The Incomparable Dr. Draw

Dr. Draw and The Strange Parade

About ten years ago I was asked to write a magazine profile of a young up and coming musician with a very interesting story–he was a guy born in Moscow into a family steeped in music and musical tradition, but here in Toronto he was busking on the street playing his violin in a style that is not just wonderful, but incomparable.

His name is Eugene Draw and he took the title of “Dr. Draw” because he was so popular as a busker that people who regularly encountered him and watched him work started referring to him as “the doctor” because of his magical ability to cure any negativity or blues the day featured for them. I went to see Dr. Draw playing at an AIDS benefit event at that time, and I was electrified by the energy and passion and precision he displayed while showing a skill that was organic – effortlessly moving from classical pieces to rock to his own compositions with a performing style that suggested he was possessed by some kind of otherworldly spirit while on stage–he danced around, flew through the air, jumped up and down and rolled around the stage all without losing his place in the piece he was playing. I remember thinking then that this guy was the real deal, and it would not be long before he was performing his magic on stages all over the world.

In the subsequent years that has indeed come to pass–Dr. Draw’s unique style and talent has been showcased everywhere, including Shanghai, China where he performed at World Expo in the summer of 2010 after he was selected to represent Canada there.

Whether it is performing at the Beaches Jazz Festival in Toronto or being flown all over the world to perform at high end product launches for such labels as Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon and Chloe, Eugene Draw remains passionately committed to using his travels and exposure to varied cultures to continually evolve his music.

Lately the mercurial career of Eugene Draw has taken another creative leap that should take him to an even greater height. During a recent tour through South Asia where he electrified audiences in both small clubs and larger theatre venues, a new collective that he named the Strange Parade (after the title of his forthcoming fifth studio album) was formed–the collective consists of the full Dr. Draw band and a small group of other artists who travel to communities and play for those less fortunate and cut off from being entertained by artists–the notion being that by transporting these people to the magical place that art takes you will help relieve their stress and bring something positive into their lives that they can build on through the inspiration the artists have provided. Plans are in the works now for the Strange Parade collective to tour both North America and Europe.

I recently had the chance to ask Dr. Draw some questions about what he does and where is hoping to take it. I was curious about his ability to switch seamlessly between classical works and his own compositions and which he prefers. “Whatever composition I chose to cover, I make my own,” said Eugene. “Sometimes it becomes a complete stranger to the original piece that is unrecognizable to most. But I approach both with equal intensity because that is the only way I know how.”

Thinking back to the last time we met when his musical journey was just starting to gather the kind of momentum it has now I asked him if things had turned out the way he allowed himself to imagine they would back then. “They have turned out quite differently but the cool thing is that looking back over the choices I’ve made, they have all been worth it. Originally my goals involved playing music all over the world and being able to do nothing else but just play music and in that sense I have succeeded.”

I asked about his specific goals back in his early twenties and he replied, “The superficial goals of riches and fame and a lavish lifestyle were naïve and superficial and they faded pretty fast when I realized it was all about concentrating on the craft and creativity and through that I would get to where I needed to go. I don’t want to jinx it but honestly, everything I set out to do each year I end up doing–always looking forward. Then I just wait for the rest of the world to catch up.”

Whenever one discusses art and creativity with an artist, the question of influences and who or what provided the spark of inspiration for them comes up. “I think the street, and being a busker at a super young age was the most inspiring environment for an artist the be submerged in,” said Dr. Draw. “And of course my parents are still a major cultural influence, when I was growing up they I was always exposed to a very eclectic play list ranging from classical to contemporary music to Astor Piazzola,” he continued.

For someone who performs as much as Dr. Draw does, and in such a wide variety of venues and countries and before a seriously diverse array of audiences I was interested to know if there was one or a series of performances that stood out as hitting that wonderful place where everything just seems perfect.

“Going to Sri Lanka last year comes to mind,” said Dr. Draw. “It was such a wild trip full of so many truly insane shows that I can’t seem to shut up about it. I went there after being invited by some friends to spend a month and a half relaxing, but instead I ended up working harder than I have for the past few years. It was refreshing to be in a country where the majority of people live and breathe their culture. I came back from that trip with such vigor as I seemed to have been missing a greater cultural purpose.”

And what might be next for Dr. Draw? His career seems to have an organic kind of trajectory that keeps taking him to places he had never imagined going, doing things he had never imagined doing. “Honestly, I want to settle a bit more, after many years of traveling and working like a mad man, I am planning on supporting my new album [called Copper Moon] with a substantial tour, then finish another recording which will be the first kind of modern standards anthology I have done–then we will see what happens next,” enthused Dr. Draw.

Listening to Dr. Draw’s music is a wonderful experience; he is extremely good at what he does. But seeing him perform live takes the music and the experience of it to a whole new level, it is almost a combination of the magical and mystical. If you have never heard the music or Dr. Draw or seen him perform live, I encourage you to do so–you won’t be able to forget either.

Watch video from a performance by Dr. Draw and The Strange Parade:

Christopher Heard built his career out of a lifetime love of movie history and culture. His first screenplay was optioned at 21, he wrote a twice weekly movie column in a local newspaper that lead to a long, Gemini Award winning stint on the CBC show On The Arts and the creation and co-hosting role on Reel to Real for nine years. Since then Christopher has written books on a number of filmmakers, including Johnny Depp.