Fedora enthusiast Donavon LeNabat is an accomplished performer, singer, pianist, accompanist, arranger, and music director. Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Donavon relocated to Toronto in 2000 to attend the world-renowned Jazz Music Studies program at Humber College. Under the tutelage of such greats as Brian Dickinson, Art Maiste, Don Thompson, Hilario Duran as well as his peers, Donavon learned as much as he could about every aspect of music.

After college, Donavon spent several years touring around parts of the world while performing on cruise ships, eventually coming back home to Toronto to further his musical career. Since then, he has worked with many bands and stellar musicians, including Jim Cuddy, Molly Johnson, Esthero, The Tenors (formerly “The Canadian Tenors”), Andy Maize, Mark Cassius, Sharron Matthews, Ed Robertson, Steven Page, and playing Keyboards 2 in the Toronto production of Jersey Boys.

His pet project, Jack Squat (http://JackSquat.ca), was started in the summer of 2005 while Donavon was looking for an opportunity to perform the fun 80s songs of his youth that no other bands were playing. Since its inception, this band has grown and performed for almost a decade, learning songs of every era and delighting audiences all over Ontario.

Donavon performs regularly in and around Toronto as a piano entertainer for public and private events, often working with some of the city’s finest talent. In addition to performing several nights a week, he also teaches at Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts.


The Rainbow Connection; A Slide Show Tribute to the Muppets

I’ve been performing The Rainbow Connection as Kermit for a very long time, but only recently have started incorporating other Muppet voices. I thought it would be a good idea to have some visual rep
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iPad, Apps & Advice III: Accessories

I’ve written a lot about using the iPad in a live performance setting, about the type of apps and what you can do with them. (see previous posts: http://www.lenabat.com/?p=219 and http://www.lenabat.com/
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iPad, Apps & Advice II: ForScore

After a year and a half of using the iPad with my rig on various gigs (cocktail piano, open mic, piano bar, small and large band formations), I’ve decided it’s time to expand upon my previous blog entr
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Solo Piano Cocktail Music – providing light background music for a cocktail hour, adding a touch of class to any event

Small Jazz Ensemble – similar to cocktail music, but with a slightly larger ensemble (2-5 people)

Accompanist – playing for other performers (for cabaret-style performance, audition, etc)

Vocal Coach – working with a singer to ensure s/he has learned the song properly and is engaging all the elements of music in order to better perform the song

Side Man – working as a member of another band, coming in having learned all of their material (usually singing backup vocals as well)

Pit Musician – learning all keyboard parts for a production and performing them note for note consistently in each performance

Keyboard Programmer – programming keyboards for live performance situations to emulate sounds that appear on the original recording

Piano Entertainer – providing musical entertainment in the form of singing while playing piano, actively engaging the audience

Musical Director – making sure all musical elements within a production (musical or theatrical performance) are taken care of, rehearsing the musicians

Band Leader – rehearsing a band, making sure all parts are being played properly from all instruments to ensure a solid performance

Full band – providing a full band to perform dance/party music for an event, e.g. Wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Private Party, Birthday celebration, Holiday Party, etc. (see http://JackSquat.ca)

Arranger – arranges music for a variety of ensemble

Composer – writes music in a variety of styles

Where do I begin?  I started playing piano when I was three.  Granted, I wasn’t any good back then, but at least my parents had put me into weekly lessons, studying the basics and eventually learning how to play classical music.  I had three older brothers, all taking lessons, so I just thought that’s what everyone did.

At age eleven, I left my teacher but continued to study music on my own.  By that point, I was a strong enough reader that I could figure out much of what was put in front of me, classical or otherwise.  By the time I was fourteen, I was hanging out in the choir room at lunchtime in an effort to impress the girls of the choir with my piano skills.

It didn’t work.

In Jr. High and High School, I played in every school band I could.  I played trumpet and tuba in various concert bands in addition to playing trumpet, piano, auxiliary percussion and even accordion in several of the school’s jazz bands.  I also accompanied the school choir at nearly every performance.  When I was sixteen, I wrote and arranged a song for a big band performance.  It was called “Destiny”.

When I was nineteen, I decided it was time to get some further education in music.  I applied to Humber College’s Jazz Music Studies program in Toronto, Ontario.  In preparation for that, I went back to classical piano lessons to work on my technique and earn my Grade 9 (with Honours) from the Royal Conservatory of Music, which included theory, harmony and history requirements.

After being accepted into Humber’s Jazz program, I moved to Toronto in the summer of 2000 and dove into my schoolwork.  I practiced every chance I got and met a lot of really great people.  People started handing me CDs and charts, saying “can you play this?”  I started to get a reputation for being versatile and a good accompanist.

Oh, and finally the chicks were impressed by my piano skills.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one there who had them.  There was a 9-to-1 ratio of guys to girls in the program.

My first summer in Toronto saw me teaching rock band in a day camp to kids.  If you’ve seen the movie “School of Rock”, that was pretty much my life.  I instructed kids ages 7-14 how to play simplified parts on keyboards, bass, guitar, drums and sing in a rock band setting.  I still teach that same program, but these days to adults in a corporate teambuilding setting in a program called InConcert (www.inconcertnow.com).

In 2003 – while I was still in school – I started working on cruise ships part-time.  I got hired as a side man in Vegas-style show bands.  This allowed me to earn a living playing piano every day as well as hone my sight-reading and improvisational skills.  For the next two years, I went back and forth from Toronto to various cruise ships on Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines.  Sometimes it was really great… other times it really wasn’t.  I did get to see part of the world, and that was really cool.

When I went to Humber initially it was never my intention to get a degree… it just sort of happened that way.  There were courses on music theory, harmony, ear training, improvisation, arranging, composition, and solo performance and I wanted to take them all!  By the beginning of my third year, I realized that if I continued to take everything I wanted to I could stay an extra year and get accredited.

I finally completed the requirements for the degree program Humber (offered in conjunction with the British Columbia Open University) in the fall of 2004, awarding me a Bachelor’s Degree in Music (Jazz Studies) in February of 2005.

That same month, I joined the band of the incredibly talented Canadian recording artist Esthero.  She was releasing a new album and needed a band for the tour to support it.  I played with her band for four months, learning much about programming keyboards, professionalism and the music industry altogether.

In the fall of 2005, I began to work for Regent Cruise Lines (formerly Radisson Cruise Lines) as a guest entertainer, playing two shows to the delight of hundreds of passengers each cruise.  It was billed as a piano playing show, but I seized the opportunity to sing a few songs throughout the shows, all the while honing my entertaining and storytelling abilities.  I also indulged myself on the hospitality of the ship, dining in their 5-star restaurant nightly and working out in the private gym, as well as meeting new people, hosting tables and generally schmoozing to my heart’s content.

Although working on cruise ships was a lot of fun and I got to see many different places and meet some very fun people, the summer of 2006 saw me deciding I should stay in Toronto and pursue my music career here.  (My mad piano skills had finally netted me a woman but she didn’t want a part-time husband who was away all the time.)  Anyway, it took about a year of doing small gigs and networking but I was eventually able to break back onto the scene again.

I scored a great gig playing and programming 2nd keyboards for Drayton Entertainment on a stage show called “Legends” during the summer of 2007.  “Legends” is a hilarious Ed Sullivan-variety-type show in the style of a roast.  It also allowed me the opportunity to play with some great established musicians from the Greater Toronto Area.

Shortly thereafter, I began working with Ange Pagano and Kraig Waye – some friends I’d met through “Legends” – on an original music project that became known as “The Slights” (www.myspace.com/theslights).  I was originally asked to play keyboards but after a few rehearsals it became much more than that.  We would lay down tracks in my home studio and I would create complex keyboard parts, layering instruments and even arranging background vocal parts.  It’s hard to assign a genre to the music we’ve created, but I can tell you I really enjoy playing it.

In the fall of 2007, I joined Soular (www.soular.ca), a high-energy, deep-pocketed band that specializes in R&B, funk and soul music.  The band is always incredibly busy playing club dates, weddings, Bar & Bat Mitzvahs, fundraisers and corporate events.  Since I joined, their already vast repertoire has also branched out to include classic rock and 80’s music, as well as affording me the opportunity to sing lead vocals on several songs.  I even learned to sing a few rap songs, much to the delight of bar patrons who – up till then – saw me as the nerdy white keyboard player in the band.

In February of 2009, I began subbing in to the Toronto production of the smash- hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys.  Though I was familiar with many of the aspects of playing a show from previous cruise ship experience, this was larger than anything I’d done to this point.  The gig requires being able to read the sheet music for the keyboards part, singing background vocals at the same time, performing choreography, and at times doing all three simultaneously while having everything memorized.  Once the initial shock of being involved with something of this magnitude wore off, I was finally able to relax a little bit and enjoy the experience.  Seriously: what’s not to like about backing up great singers with a fantastic band for a packed house?

At the same time, I began working at Statler’s, a piano lounge cabaret space that takes its name from one of the characters from the Muppet Show.  I subbed in regularly as the accompanist to an open-mic night – sort of like karaoke but with a piano – giving my sight-reading skills the biggest challenge they’d had since my cruise ship days.  It also allowed me the opportunity to showcase my singing in addition to my playing.  In the summer of 2009, I was given my own night (Wednesdays) on which I would be the host to the evening’s festivities.  I ran this as an open mic, performing for professionals as well as novices.  When there was no one to come up and sing, I found myself entertaining the audience by telling stories, performing sing-along songs and taking requests, the whole while showcasing my versatility and zany sense of humour.

And, of course, reminding everyone of how awesome I was at the same time…

In my spare time, I play random gigs or involve myself in projects that arouse my interest.  Recently, I have accompanied various variety music nights at clubs across Toronto (Bread & Circus, Statler’s, etc.), arranged several songs on a jazz record for up-and-coming Toronto-based jazz singer Saccha Dennis, and engineered several basic recording sessions from my home studio.  All in all, I lead a really fun work life that allows me to be out performing music and be on stage most of the time and to work on arrangements, transcriptions and recordings when I am not.

Profile

Has solid background in several keyboard styles including (but not limited to): Classical, Jazz, Latin, Rock, Funk, R&B, Musical Theatre, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Country, Ragtime, Pop, and Stride.  A great reading ability, amazing memory, strong technical proficiency and a refined ear combine to consistently deliver enjoyable performances and accompaniment in each of these styles.

Education

  • B. Mus. (Jazz Studies), British Columbia Open University (2004)
  • Diploma (Jazz Studies), Humber Institute of Technology (2003)
  • Grade 9 Royal Conservatory Classical Performance (Piano – 2000)

 

Experience

Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts Sep 2012 – Present

  • Music Direct Cab4A class in the fall of 2012
  • Teach parts to all singers of levels of experience and ability
  • Accompany 1st and 5th term Music Theatre Performance Classes
  • Provide one-on-one coachings with a singer to ensure s/he has learned the song properly and is engaging all the elements of music in order to better perform it
  • Accompany students for in-class performances

 

Newchoir (accompanist/Assistant conductor)            Jan 2011 – Present

  • Show up promptly and accompany the choir from week to week
  • Sight-read open score of SATB, Soloist(s), and accompaniment part
  • Lead small group and sectional rehearsals
  • Teach parts to all singers of levels of experience and ability
  • Help fix trouble spots and be the choir director’s second set of ears
  • Lead the band in accompanying the choir for the end-of-season concert

 

Dueling Pianos (Various establishments) May 2010 – Present

  • Sing and play piano in a variety of musical styles for over 3 hours a night
  • Learn new songs weekly to keep the show fresh for patrons
  • Accompany novice & semi-professional singers in an “open mic” setting, often sight-reading music or performing from memory
  • Entertain lounge patrons by telling stories between songs, involving them with sing-alongs, and taking requests as often as possible

 

Jersey Boys (2nd Keys Sub) Dec 2008 – Aug 2010

  • Learn and perform music from Jersey Boys score verbatim
  • Sing background vocals throughout the show while playing
  • Learn and perform choreography while playing and singing on stage
  • Memorize music/singing/choreography for several numbers
  • Arrive promptly half an hour before show, prepared and presentable

 

Soular Dec 2007 – January 2012

  • Memorize and perform over 200 songs in several different styles (pop, rock, blues, funk, soul, rap, etc.) on Rhodes, Organ, Piano & Clavinet
  • Sing background vocals on 60% of songs
  • Sing lead vocals for several songs a night while playing keyboards
  • Maintain an attitude of courtesy and professionalism while performing club dates, weddings, parties, Bar Mitzvahs, etc.

 

The Slights Dec 2007 – Present

  • Create and perform keyboard parts for original music project
  • Produce and arrange tracks for album and live performances
  • Rehearse band regularly to ensure a high-quality show
  • Sing background vocals

 

Guest Entertainer, Regent Cruise Lines Dec 2005 – Aug 2006

  • Memorize and perform music in several different idioms (classical, jazz, blues, rock, etc) and in the style of different piano entertainers (Billy Joel, Elton John, Jerry Lee Lewis, Liberace, etc.)
  • Talk to the crowd and entertain them with stories in between pieces
  • Maintain an attitude of professionalism towards cruise guests 24/7 while working on the ship for several weeks at a time

 

“Jack Squat” (http://JackSquat.ca) May 2005 – Present

  • Sing lead vocals, play keyboards and act as front man for a four-piece rock band
  • Act as Musical Director; arrange for rehearsals of the band, change keys to accommodate vocal range, create set lists, etc.
  • Transcribe and learn keyboard parts for several different styles of songs

 

Esthero Feb – June 2005

  • Transcribe keyboard parts from recordings and play them in ensemble
  • Design sounds & program keyboards to mimic recordings
  • Play live performances across North America (Toronto, NYC, Miami) to sold-out venues
  • Transcribe and re-arrange horn charts

 

Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruise Lines May 2003 – Sep 2005

  • Perform Vegas-style production shows to click and track several times weekly
  • Accompany various fly-on entertainers (singers, jugglers, comedians) in various styles, with or without charts
  • Play solo piano in various locations on the ship in various styles
  • Play jazz sets in various combinations of players
  • Back up musicians and non-musicians alike in guest talent shows
  • Lead rhythm section in certain performance situations

 

Bandwagon/InConcert July 2001 – Present

  • Teach kids ages 7-14 how to play guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and sing in a rock-band format
  • Transcribe rock songs for the kids to play
  • Make learning music fun and interesting to the children
  • Teach kids how to create their own rock song
  • Manage personality conflicts and deal with trouble-making behaviour with the ensemble
  • Do all of the above with adults with the InConcert corporate team-building program.

 

References available upon request

Quotes about Donavon over the years…

“Donavon is on my short list of favorite pianists. When he plays for me, it is a solid partnership. He is stylistically, very versatile and can not only keep up with me, but challenges me to keep up with him. He enables unlimited vocal expression. That’s exciting!” – Mark Cassius – The Nylons 1997-2005

“I’ve worked with Donavon on a number of occasions, first as a keyboardist for the Canadian Tenors, and most recently as my sub for the Toronto Production of Jersey Boys. He is an exceptionally talented keyboard player, adept at all styles, from improvisation to sight reading, and comfortable in pretty much any situation. I have no hesitation recommending him for anything from music theatre, to rock, soul, piano bar etc.” – Logan Medland

“Both working with and watching Donavon is a rare treat. He is a mix of virtuoso player and engaging host. He possesses a command and knowledge of the pop/rock/R & B catalog that is to be reckoned with. He plays like a dream…conjuring a popular riff from Led Zepplin, Journey or Micheal Jackson off the top of his stylishly hatted head.” – Sharron Matthews

“Not only is Donavon very versatile, but his repertoire is expansive and he plays with heart and soul. If I could afford to add another full-time musician to my roster I would not hesitate to hire Donavon. He would be an asset to any club in the GTA and I truly believe that great things are in store for this charming, talented, piano player.” – Bradley Harder – Bradley and the Bouncers

“[Donavon's] personality and talent as a pianist is the actual draw for me and my friends.” – Jade Elektra