The Grind Café is a hidden gem located on Main Street. Tucked behind a brick pillar, the café’s quaint front hides a spacious back with a huge ceiling, a massive board coated with jazz posters, and a small piano. It is here that I meet Noah Franche-Nolan, one of Vancouver’s youngest jazz prodigies, and the pianist for the Rossi Gang, the city’s most infamous youth jazz group.
“The story of how I came to join the Gang is fairly long,” remarked Franche-Nolan over a muffin and a latte. “I was asked to do this café gig, and I asked my friend Aaron Levinson to drum with me. After that, he told me about this bass player named Noah Gotfrit, and we formed this group called the Entrio.”
“The Rossi Gang was already a thing” he continued. “And I just ended up slowly jamming with them and becoming their piano player. Joe Abbott- from the Bank Dogs – –also picked up the Clarinet, Zak Youssef picked up the trumpet and started jamming with us, and then Connor Stewart- THE MAN!-he’s a saxophone prodigy who started playing with us, and then that was that!”
Franche-Nolan isn’t your typical high school pianist who tries to impress girls by having the melody to “Fur Elise” memorized. From a young age, he’s dabbled in rock and roll, the blues, and especially the experimental side of jazz, naming Radiohead as being one of his main influences while at the same time being a tremendous fan of the likes of pianists like Oscar Peterson, Brad Meldau, and Erroll Garner.
It’s not just the local scene taking notice of Franche-Nolan. “For the past two years, I’ve been composing music for a research group at the Health Network of Toronto” he explains. “They have dramatic vignettes within a web series that I’ve made the music for, so my string quartet will be used in that– I’m really excited to be composing something that is fully my own.” With countless notches on his belt at such a young age, it’s fair to say Franche-Nolan is one of the city’s best jazz pianists.
And while his peers in the Gang are touring the Big Easy, Franche-Nolan doesn’t plan to sit on his laurels. This Thursday, Franche-Nolan will be playing The Libra Room along with contemporaries Skye Brookes on the drums and Russell Sholberg on the bass under the name of the Franche-Nolan trio.
“The Libra Room is great because it can either be a jazz show or it’s hanging out in a restaurant” explains Franche-Nolan. “A lot of people just go there to talk and have a drink, you know? But loads of people also come to listen to some great jazz…it also has that amazing Commercial Drive vibe, so you know someone is gonna do something crazy” he finishes with a grin.
“The Rossi Gang might be in New Orleans for six months, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna play.” He continues. “I have my show coming up at the Libra Room…I love playing charity gigs every once in a while. I love playing old folks homes, and I especially love playing for the homeless. They appreciate more, and I think they can really connect to the ideas of hardship in the music.”
Whether its a paid gig or a show on the side of the street, when Franche-Nolan plays, everyone stops and listens. As one of Canada’s youngest piano prodigies, it won’t be long before the country hears him play.