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A pilgrimage back to the stage: NOTL musician to perform for first time in years
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After suffering injuries and not being able to play his instrument, professional pianist Paul Tobey is making his comeback performance at the TD Niagara Jazz Festival’s “Twilight Jazz and Blues Series” on Monday, Jan. 23.

Tobey moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake in February of last year from Bayview Village in Toronto, he told The Lake Report.

Since then his social life has flourished, moreso than when he lived in the city, he said.

Tobey has been a professional pianist for 23 years, playing in 17 different countries and releasing eight albums in his career.

He started off his career in 2001, signing a recording contract with Arkadia Records, while he was performing in Holland. Once signed, he released his first album “Street Culture,” which was nominated for a Juno award.

But not long after, his health started to deteriorate and made it challenging to perform.

“I kind of played like Bill Evans which was more like slouched over the keys and your face close to the keys,” Tobey said. 

“It took its toll on my arms.”

Tobey was diagnosed with severe tendinitis in his left arm.

“In terms of swelling, it was probably like twice the size that it should’ve been,” he said.

“(It was) devastating for me because it was so bad, I couldn’t focus.”

After getting worse, Tobey went to the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada in Hamilton, where he was told they have seen this before and he was about to completely blow his arms out permanently, said Tobey.

Things took another turn for the worse in 2001. Arkadia Records was located about two and a half blocks from ground zero on 9/11. The chaos and destruction from the terror attacks set the record label back, though it still operates today. 

It wasn’t long before both parties grew apart, Tobey said, which took a toll on him physically and mentally. 

“Music was my entire life. I started at the age of eight and never stopped and it was just all-consuming,” he said. 

“If that’s taken away, you kind of lose your sense of identity, if that makes any sense.”

With his passion torn away from him, an acquaintance who lent him books started him on a self-journey of healing. 

After reading a book called “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coelho, he learned of the Road to Santiago in Spain and was inspired to make the trip.

The pilgrimage is “2,000 km and you walk from like, the Pyrenees mountains, through the Maceda plains, through Galicia and eventually reached Santiago de Compostela, and then you walk another 100 km or so to the coast, a place called Finisterre, said Tobey.

He received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to write music along his journey, and he ended up writing nine symphonies and eleven other compositions. 

“I would stay a couple of days here and a couple of days there just to sit down and write and I had a computer and a little tiny keyboard that I had in my backpack,” said Tobey. 

After returning home, he set off on his next adventure, which was to start a business teaching musicians how to engage an audience.

“Even as a musician, you don’t really know how to do that. You know how to play, but you don’t necessarily know how to engage a room,” Tobey said.

As the business grew and record labels and executives joined the classes, the focus shifted to a more wide direction of business training and the name was changed to Training Business Pros, said Tobey. 

“By all accounts and purposes, it was a very successful company,” he said.

Now in semi-retirement, he spends his time helping other musicians learn advanced jazz. He started a new business and associated Youtube channel called Jazzmentl, because “you have to be completely mental to play jazz.”

He’s also picking up his piano again.

The goal this year was to play three or four concerts, Tobey said. 

After writing down his resolutions for the year, he received a phone call from Juliet Dunn, executive creative director of the TD Niagara Jazz Festival. 

“She ran into my son Adrian, who bought his first house in Niagara Falls last year, which is one of the reasons why we came here to get a little bit closer to him,” said Tobey. 

“I’m excited about it because this is really my first concert since I played the last concert I did.”

His last performance was at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2016. 

That performance remains his fondest memory due to a standing ovation, he said. 

Tobey will be performing the Great American Songbook on Monday, Jan. 23 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at The Hare Wine Co.

Tickets for the show are now sold out. 

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