Based in Canada’s easternmost province and North America’s oldest city, St. John’s, NL, Kirk Newhook is a life-long musician, and most of that music comes out through a guitar. Although his repertoire of cover music is substantial and varied in genres, a lot of the music he plays is what he has been composing since undertaking a B.A. in Music (Jazz) at St. Francis Xavier University. Although trained in jazz, his compositions draw inspiration from his love and appreciation of many genres of music including jazz, blues, rock, folk, country, Cajun, and world. Although he’s performed many of his compositions publicly in various ensembles over the years, he's never released any of them commercially.
Well, that’s changing! Now’s the time! After a nearly 12-year hiatus from the music industry to pursue his other dream of selling insurance and with over 30 years of compositions accumulated Kirk has recently started the process of reworking arrangements, recording demo versions of them with the intention of recording professional versions, writing new compositions, and most importantly rediscovering the joy and fulfillment that comes from practicing and playing his guitar!
And, thanks to the ArtsNL jury that awarded Kirk funding through the Professional Artist Project Grant in November '22 he'll be able record and release a collection of his original music in '23! Thank you very much ArtsNL!!
Although he intends to make his music available publicly as each recording project is completed and will seek opportunities to perform live in public or online for the joy that brings, his main goal is to make his music available and easily accessible for sync licensing opportunities in film, television and video games.
Kirk has been a music educator, having taught guitar lessons for over 18 years, as well as the founder of the Wreckhouse International Jazz & Blues Festival, where he served as Executive & Artistic Director for 8 years and continues to serve as a volunteer board member. He was nominated for MusicNL’s Industry Professional Award on two occasions as well as for the Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council Music Educator of Year award. In 2017 he was inducted into the Wreckhouse Jazz & Blues Hall of Fame as a Builder in the NL music scene.
Most of his music career has been focused upon helping others as a teacher and industry builder, and he is well known in NL for those disciplines, but he’s now focusing his attention upon the creation, development and sharing of his own music with the world. He has a unique and varied repertoire that can be harmonically and rhythmically challenging yet remaining melodic and accessible. Odd-meter earworms anyone?
Want to know a lot more about Kirk Newhook? Then please read on for an amusing summary of this guy and his professional history.
Kirk Newhook has been a musician since the age of two when he started emptying the cupboards of all of his mother’s new pots and beat on them with a wooden spoon or whatever unsuspecting toy was within his short reach. At age 6 came the quieter piano lessons (especially with no piano at home for the first two years), 10 the ukulele and at 12 the alto sax and, what would become his life partner - GUITAR!!
With guitar in hand, he discovered his real love of music by being able to transfer the ability to read music and understand theory to improvise and play the music that he listened to and loved – Rock, Blues and Heavy Metal. Having played in a garage (well, actually basement) band for the last couple years of high school, Kirk decided to apply to the jazz program at St. F.X.U.
Four years later with his B.A. in Music (Jazz) with a Major in Music Education in hand Kirk moved to Vancouver to pursue his music career and like many musicians before him, began working in a warehouse as a shipper’s assistant. After that labour of love ended and two months of unemployment had passed, he spotted the ad that would change his life – “Guitar Instructor Wanted”. Kirk answered that call and twice a week started taking the bus an hour each way to teach a one-hour guitar class at the Vancouver Waldorf High School. That investment of time and bus fare paid off and within three months, because he had this teaching experience, he was hired to teach private lessons at Tom Lee Music Academy. During his time in Vancouver, he was lured in by a scotch tasting event and recruited into the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves to serve his country by joining the 15th Field Artillery Regiment Band. Those two years of saxophone in the junior high band paid off! However, there was no sax, illicit substances or rock ‘n roll in this recruit’s assignments. Private, Untrained Newhook was all guitar! Guitar in the big band, guitar in the small jazz ensembles, guitar in the newly formed R & B band. All Guitar!! Well…except when he played cymbals in the marching band. But those cymbals took him places like Washington, California and Hawaii as well as an appearance on Fox Network’s The X-Files! Check out his incredible marching and cymbal playing skills on season 4, episode 16, Unrequited. He's quite the guitar playing sax cymbalist!
Returning to St. John’s in ’97 Kirk continued teaching guitar lessons, volunteered at the Griffith Guitar Works Rock Factory and then became it’s Director for ’98-’99. He also became a regular at the blues jam, joined jazz big band Jazz Express, co-founded jazz quartet Traces of Nuts, then quintet TAG, then quartet Baja Bayou, then quartet Bamajed and played in the Beothuck Street Players version of Blood Brothers where he met vocalist/actress Petrina Bromley. Yes, that same Petrina Bromley of Come From Away fame! Kirk and Petrina formed a duo and performed regularly in St. John’s, including at the opening reception for the Juno Awards.
Since this time Kirk has played in numerous musical theatre productions including the Spirit of Newfoundland’s Just A Closer Walk: The Patsy Cline Story and The Buddy Holly Story, has performed at many corporate and government functions as a soloist or as the leader of small combos, and also played with local, national and internationally renowned musicians John Nugent, Jeff Johnston, Mike Billard, Bill Brennan, Mike Herriott, Jean Martin, Henry Heillig, Dutch Robinson and Kenwood Dennard.
While Traces of Nuts was the house band at the George Street Pastaria Kirk was given the opportunity to book other performers at the venue and it was here that the seeds were sown for his interest in event production.
In 2002, Kirk was introduced to legendary jazz drummer Kenwood Dennard and invited to produce performance opportunities for Kenwood in St. John’s. This is how Newfoundland and Labrador’s first jazz festival – the Hew Knoo (pronounced Who Knew) Jazz Festival – was born. Kirk contacted all of the jazz musicians that he knew in St. John’s and invited them to perform at this one-day event that would take place at the St. John’s Convention Centre with Kenwood Dennard as the featured performer. In spite of this being a financial failure (surprise, surprise a jazz event losing money! Hew Knoo?), the following year Kirk gave an interview on CBC radio during which he told the listening audience that he’d love to do another jazz festival that year but couldn’t unless he got some financial support. Well, the Government of Canada heard that message and invited him to come talk about how the Department of Canadian Heritage had money that he could ask for. Based upon their criteria, he formed the non-profit organization, the Atlantic Jazz Initiative (AJI) (which eventually became Wreckhouse Jazz & Blues), was contracted as the Executive/Artistic Director and the event renamed to the St. John’s Jazz Festival. In 2004 Canadian Heritage awarded the AJI funding, and Jazz Festivals Canada (JFC) recognized the festival as an emerging event and invited Kirk to attend the Association of International Jazz Educators annual conference in NYC as a delegate, and later that year the AJI was voted into JFC as a full member. Kirk also served on the JFC board as Treasurer. He was very successful in securing funding relationships with all levels of government as well as corporate partners to allow the jazz festival to grow. Under Kirk’s direction the festival presented internationally renowned musicians, Bill Frisell and John Scofield. The lesson: you’re much more likely to get what you want if you actually ask for it! (and then work for it.)
Kirk has been nominated for MusicNL’s Industry Professional Award on two occasions as well as for the Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council Music Educator of Year award. In 2017 he was inducted into the Wreckhouse Jazz & Blues Hall of Fame as a Builder in the NL music scene. And, yes, that is the same Wreckhouse Jazz & Blues that he founded, but there was a separate Hall of Fame committee that he wasn’t on. Think back to the X-Files…I Want to Believe!
In 2010, after nearly 18 years Kirk discontinued teaching music and later that fall stepped down as the Executive Director of the festival. He had always referred to the jazz festival as his “baby” (which grew up to be somewhat of a problem child), but when his absolutely beautiful and super-talented singing wife Cathy had their first real baby on Thanksgiving Day in 2009, he realized that his festival and teaching endeavours were just not going to be able to provide the stability and security that he needed to be SuperDad. Leaving on a high and for the best possible reason, Kirk did a 180 degree turn and brought his entrepreneurial, hunter-gathering, lover of numbers and financially responsible spirit to one of humanity’s oldest and most respected professions – insurance salesman! Having just spent over a decade in the top 2% of the general public (percentage that listens to jazz), trying (relatively successfully and unsuccessfully at the same time – perspective is everything) to sell (or even freely give) jazz to the other 98%, he thought, “everybody knows they need life insurance, so how hard can this job be? Maybe this can get me headed towards the other top 2% (money), or at least out of the low double digits.” Well, for over 11 years he helped individuals and businesses take care of themselves and their employees. His stress level went way down, he always had a smile on his face, was never hard to be around and still found lots of time to play his guitar! NOT TRUE! The money was better but the jobs were difficult and definitely not musical! SuperDad’s greatest weakness is the absence of him playing and writing music on his guitar!
During this SuperDad period, Kirk continued to fill the festival’s Artistic Director role on an in-kind sponsorship capacity until 2012. At this time, he volunteered as both the Artistic Director and President of the Board. In 2014 he stepped down as President but remained on the board as the immediate Past-President and Artistic Director. The festival has been on hiatus for the past few years, but who knows what the future may bring.
Although Kirk’s involvement in the music industry had significantly reduced since 2010 when he became SuperDad, he and his amazingly gorgeous and vocally hypnotic soulmate Cathy (aka SuperMom), have managed to find some time, in between having and raising two more sweet kiddos, to learn a lot of songs together and even sometimes perform them at house parties, bars and a few of their own concerts. Of course, being the prettier one and the one who can actually sing well, they’ve called themselves Cathy & Kirk, or Cathy Newhook & the BlueSky Thinkers, and most recently Cathy Newhook & DBK3.
In April 2022 Kirk performed his debut gig on banjo with the Shallaway Youth Choir's Nobile and their rendition of Rainbow Connection.
In October 2022 Kirk was invited to participate in a fun-filled week with Terra Bruce Productions in the workshopping of their upcoming production, American Hymnal, under the musical direction of Mike Herriott.