David Restivo is settling into his new teaching role in Selkirk College’s Contemporary Music & Technology Program with a collaborative approach that sets students up for success in a field requiring a deep level of commitment to the craft.
One of Canada’s most well respected and influential jazz artists, Restivo joined the renowned faculty at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus in January. A specialist in piano and keyboards, Restivo has journeyed to rural British Columbia from Toronto to bring his lifelong passion to learners seeking a career in the multifaceted music industry.
“I’m a perpetual student of music,” says the 50-year-old, who is a three-time winner of the National Jazz Awards’ Pianist of the Year Award. “I may be a little further along the road by virtue of the experience I have had, but I am still a student myself. Maintaining that child-like curiosity about the world around you is the quality all the best teachers I’ve had in my life possess.”
Restivo grew up primarily in New York State and Vermont. His parents were amateur musicians and his mom was an arts journalist, so he has never known a world in which he wasn’t surrounded by an array of musical genres. His passion for jazz was seeded when he was only four-years-old and heard a recording by trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie.
“Something clicked in me and established a jazz bug from a very early age,” he says. “I was intrigued by this very intricate form of music, it became an obsession.”
By his early teens, the family moved to Toronto and he attended a high school known for its music program. He played percussion and baritone horn, but it was piano where Restivo excelled. After high school, he enrolled in the acclaimed music program at Humber College in Toronto and joined a group of peers equally as passionate.
While in post-secondary, Restivo found a niche in the jazz community. Still only 19-years-old, he discovered that a young jazz musician with skills was in-demand and quickly became a professional working musician. It was the start of a career that would see Restivo perform and record with the likes of Dave Holland, Jon Hendricks, Kenny Wheeler, John Abercrombie, Mel Tormé, John Pizarelli, the Woody Herman Orchestra, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, George Garzone, Howard Johnson, Kevin Mahogany, Randy Bachman, Molly Johnson, and many others.
Though making a living from music, Restivo never stopped learning and exploring. In 1992, he received a two-year Canada Council Grant that enabled him to study in New York City and immerse himself in the scene. He studied with acclaimed composer/pianist Jim McNeely and spent some time with Latin jazz pianist Sonny Bravo.
“Just being in New York and being in that environment with the rich musical culture was very life-altering,” Restivo says about his time in the cultural epicentre. “The level of engagement with music and art is at such a high level that it provided a huge energy boost as a young musician.”
As he solidified his own education and experience, Restivo began mentoring others through teaching. Starting at Humber College, over the years he would also serve on faculty at the University of Toronto, St. Francis Xavier University (Nova Scotia), the University of Manitoba and the Banff Centre for the Arts.
When veteran Selkirk College music faculty member Gilles Parenteau announced that he would be retiring after a career that spanned almost 30 years at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus, there was an opening for a keyboard instructor. Restivo heard about the position through Melody Diachun, a Selkirk College music instructor who he has performed with over the years. He was hired this past summer and started his new life amid the mountains in January.
“The analogy I use for my teaching is that I will open the door for students and as soon as they go in, there are a bunch more doors,” Restivo explains. “I haven’t necessarily opened all those doors myself, but I can show them where they are. They may open doors I haven’t opened yet, so I also learn from students because they are seeing things in a different way than me. I don’t look at teaching as a one-way street. It’s circular, you give energy out and it comes back to you.”
Like the rest of the diverse 10-member Contemporary Music & Technology Program faculty, Restivo continues to work as a professional musician away from the classroom.
“It’s an asset for our students to have mentors who are actually walking the walk,” he says. “Being in this beautiful place and having this position gives me a little more freedom to pick and choose the kinds of projects that I do. I can spend more time formulating ideas, writing music, practicing and preparing, and thinking about my own creative vision.”
Restivo’s lifelong learning has served him well over the decades and his perpetual drive for more will help influence the music industry’s next generation.
“Music and learning about music is exciting for me,” he says. “If I can transmit that joy and give some of that back, then that is the enriching part for me.”
Restivo and the rest of the faculty are currently preparing second-year students for the annual Year End Showcase Concert Series that take place in March/April at the Shambhala Music & Performance Hall on the Tenth Street Campus. You can find out more information about the Contemporary Music & Technology Program at: selkirk.ca/music.
PHOTO CAPTION: One of Canada’s most respected and influential jazz artists, David Restivo joined the faculty in the Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program in January and is now helping mentor students for a future in the music industry.