Canadian in Grammy contention in 'not very definitive' new age category

TORONTO -- A Canadian has never won in the best new age album category at the Grammys.

Toronto flutist Ron Korb could very well change that with his album "Asia Beauty," which recently won kudos from actress-singer Olivia Newton John.

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She called Korb a "brilliant musician" and the album "stunning" on her Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Korb did some strategizing before submitting his album -- influenced by his travels to Asia and Japanese heritage -- for Grammy consideration.

"The world music category in the Grammys tends to always go to a singer and even the nominations, it tends to be like Ladysmith Mambazo or Angelique Kidjo or people like that," Korb said in a phone interview.

"They're all great but I guess with new age I have had some sales history in that genre before, and so I thought maybe some people from the old days would remember me, and they did."

The Grammys' best new age album category has been won by a wide variety of artists, from Peter Gabriel to Enya to jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. Besides Korb, Loreena McKennitt is the only other Canadian to be nominated in the category.

"New age is one of those categories, it's not very definitive," said Korb. "I just thought, 'give it a shot.' It worked out. It really doesn't matter what category you get nominated in, as long as you can put Grammy in front of your name, it seems to change everything."

It was a 2002 trip to mainland China that inspired "Asia Beauty," which includes 22 songs and 36 pages of photography from his travels in the liner notes

"I often refer to it as like a 13-year journey or whatever, but honestly it's a lot longer than that," said Korb.

The album's inspiration is also rooted in his Japanese heritage from his mother, who was interned along with her family in British Columbia during the Second World War.

"They lost their entire house," said Korb. "Their whole family had to move to the New Denver area, where they stayed until the war was over.

"Then of course after the war they had to get relocated in the eastern part of Canada, because they didn't want them to go back to the western part of Canada in case another war with Japan would break out."

Korb's mother eventually settled in Toronto, where he grew up and learned to play the recorder and flute. He went on to study classical music at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto.

His studies eventually took him to Tokyo, where he learned Japanese traditional music, wrote songs for pop singers and recorded an album.

Korb moved back to Toronto and recorded more albums, picked up credits on TV and film soundtracks, and had high-profile audiences including a performance before the Queen.

All the while he's toured and performed around the world, returning to Japan about 20 times and visiting China seven times.

He notes most of "Asia Beauty" was recorded in Toronto with Chinese musicians.

"A lot of people in Asia really find quite remarkable," said Korb, "that an album like this can be recorded in a place like Toronto, a non-Chinese city.

"Honestly, in North America, I think there are very few places that you could do that. Even New York, I think you're kind of stretching it."

He also noted that "if this album wins in new age, it'll be the first time an album with Chinese instruments has won in that category."

Korb's music spans many genres, from jazz to Calypso and Celtic. But "Asia Beauty" is especially connecting with fans, he said.

"For some reason when I do something Asian, it seems to really resonate, I guess because I'm part Japanese myself. I don't know."

The Grammys will be held on Feb. 15.



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