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Music has always had a significant place in Mandy’s life. Her mother was a piano teacher, organist and choir director so she grew up learning to play the piano and singing in church choirs.
As a teenager she picked up the guitar and learned a few chords so she could explore the music of some of her favourite artists.
She moved from Ridgetown, a small town in South Western Ontario, to Hamilton to study music at Mohawk College as a classical piano major. It is during these years that she began teaching piano in the community music school at Mohawk College as well as night school classes of group piano, ear training and music theory. She also began exploring the world of vocal jazz music as well as singer/songwriter material.
Mandy began taking herself seriously as a singer in 1990 when she moved from Hamilton to Toronto and formed a band in order to play songs of Joni Mitchell’s as well as her own writing. In 2002 she released her first CD, “I Thought About You”, a collection of jazz standards and two originals. In 2003 she released her second CD, “You See Me”, a selection of five jazz standards and five originals. In 2007 she released her third CD, “Verses”, a collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry which she collaboratively set to music. The “Verses” project awarded her financial support from the Canada Council for the Arts and The Ontario Arts Council.
After 30 years in Toronto Mandy has returned to Hamilton where she continues her teaching, writing, recording and performing.
Mandy has been teaching music since 1983. She spent ten years teaching ear training, theory, private piano lessons, and group piano lessons for Mohawk College Music Department and Part Time Studies. During that period she also spent two years with the Hamilton Wentworth Roman Catholic Separate School Board as an Artist in Residence teaching piano keyboard classes at the School of the Arts. After moving to Toronto she taught for three years with Merriam School of Music teaching private piano lessons, group piano lessons, training teachers and developing curriculum. She has maintained her private studio teaching for over thirty years and in 2022 she joined the team of private instructors at Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton.READ MORE...
Singer-composer-arranger-band leader, Mandy Lagan created the Origins Ensemble with the mandate of using pre-existing artistic work and redefining it through a musical, creative process.
In 2005 Ms. Lagan embarked on a project of creating songs using poetry from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses”. Verses was the first project of this nature.
Verses was a very personal project for Ms. Lagan. “A Child’s Garden of Verses” has been appreciated and loved by her family for three generations. Verses is an extraordinary collection of songs that took years to create as she worked closely with David Occhipinti, Joe Lagan, Nancy Walker, Carl Horton, Kevin Turcotte, Blair Mackay, Andrew Downing and Blair Mackay.
The Joni Book, also a project very close to the heart, Mandy assembled the Origins ensemble once again to help her to realize the arrangements she imagined for some of her favourite Joni Mitchell songs. Andrew Downing, Blair Mackay, and Kevin Turcotte continue to contribute to the Origins projects along with newcomers Dave Restivo, Ewen Farncombe, Ted Quinlan and Jim Vivian. “The Joni Book” was heralded as one of the top 20 CDs of 2018 by Jazz FM 91, where it receives regular airplay. It has also been featured on CBC Radio’s “Jazz with Laila Biali”. The press has praised Mandy’s imaginative arrangements, and her earnest, stunning vocals. She has truly made these songs her own, while honouring the stories, melodies and harmonies that make Joni’s music so powerful. The result is a wonderfully mature collection of playful and creative arrangements that clearly come straight from the heart.
THE PAUL SIMON PROJECT is the most recent endeavour for Mandy and her band, ORIGINS.The band consists of some of Canada’s finest jazz musicians, Ewen Farncombe-piano, Ted Quinlan-guitars, Kevin Turcotte-trumpet, Matt Lagan-sax, Andrew Downing-cello, Jim Vivian-bass, and Blair Mackay-percussion/drums. Once again Mandy and her band members are reimagining material from one of the most influential composers of our time, bringing their own unique flavour and approach to these iconic songs from The Paul Simon Songbook. This will be the 5th recording project under the leadership of Ms. Lagan.
Phone: (416) 882-0584
Location: The Piano Lesson Studio is located in Hamilton, Ontario, on Dundurn St. near Charlton Ave.
Ms. Lagan’s debut CD features:
Dan Ionescu – guitar, Joe Lagan – piano, Marc Rogers – acoustic bass and Kevin Dempsey – drums.
I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU is a collection of jazz standards with two of Mandy’s original compositions.
The arrangements range from duets with each member of the band to quartet.
This CD features:
Dan Ionescu – guitar Dave Restivo – piano Quinsin Nachoff – tenor sax
Jim Vivian – acoustic bass Kevin Dempsey – drums
YOU SEE ME is a collection of five jazz standards and five original compositions.
This recording features:
David Occhipinti – guitars Andrew Downing – acoustic bass Kevin Turcotte – trumpet Nancy Walker – piano
Joe Lagan – piano Carl Horton – piano Ross Wooldridge – clarinet Blair Mackay – percussion/drums
The Madawaska String Quartet.
The VERSES project uses poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” written in 1885. This collection is set to music by Mandy Lagan in collaboration with David Occhipinti, Nancy Walker, Joe Lagan, Andrew Downing and Carl Horton.
This recording from Mandy Lagan and her band, ORIGINS features:
Dave Restivo – piano Ted Quinlan – guitars Andrew Downing – cello
Jim Vivian – acoustic bass Kevin Turcotte – trumpet Blair Mackay – percussion/drums.
THE JONI BOOK is a collection of songs by Joni Mitchell that have been creatively arranged by Mandy Lagan and the members of ORIGINS.
“Mandy’s new recording the Joni Book, is one of the most successful takes on Joni’s music I’ve heard. Great arrangements that keep the integrity of Joni’s tunes but makes them sound fresh and new. Also the laid-back and confident vocal approach from Mandy that makes this recording very strong.”
Brad Barker – JAZZ FM 91.1
“Folksinger was too limiting a term to describe Joni Mitchell, just as Mandy Lagan, in pushing the boundaries in new and original ways, is no mere jazz vocalist. This combination makes Lagan’s project “The Joni Book” a must-listen — make that “must” experience – for music fans from both schools.”
Mark Rheaume – CBC Radio
“Lagan rises to the challenge of honouring Mitchell’s legacy…. [she] wraps her voice around the layers of lyrical meaning and shading embedded in these great songs.”
Barry Livingston – WholeNote Magazine
I first met Mandy Lagan when she was a music student at Mohawk College. She already displayed considerable musical talent at that time, while possessing a keen interest in the music of legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. After hearing Mitchell’s recording Court and Spark when she was a teenager, Lagan was “forever changed.”
Flash forward several decades, and Mandy Lagan has released a sparking tribute to her muse, titled The Joni book, featuring a roster of Canada’s finest jazz artists. She couldn’t ask for a better or more simpatico group of musicians than Kevin Turcotte, Jim Vivian, Ted Quinlan, Dave Restivo, Andrew Downing and Blair Mackay.
Lagan rises to the challenge of honouring Mitchell’s legacy, while making these tunes her own. She has lived with this material a long time, and accordingly, wraps her voice around the layers of lyrical meaning and shading embedded in these great songs.
It is truly a group effort though, and all the musicians delve into both familiar (My Old Man, All I Want) and less familiar material (Conversation) with dedication and zeal. Everyone contributes to the inventive arrangements, ranging from the playful interplay on Help Me (featuring an outstanding trumpet solo by Turcotte), to the masterful textural arc they craft on Song for Sharon.
Somewhere, at her home in Los Angeles, Joni Mitchell is smiling.
Barry Livingston – WholeNote Magazine.
by Cathy Riches
All those who remember A Child’s Garden of Verses, raise your hand. The influential collection of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson has been a favourite of parents and children since it was published in 1885. It is also the inspiration for a gorgeous new CD by Mandy Lagan.
Lagan is a Toronto-based singer, composer, and educator who collaborated with a number of other composers, chiefly David Occhipinti, to produce Verses. Occhipinti also co-produced much of the album and his stunning, innovative guitar work is a strong presence throughout the disc.
But this isn’t kids’ stuff – unless you have some musically very sophisticated kids. This is grown-up, harmonically rich, and complex music that does full justice to the imaginative poetry it’s based on. For some composers, setting poems that weren’t originally intended to be songs – no repeated choruses and distinct A and B sections, for instance – would be a big challenge. But Lagan, Occhipinti, and company have seamlessly wedded the two art forms, devising music that artfully evokes the ideas in the poems. “Shadow March” from “North-west Passage” and “My Shadow” are particularly fine examples of this.
A portion of the work is heavily influenced by early Joni Mitchell – I wonder if there’s a Canadian musician of a certain vintage who isn’t influenced by Mitchell to some extent – and that’s apt given the wordiness of the source material. When a musician needs to impart a lot of ideas, Mitchell is a great model to base the writing on since she tends to deftly cram in a lot of syllables per line.
Many of the musicians are from the jazz world – Nancy Walker on piano, Andrew Downing on bass, cello and harmonium, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Ross Wooldridge on clarinet – so things sometimes get pleasantly jazzy, but there are also touches of folk, classical, Celtic, and perhaps even a little Bartok, so it all adds up to an original and category-defying album: a musical umami.
Lagan’s strong, clear voice ably handles the melodic leaps and pirouettes and is a lovely vehicle for the poems. The addition of strings, (real strings!) courtesy of the Madawaska String Quartet, on several tracks is a treat, as are the cleverly arranged woodwinds by Andrew Downing, on “The Lamplighter.”
The inclusion in the liner notes of artwork by Charles Robinson from the second edition of A Child’s Garden of Verses is a charming touch.
If you want to enchant your real child or your inner child, Verses is an altogether lovely way to do it.
Cathy Riches is a freelance writer and music reviewer.
East York resident Mandy Lagan is set to officially release her latest album Verses on May 1 at 8 p.m. at Hugh’s Room with an all-star cast of local musicians that includes Juno-nominated guitarist David Occhipinti.
Occhipinti is nominated for this year’s Juno Awards, airing April 6, in the best contemporary jazz album category for his album Forty Revolutions.
His imprint is all over Lagan’s latest work – her third CD – from the sublime guitar work to the wonderfully written songs, for which he co-wrote many of them with Lagan.
Lagan, who previewed a couple of the songs at a recent gig at The Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar, has gone out on a limb with this album.
Absent are the standard familiar jazz covers that always provide an easy entry point for new listeners.
Instead, she has dusted off a near 125-year-old set of poems from an author more known for his classic children’s novels and put all original music to them.
And it works, in fact it soars. No worries about being out on a limb, here.
While most readers are probably more familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson’s novels such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped, Lagan was apparently swept away as a kid by A Child’s Garden of Verses written in 1885.
Several decades, a husband (Joe, a professional pianist in his own rite, who collaborated on two of the songs) and a couple of kids later, she revisited the poetry, and was inspired to put music to it.
While the poems may have sparked Lagan’s imagination when she was young, the songs she and her collaborators have wrought will probably be most appreciated by adults (although there’s certainly nothing unsuitable for kids).
The poems themselves are hopelessly dated from the 19th century and that’s not a bad thing – sophisticated and literate as they are. In fact it works sublimely well with the theme of childhood since for adults our own childhood days are also hopelessly receding into the past.
If the poems and our nostalgia set the itinerary for the fond trip back through childhood, it’s the music of Lagan and her collaborators that ultimately transports us there.
Again she has achieved an inspired balance in the songwriting, arranging and playing. As befitting the impeccable talent Lagan has assembled, the music is sophisticated with many hues and colours, ultimately making it rewarding for repeated listens.
Yet, at the same time – and this may be the album’s brilliance – she entirely captures the simpleness, the playfulness, the innocence of childhood.
It’s like your childhood condensed, distilled and forever preserved on a magical CD.
She has captured the innocence of a summer shower, the magic of toy soldiers, the exhilaration of a playground swing, the scariness of a shadow-filled room as the sun goes down, the magic of faraway lands, the playfulness of the wind, the child in us that never dies.
As such, this album is not one you’ll want to spin as a backdrop to chores, dinner, dancing, a party or anything like that; for that stick to Lagan’s second CD (or any other more standard jazz fare in your collection).
Treat this CD like a charming, heartfelt soundtrack or musical – set to your own childhood. Put the headphones on, press play, close your eyes and let the journey begin.
Reserve tickets for the official release concert at www.hughsroom.com.
For more on Lagan and Verses, check out the Music Notes blog at www.insidetoronto.com.
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