Canadian jazz musician Laila Biali has become a bit of a road warrior of late. In the midst of launching her seventh album, the award-winning pianist and singer-songwriter spends more time in hotels than she does at home. Still, she says, her favourite place to land is always her cozy Leaside bungalow with her son, Joshua, and her husband and fellow musician Ben Wittman.
The 37-year-old has presented her music at prestigious venues spanning five continents including the North Sea Jazz Festival, Tokyo’s Cotton Club, Peru’s Festival Internacional de Poesía de Lima, and Carnegie Hall in New York. She has toured with GRAMMY award winners Chris Botti, Paula Cole, and Suzanne Vega, and recorded with and supported international star Sting. Most recently, she was brought on as host of the national CBC radio show, Saturday Night Jazz.
Despite the acclaim she’s garnering world-wide, if you were to meet Laila on Bayview you’d be greeted with the warmth and kindness of someone who values family, community and friendship above all else.
The Vancouver-native and Humber College graduate was living and working in Brooklyn, New York, before making the big move north. “In September 2015, we loaded all of our earthly possessions onto a 26-ft. Penske truck and drove ourselves, lock stock and barrel, up to Canada,” Laila recalls.
The couple had each turned down huge career opportunities – Laila to be on a major NBC primetime show, The Meredith Vieira Show, and Ben to play in the stage musical Hamilton (before anyone had heard of it) – to make a better life for their family in Toronto.
“We came to Canada for the healthcare and quality of life, and chose Leaside for the excellent schools and access to nature,” Laila says. With her son in Grade 2 at Rolph Road, Laila has joined the community by way of the schoolyard. This past December, she performed alongside Rolph’s new music teacher, Chris Bailey, at the school’s annual Winter Fest event. “We’ve been welcomed with open arms to Leaside, and feel fortunate to live in such a lovely community,” she says.
Laila grew up in a similar neighbourhood in North Vancouver. She was drawn to music from the time she was a toddler. Despite her passion, she was awarded a science scholarship to the University of British Columbia and had her sights set on becoming a medical practitioner like her older sister. “That all changed when, basically on a whim, I decided to move to Toronto and study jazz at Humber, just for the fun of it,” Laila recalls. Balancing motherhood and the unpredictable schedule of a professional musician has proved challenging at times, but Laila handles it all with grace. “Things get busy, often too busy,” she says, “but if you keep love and meaningful connection at the centre of everything you do, it’s okay for things to be a bit ‘unbalanced’ at times.”
Her new self-titled album LAILA BIALI, which she co-produced with her husband Ben, launched January 26, and combines original songs and beautifully reimagined covers of David Bowie, Coldplay, and more. With plans to tour her album across Canada, the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia for the remainder of 2018, Laila says she has a few tricks up her sleeve to make her time away from home easier. “What’s most important to me is that I engage with others, even people I don’t know,” she says. “Strangers can become friends when you’re on the road. Those human connections definitely brighten the journey.”
Her Toronto album release will be held at Jazz Bistro on February 13. For all tour dates and to learn more about Laila’s music, visit www.lailabiali.com.