Catherine (Cat) Toren returns to Vancouver this month to play the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival—a homecoming she says she’s looking forward to.

“It’s one of my favourite gigs,” says the jazz pianist, composer and improviser. “I can’t wait to come home!”

Cat grew up in the Lower Mainland and attended Argyle Secondary in North Vancouver. Wanting to focus her attention on jazz, she opted for Capilano University’s Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies for both the program’s reputation, as well as its proximity to her home.

“I have so many fond memories of the community that I was involved with when I was attending Cap,” she says. “I made so many friends whom I still play with. I started in 2001 and I’m still friends with these people and play music with them!”

Pugs and Crows

Among these are Cole Schmidt—friend, fellow Capilano alumnus, and bandmate in Pugs and Crows. (Cat describes the band as “Cole’s brain child.”) The two will be playing at this year’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, alongside band mates Meredith Bates (violin), Russell Scholberg (bass), Ben Brown (drums), and guest Tony Wilson (guitar), focusing on songs from their 2015 album Everyone Knows Everyone Pt. 1.

Both Cole and Tony Wilson (who appears as a guest on the album) composed a good portion of the music for this new album. (The band’s previous album, Fantastic Pictures, was composed primarily by Cole.) Cat says she and Cole overlapped while in Capilano’s jazz program and started playing together when Cat played piano for Cole’s graduation recital.

To say the band has found success would be an understatement. As Pugs and Crows’ pianist, Cat has toured with the group across Canada, performing at major award ceremonies. In 2013, the group picked up a major award of their own, receiving “Instrumental Album of the Year” at the 2013 JUNO Awards for their album Fantastic Pictures.

Individually, Cat’s performance list is just as impressive, with gigs in Belgium, New York, the mid-western U.S., and all across Canada. Notable performances include the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, and the 2010 Vancouver International Jazz Festival—where Pugs and Crows also won the Galaxy Rising Star Award.

“I just love being creative and expressing myself,” Cat says. “I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Capilano memories

While at Capilano, Cat also has fond memories of playing in the A-band, directed by instructor Réjean Marois, as well as of the combo and improv classes led by instructor Ihor Kukurudza. Faculty member Lisa Miller was also an influencing force in her identity as a musician, Cat says.

“She was my composition instructor—she changed my life in amazing ways,” Cat says, adding that the two are now good friends.

Cat stresses the importance of well-rounded knowledge and a firm understanding of diverse music as necessities for success in the music world.

“There are so many genres of music,” she says. “I feel like you need to have an understanding of many things, unless you want to have one niche. To be a creative composer and musician in the world, you should be pretty mixed up now. Everyone is just doing everything!”

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Cat Toren will be performing with Pugs and Crows and Tony Wilson at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival on Friday, June 19 at The Ironworks, performing songs from their 2015 album Everyone Knows Everyone Pt. 1. Tickets are $25. In addition, the Cat Toren Band performs Saturday, June 20 at 1 pm at Performance Works in a free concert for the CD release of her third album “Inside The Sun.” Finally, Cat performs with Michael Blake Quartet on Tuesday, June 30, 1 pm at Performance Works. Admission is free.

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