Nicholas Ivor Gotham, known as Nic Gotham, (27 September 1959 – 25 July 2013) was a jazz saxophonist and composer whose work is celebrated in Canada as well as Latvia.
"No art should be without humour, and I enjoy sitting on the fence between "light music" and "serious music".
Born in England in 1959, Nic Gotham emigrated to Canada as a child and grew up in Ancaster, Ontario. At York University in Toronto, he met his most important teachers, David Mott and James Tenney. In the 1980s, Nic burst upon the downtown scene with his jazz-funk group, Gotham City. He co-founded and was Artistic Director of the improvising chamber orchestra Hemispheres. In 1992, he created the saxophone quartet Forty Fingers. In 1997, Nic was honoured with the Fred Stone Award "for leadership, integrity and innovation in new music."
He met theatre artist Baņuta Rubess while collaborating on a jazz play called Boom, Baby, Boom, which premiered at the World Stage Festival and was nominated for Best Production. His association with Rubess – they married in 1992 – led to many compositions for theatre. Together with librettist Ann-Marie MacDonald, Nic wrote his first opera, Nigredo Hotel, one of the most frequently performed Canadian operas, with some hundred performances produced on three continents. His second chamber opera Oh Pilot (2004), with a libretto by Rubess, premiered at the Latvian National Opera and toured to Kaunas, Lithuania.
In 1998, Nic moved to Latvia with his wife and two children, Dzintars and Kaiva. The Latvian musical community welcomed him as a renowned saxophonist, respected composer, and highly treasured teacher. He taught jazz harmony and theory at the Riga Cathedral Choir School as of 2003. In 2009 he joined the Latvian Academy of Music where he helped establish a department of Jazz, teaching ear-training and improvisational techniques. In 2012 he was awarded a PhD in music composition research from Brunel University, London, UK.
"This is music both for the head (it's smart and elegant), and also for the feet
(it's groovy and you'll want to tap your toes.)"
- Notes to Abi Gali/ Both Ends
Soon after arriving in Latvia, Nic launched a jazz ensemble called Abi Gali/Both Ends. Always curious about new forms, in 2008, he teamed up with DJ Monsta to create NiMo, a combination of jazz 'n beats. The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra was so excited by the concept that they commissioned a collaborative saxophone-DJ-symphony orchestra concert for the following year, called Simfonimo. NiMo's trajectory was cut short by Nic's illness, but their sound and brio are captured on a lively CD called The World is Your Oyster.
"I want to explore the continent between classical and popular music."
As a composer, Nic's primary interests were chamber music and music theatre, but he also wrote for choir and orchestra. He composed some fifty works for groups such as the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Tapestry New Opera Works, Arraymusic, Riga Saxophone Quartet, the Latvian Radio Choir, Evergreen Club Gamelan, and Gaudeamus, to name a few. A chamber symphony Nightscapes was commissioned by Sinfonietta Riga and premièred in April, 2012.
Nic had a special passion for the human voice. He was inspired to write an oratoria about cooking and childbirth for the Latvian Radio Choir and Riga Saxophone Quartet, called Fruits of the Earth, available on CD. He composed a spirited set of songs for the all-male choir Gaudeamus, also available on CD. His last compositions included the ballad Barbara Allen, and he planned for a third opera based on Rebecca West's novel Return of the Soldier.
In the final months of his life, Nic was commissioned to write a ten-minute piece in response to a new novel by Martha Baillie, The Search for Heinrich Schlogel. The resulting miniatures were completed in Kensington Hospice and recorded by the Array Ensemble.
A concert in his honour titled Let Me Hear the Sounds of Joy and Gladness was organized by his colleagues at Gallery 345 in Toronto on July 24, 2013. The following day, Nic died. He was 53 years old.
Latvian Radio 3 broadcast a program devoted to his life and music on what would have been his 54th birthday (27 September 2013).
"Music is practical philosophy, and in philosophy all differences sooner or later melt into a single, beautiful continuum."
– Notes to Life of Things/Asleep in a Field
Nic was a member both of the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) and the Latvian Composers' Union. Information regarding his scores and rights can be found at the CMC, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) or at the Latvian Music Information Centre. Some of his pieces have been published by and are available from Musica Baltica, though most are available through the Canadian Music Centre. Any other information can be requested from his widow, Baņuta Rubess. www.banuta.com.