Russ Macklem

Local Jazz Trumpeter’s First Album 
is Nominated for a Juno Award

Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Garth Jackson

There is a myth about great artists, that their talent comes easily, naturally. Master jazz man, trumpeter, composer, performer Russ Macklem says that his relationship with the trumpet had a rocky start. 

“It sort of happened by mistake,” he explains. “I had to pick an instrument in seventh grade band, and I wasn’t keen about doing that. My best friend’s father was a trumpeter, so I chose trumpet because of that.”  

Russ continues: “When I started playing, I was the worst in my class. I went for extra help. I just hated it. We had practice sheets that our parents had to sign, saying we practiced at home. My mom made me make fifteen minutes of sound every day with that trumpet, or else she wouldn’t sign the page. Eventually, regular practice combined with perseverance, the extra help, I got pretty good. By the end of the year, the band director was so proud she asked me to play a solo at the final band concert.”

Russ grew up in Kelowna, British Columbia—not exactly a hub for great jazz. That didn’t stop Russ from seeking gigs. By the time he was fifteen years old, he performed around Kelowna, in little cafés, in a quintet formed with fellow musicians from high school. 

It’s no easy feat becoming a proficient musician but rising to a level where one begins composing music is a whole other accomplishment.

“I started composing in high school,” Russ remembers. “It’s the only thing that came naturally to me as a musician. I was writing way ahead of where my musical knowledge was. As a result, I’ve been going back lately into old sketches from fifteen years ago and putting together new compositions. With the knowledge I have now I can fix the music problems that originally stopped me.” 

Much as Russ worked hard, on his own, to perfect his craft, he says that he was blessed all along his musical journey to have great teachers and mentors. He is also seasoned by travel.

“I’m unintentionally nomadic,” he says. “People wonder why I left Kelowna. For me the answer was clear: there wasn’t much music going on there. This is what I wanted to do. So, I set off following music—sometimes women—around North America.” 

His travels finally brought Russ to Miami.

“I attempted to stay there as a freelancer,” Russ says, “but it just wasn’t working out.”

In 2019, after experiencing some personal and professional setbacks, Russ was burnt out and in need of a safe haven to regroup. He found that in Windsor, where his parents had settled. As Russ recalibrated, making plans to move to New York, a friend in the local jazz scene suggested he check out the Detroit Jazz Festival. 

“I went,” Russ says, “and it blew me away. What an amazing community. I felt welcomed immediately. I loved how much a major festival featured local artists… how alive the city was. That weekend told me ‘You gotta stay and check this scene out.’”

Following the pandemic, Russ got into a groove, performing with his own groups. He landed a monthly residency playing every first Friday at Corktown’s Motor City Wine, and gigging regularly at Cliff Bell’s, Ann Arbor’s Blue Llama, and other clubs around Michigan. 

“As a result of these performances, a set of music came together as a suite,” Russ says, “music I had written over a fifteen-year period that fit together. Most of my music is a narrative, a story. That’s how I come up with it—it was parts of my life that were fitting together.” 

One of Russ’ best friends, Jesse Klirsfeld, a New York trumpet player whom Russ knew from Miami, had told him for years: “Make a live album! You’re so exciting live.”

The advice stuck with Russ until December 2022. 

“Recording the album at Windsor’s own Phog Lounge was all quite serendipitous,” he explains. “Adam Arruda, a drummer in New York, a friend I hadn’t seen in six years was coming back to Toronto for the holidays. I told him I could set up some gigs in Windsor: one in Detroit, one at Phog. I called another friend from Toronto, guitarist Sam Dickinson and asked if he’d drive down with Adam. Then I called Detroit bass player Jonathon Muir-Cotton and asked saxophonist Kasan Belgrave to join in the gig. I had written some music specifically for Kasan. After a couple of days, I thought: ‘This is an amazing combination of musicians.’ I called Ron Skinner who owns TQM Recording Company and said: ‘Are you available on this day? I have a crazy idea: do you want to make a live record?’ He said: ‘All right.’”

The group played one performance in Detroit the night before recording at Phog Lounge, as sort of a rehearsal. From the first notes, Russ knew it would work.

“People thought we’d been playing together for twenty years,” he says. “Musicians that good… you can just get together and play like that. It’s like having two great minds debating each other on stage.” 

On January 3, 2023, Russ and his friends gathered at Phog Lounge and recorded The South Detroit Connection in front of a live audience. 

The result is nothing short of astonishing. And people have taken notice. The album recently received a Juno Award nomination for Jazz Album of the Year (Solo).

“I am grateful to have the opportunity to put my music out on the national stage,” Russ says. “It was also affirming to get a little recognition. I was already proud of the album—very satisfied with it as a first statement.”

As an artist, one must always look forward. Russ plans to continue working with Ron Skinner on more projects and has also been signed to Grammy-Award nominated saxophonist/producer/composer De’sean Jones’ record label KNMDK (knomadik) records. Russ recorded his first album for KNMDK in January. It will be released at a four-night gig June 20th-23rd at Cliff Bell’s in Detroit.

Beyond performing music, Russ derives great satisfaction out of teaching music in his teaching studio. 

“I love teaching all ages,” he says, “trumpet, music theory, jazz improv, songwriting.”

Learn where to see Russ perform, or how to sign up for music lessons, by checking out or

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