Jazz & Gospel

Dr David Önaç – MA(Cantab), MPhil, MMus, LRSM, PhD

Jazz in childhood

David’s interest in jazz and gospel began in the Caribbean, where from a young age he started improvising his own piano pieces, trying to work out as much gospel keyboard harmony as he could be ear, and playing along with his father’s favourite CDs on weekends.

This interest continued in high school in the UK, when David discovered and was inspired by the playing of Oscar Peterson, started to make his own jazz arrangements of familiar melodies like the ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ themetune, and worked on ostensibly unrelated areas of theory and technique like emulating guitar grooves for church songs or LH walking basslines or ridiculously complex reharmonisations of ‘Heart and Soul’.

Jazz at university

As a music student at the University of Cambridge, David was exposed for the first time to the repertoire and recordings of numerous jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett with albums like ‘Kind of Blue’ having a lasting impact on both his playing and thinking. He also played regularly with a jazz quintet for the first time, and learnt some jazz standards.

Continuing his postgraduate academic music studies in composition in Manchester, David spent a good proportion of his spare time at numerous jam sessions and standards gigs, as well as forming a jazz quintet called The Onac Collective with fellow students, and participating in various projects with other student groups (you can listen to a couple examples in the playlist opposite). He also started accompanying the University of Manchester Harmony Gospel Choir. In retrospect, this was a hugely significant return to the genre of gospel (specifically) and laid the foundation for later projects which included both jazz and gospel elements.

The return of gospel

In the 5 years starting just before 2010, David became increasingly involved with gospel choirs as keyboardist/Musical Director, particularly focused on university choirs at the RNCM and the University of Manchester. Some of his pieces and arrangements were broadcast or used in competitions like University Gospel Choir of the Year, which Manchester won 2 years in a row (2013-14).

Since 2015, while continuing as MD of Manchester Harmony Gospel Choir, David has also been MD for Voices Beyond Gospel Collective. This period has seen more high profile performances, increasing integration of jazz and gospel styles both in David’s playing and composing/arranging, and the gradual development of a sound with a more modern edge.

Please click the bold links on the right to read about or listen to a selection of projects from the past few years