MIKE MURLEY – short bio

An engaging, lyrical saxophonist, Mike Murley is one of Canada’s most celebrated jazz artists.  He has played on fourteen Juno Award-winning recordings since 1990, seven as a leader or co-leader, seven as a sideman.  His most recent Junos include The North (2018), Metalwood’s Twenty (2017) and his trio’s Test of Time (2013).

Murley moved to Toronto from his native Nova Scotia in 1981 and has enjoyed a career that has spanned a wide stylistic spectrum.  Recordings with legendary Canadian artists such as Ed Bickert, Rob McConnell, and Guido Basso showcase the saxophonist’s talents in the mainstream standard repertoire.  On the more contemporary side, Murley has collaborated frequently with younger generations of improviser/composers including pianist David Braid and guitarist David Occhipinti.  He is also well known for his work with the three-time Juno Award winning electric jazz group Metalwood. In addition, he has recorded and performed with numerous international artists including David Liebman, Renee Rosnes, John Schofield, Norma Winstone, as well as the late Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, and Kenny Wheeler.

As an educator Murley has held positions at the University of Toronto, York University, Humber College, and as a visiting member of faculty at the Banff School of Fine Arts.  He also served as Jazz Area Chair/Coordinator at both U of T (2016-18, 2020-21) and York (2008-11). 

In 2022 Murley retired from U of T and returned to Halifax NS, from where he continues to tour nationally and internationally.


MIKE MURLEY – extended bio

Award-winning recordings and groups:

as a leader:

Murley’s 2013 Juno Award-winning release, Test of Time, features his with legendary guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist Steve Wallace.  Recorded in 1999, this recently rediscovered recording is certainly made significant by the fact that it represents a new release featuring Bickert (who retired from playing professionally in 2001).  Murley’s other two Juno Award winning recordings as a leader were in 1990 for Two Sides (Unity Records) and in 2002 for Live at the Senator (Cornerstone).

Murley’s 2012 release, Still Rollin’, was the debut recording for his septet.  Nominated for a 2012 Juno, it features the saxophonist’s compositions and arrangements performed by some of Canada’s finest jazz improvisers.

Murley has released eleven critically acclaimed recordings as a leader and numerous others as a co-leader with Metalwood, David Liebman. David Braid/The North, David Occhipinti and Hannah Barstow.  His 2005 recording, Extra Time, won the National Jazz Award for best album. Conversation Piece also received the same honour at the 1997 Jazz Report Awards. He was a four-time recipient of the Jazz Report Award for tenor saxophonist of the year during the 1990s and was also voted saxophonist of the year four times at National Jazz Awards in the 2000s.

The Melody Lingers On (CBC records), finds the saxophonist’s trio live in concert at the Glenn Gould Studio with a twelve-piece string ensemble conducted by Rick Wilkins. Also featured on the recording are Guido Basso (flugelhorn) and Tara Davidson (saxes) with string arrangements by Murley and guitarist Reg Schwager.  This recording garnered an album of the year nomination at the 2007 National Jazz Awards.

as a co-leader and sideman:

– with The North

The North is a jazz quartet creating music combining the experiences of jazz musicians living in Canada and Scandinavia.  Multi-Juno Award winners David Braid and Mike Murley are long time musical collaborators as are Danish drummer Anders Mogensen and Finnish bassist Johnny Åman.  The group has toured extensively in Canada, Europe and Australia.  

The North’s debut recording won the 2018 Juno Award for Jazz Album of the Year (Group)  Their second album, Plays the Music of Kenny Wheeler, featuring UK trumpeter Percy Pursglove, was recorded in 2019.  Post-lockdown touring included the addition of long-time Wheeler collaborator Norma Winstone and UK pianist Nikki Iles.

– with David Braid 

Murley was a prominent soloist on David Braid’s 2005 Juno award-winning sextet recording, Vivid. Murley also co-led the MBQ quartet with Braid that toured nationally in 2004. Their debut CD, “Mnemosyne’s March, was released in March 2006. The group was expanded to a quintet to include new co-leader Tara Davidson (see DMBQ).

– with Rob McConnell

Murley was a member of the Juno award-winning (2001) Rob McConnell Tenet. Their first of three albums on the Justin Time label was also nominated for a 2002 Grammy Award. The group features some of Canada’s finest jazz artists playing masterful arrangements by the legendary valve trombonist who sadly passed away in 2010.

– with Metalwood

The electric jazz group, Metalwood, featured the more robust side of Murley’s saxophone during the quartet’s prolific recording period from 1996-2003. The three-time Juno winners (’98 and ’99, and ’17) were signed by Verve/Blue Thumb in 2002 and produced The Recline, featuring special guests John Scofield, Mino Cinelu, and DJ Logic. Their reunion CD, Twenty (Cellar Live), won a 2017 Juno.

International experience:

Murley’s playing experience on the international level includes performances with a diverse cross-section of artists, including trumpeter Randy Brecker,  guitarist John Abercrombie, and organist Jack McDuff.  He appeared as a featured soloist on four different recordings with trumpeter/composer KennyWheeler, including two Maritime Jazz Orchestra albums featuring John Taylor and Norma Winstone.  In addition, Murley has worked with some of the most well-respected New York musicians of his generation including trumpeter Dave Douglas, pianist Renee Rosnes, and drummer Bill Stewart.  Murley also recorded as a sidemen on recordings that featured the late Paul Bley and John Abercrombie.

In July 2004, Murley was invited to perform as part of Solos: The Jazz Sessions – a series (produced for Bravo: Canada’s Arts Network) which captures renown jazz artists in the challenging solo performance format. In addition to Murley, other artists featured in the series include international luminaries such as saxophonists Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz, guitarists Bill Frisell and Kurt Rosenwinkle, and pianists Brad Mehldau and Andrew Hill.

Murley has performed with numerous internationally renowned Canadian performers including Dave Young, David Clayton-Thomas, and the late Doug Riley.  He has also recorded and toured internationally with Cornerstone label-mates Time Warp and the Barry Elmes Quintet as well as numerous other groups including The North featuring Norma Winstone, Kevin Dean’s B3 band, Stich Wynston’s Modern Surfaces, the Shuffle Demons, and NOJO.  His work both as a leader as a sideman has taken him to concert halls and clubs in five continents. As a leader Murley has played all of the major Canadian jazz festivals and performed high profile international engagements at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., at Expo ’92 in Spain, Festival Internacional Cervantino 2007 in Mexico, a Chilean tour in 2018.  


In August 2011 Murley accepted a full-time lecturer position at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music.   After promotion to Associate Professor he served as Area Chair in the Jazz Program from 2016-18 and 2020-21, retiring from U of T in July 2022.  He has also taught at the York University (where he served as jazz area coordinator from 2008-11), Humber College, and has been a visiting member of faculty at the Banff Centre for the Arts. He was also a faculty member for 25 years at the IMC  Summer Jazz Camp

Record Label:

Murley has been a part owner of Cornerstone Records since the company was formed in the 1994. For more information please visit www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com