Halifax Music Legend Paul Cram dies at 65

March 28th, 2018

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Halifax music legend Paul Cram dies at 65


scooke@herald.ca @CH_scooke

The Halifax music community has lost one of its extraordinary explorers with the passing of composer and performer Paul Cram.

The Dartmouth-based musician passed away on Tuesday night at the age of 65 after a lengthy illness, and was known nationwide for his inventive approach to composed and improvised music as a co-founder of the Upstream Music Association and the many ensembles that bore the name. These include the Upstream Orchestra, the Upstream Guerilla Orchestra, the Upstream Jazz Orchestra and A Love Upstream Nonet (a nod to jazz legend John Coltrane’s best-known work, A Love Supreme), as well as the Paul Cram Orchestra.

He was also a member of the Benghazi Saxophone Quartet, with Don Palmer, Dawn Hatfield and Chris Mitchell, and provided music for dance and theatre productions and improvisatory accompaniment to silent films. Originally from British Columbia, Cram immediately blended in to Halifax’s new music community after moving east in the late 1980s, and was part of the first Upstream performance at the St. Mary’s Art Gallery in 1990 with composers and musicians Palmer, Steve Tittle, Sandy Moore, Steve Naylor and Jeff Reilly.

“Paul was a great composer; he could write really interesting stuff,” said Reilly on Thursday. “His enthusiasm for writing and community are the two things that defined Paul Cram in his professionallife. “He had what he described as an Ellingtonian approach to music, which was this sense of inclusiveness. Let’s get more people on the bandstand, let’s make an incredible sound. It was a full-cry sound, all the time. He loved the vitality of a whole bunch of people playing in an improvisatory, spontaneous way.” Health issues led Cram to pass the baton to bassist and composer Lukas Pearse as artistic director for Upstream and its annual Open Waters Festival in 2015, which paid tribute to him the following year with a special collaboration with Symphony Nova Scotia.

“Upstream is really in the business of stimulating conversations and controversy,” Cram said in a 2010 interview with former Chronicle Herald arts writer Stephen Pedersen. “That's what performance is all about. Put people in front of a band and everybody's going to have a different opinion about it. Some love it, some hate it, some will talk about it, some will actually write about it.

“And maybe someone gets inspired to write a piece for your band. It happens on all kinds of levels.”

His enthusiasm for writing and community are the two things that defined Paul Cram in his professional life.

Jeff Reilly Composer, musician