jazz just seemed so exciting and captivating to me.”
De Couto’s newfound love of jazz led him to attend Capilano College and earn a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies with a concentration in jazz piano.
“It was a really good experience,” recalls de Couto, whose last music purchase was the McCoy Tyner Trio’s 1995 album. infinity. “And not only was it great for the course content and the musical content, but it was also great as a starting point for networking. I think a lot of students going through Capilano will recognize that it’s a great place to meet-minded people and really start getting gigs.”
Hundreds of gigs later, de Couto has his sights set on his next gig, which will see his dAB trio – featuring him on Hammond B3 organ, guitarist Alvin Brendan and drummer Bernie Arai – set to perform at the Powell Street Festival this Saturday (June 2018). 30). The next day, de Couto will play another festival gig at Oppenheimer Park, supporting local indie pop singer Kaya Kurz.
De Couto has played in organ trios with Arai and Brendan before but never together, so the combo’s blend of jazz, funk, pop, Latin and blues will no doubt have a fresh, adventurous vibe. with influences coming from organists Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Jimmy McGriff to de Couto’s personal favorites like Larry Goldings, Sam Yahel and Joey DeFrancesco.
“I use the Powell Street Festival shows as an opportunity to do something new,” he points out, “or at least work with musicians I haven’t normally worked with. And the Powell Street Festival is a place where they champion and support musicians and people of Asian Canadian backgrounds, so I’m trying to make an effort to start groups that celebrate that. So obviously Bernie Arai is Japanese and Alvin Brendan is Filipino.
Brendan is a younger up-and-coming guitarist, while music veteran Arai could be in demand as a drummer in the local scene, as could de Couto as a keyboardist.
“I think Bernie is an incredibly musical drummer,” enthuses de Couto. “Very creative. Definitely a force to be reckoned with. He’s someone who listens very carefully, so he’s fun to play with because he’s very interactive, and sometimes if I watch him while we’re playing together, he’ll be very expressive, not just in his game , but also in his facial features. So he throws me a smile when he likes something, or maybe laughs at something that’s a bit unexpected. I really respect him on many levels, not just as a musician but as a person. And he’s a father, too.”
Jason de Couto’s dAB Trio performs on the street stage at the Powell Street Festival at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Alexander Street on June 30 at 1:15 p.m. De Couto will also perform with Kaya Kurz on the festival’s Diamond Stage at Oppenheimer Park on July 31 at 5:30 p.m. The full festival schedule can be found here.