By Sue Tiffin
Max Senitt almost missed the opportunity to play with Avataar when the invitation asking if he wanted to join the group went to his junk mail.
“Three weeks after they sent the email, I got a phone call,” he laughed, recalling how, just prior to the pandemic, he became the drummer for the group he describes as being Indo jazz fusion. “I’d played with everybody at some point but not in that configuration with the music.”
On Saturday, Avataar won the Jazz Album of the Year – Group Juno award for their album, Worldview, which Senitt performed on.
“We were nominated, and we were there, and obviously it crossed my mind the possibility of the album winning,” said Senitt. “When they announced the category, they said, ‘and the winner is,’ and I said to my friend beside me, ‘Avataar!’ But I was joking. And then they said it, right after I said it and we were like, ‘oh my gosh!’”
The album, Senitt said, was inspired by world events including the presidency in the United States, and people having different worldviews depending on where they live and what they’re facing both locally and globally.
The music itself was technically challenging to play, he said, but more challenging was that the group planned to rehearse, play some shows and record when, “the entire planet shut down.” They practiced independently, met on Zoom, and were then able to get into the studio in July 2020.
Senitt received a mock-up of the Juno award – it’s heavy, he reports – on stage, with Sundar Viswanathan of the group speaking to the value of music in getting him through difficult times being bullied as a child after immigrating from India to Sudbury.
“Music helped him to deal with that, which is quite beautiful,” said Senitt.
Senitt himself grew up with his family, including his mom, artist Cathy Senitt, in Carnarvon. He attended Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, learning through Tom Regina, who later welcomed Senitt back to teach a workshop and perform with his band at the time, Max Senitt Y Sus Amigos – Regina was invited to sit in with them.
“People have asked me, when you grew up, what made you want to be a musician, and to be honest, I never really thought about it,” he said. “I don’t remember having dreams like, ‘I want to be a musician, that’s what I’m going to do.’ The thing was, I never imagined doing anything else. … I just remembered last night, I do recall watching the Junos or Grammys when I was a kid and in the back of my mind thinking, how cool that would be some day to go on the stage and win. It was pretty freaking cool actually, to have that happen.”
Touring has taken Senitt around the world – including to Minden, in Germany. Now, his home base is Bloor and Ossington area in Toronto, just five minutes from Long & McQuade (music store), he notes but he’s still playing around the city with a wide variety of artists – sometimes two or three different shows in the same day with different artists.
“I play in a lot of projects and it’s so rewarding, and it’s challenging,” he said. “My musical interests are so wide, and just being able to play with so many projects, and music from all over the world, literally, is so exciting. It’s life-enriching. It’s really good.”
Senitt had been at the Junos before, performing with his friend and colleague Alex Cuba, but this was his first time being nominated, and he was able to attend to also cheer on musicians he’s worked with nominated in other categories. He brought his son and his son’s friend to the awards show on Sunday night.
“It’s really exciting, and to be honest, it’s really inspiring to win,” he said. “I’m always driven, but especially with the pandemic and we didn’t have anything going at all, I tried to keep myself busy and do these little projects, but to win is motivating. I’m going to practice more today and just get back at it and learn more. It’s really motivating, it feels good.”