Canadian jazz pianist Oliver Jones – now 81 years old – is on a extended farewell tour, which is taking him across Canada and into Europe and the Caribbean. He sold out the National Arts Centre Theatre in May, and is back in Ottawa tonight for a concert with a quite different repertoire.
It's part of the Music & Beyond chamber music festival, and appropriately enough, it will demonstrate his classical music origins and his continuing interest in composers which include Bach and Chopin, but not in a standard classical style. He'll also pay tribute to his friend and mentor, Oscar Peterson, in the second half of the show, joined by his long-time trio-mates Éric Lagacé on bass and Jim Doxas on drums.
This afternoon, OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Jones about his tour, his future plans, and how he keeps challenging himself on this tour with different repertoire.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: I'd like to start by asking you how your farewell tour has been going.
Oliver Jones: So far everything's been excellent. Ten out of the eleven places have been sold out, so we're kind of happy about that. But it's a lot of traveling and going from way out west up to the Yukon and then back down to Toronto and then back up to Edmonton and Victoria and Vancouver. So It's been hectic, as far as that's concerned, but it's been very, very rewarding.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What kind of response have you been getting from the audiences?
Jones: Excellent responses. I don't know if they're just happy to see me go, that they're applauding so much! But it's been very, very positive – and all that I had hoped for, I've received much more. Especially the fact that over the last two months, we've gone back to two places: we did two concerts in Vancouver, weeks apart, and then the same thing for Saskatoon. We had a wonderful audience, 100% in both places.
It's been very, very, very exciting, and it's given me the opportunity to be able to thank all the fans and say goodbye at the same time.
So this is a wonderful farewell for myself, and I get a chance to see some of the family across Canada! So that's been nice.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: I see you've also been challenging yourself. Just a few nights ago you were playing with l'Orchestre national de jazz de Montréal, which was a group you hadn't played with before, for your last show at the Montreal Jazz Festival. What was that like?
Jones: Yes, that was nice. Of course, I'd known the leader very well, Christine Jensen. And that was exciting because I don't get the opportunity to play with big bands that often. Some of those wonderful charts written by Rick Wilkins from Toronto – and so it was nice to hear them do something fresh and the band was excellent!
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So was that an opportunity you're taking on this tour – giving yourself a chance to do things you haven't done as often?
Jones: Yes, it is. And pulling out things that we haven't played for a while. It's exciting, actually, for my two musicians, because we seem to settle into a definite pattern at times. This is why we normally have the second half of our concert to be just requests from the audience. They come up with some doozies at times! But it's exciting for me, and hopefully we can carry through.
I think my countdown now is 29 more concerts to do. The final one will be in Barbados.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: When will that be?
Jones: That's scheduled for the 12th of January.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So it's this year and two weeks into 2017, and then you're done?
Jones: That should do it.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Any chance you're coming back, or is this for real, for sure, no way?
Jones: Well, the thing about … You'll probably see me play again if I do something like a telethon or a one-shot. But there won't be any more concerts or doing things with my trio and that on a regular basis. But definitely, if it's something to do with helping children and that, I probably will do two or three of them a year. And hopefully I'll be able to play up to the standard that I want to do.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Could you tell me about the classical repertoire that you'll be playing during the first half of the Music & Beyond concert tonight? Why did you decide to do that?
Jones: Well, I'm not going to be playing all classical things. I'm doing some things from the classics over the years that I do play – and playing them in a jazz manner. So it's having fun with Chopin and Beethoven and Bach, for sure.
I've found more and more over the last couple of years that the marriage between jazz and classical works very, very well. And I have two wonderful musicians that can handle that repertoire, and I'm very excited about it!
Tonight you won't hear Angela Hewitt play. But you'll hear how we take off on classical melodies, and truly respect the composers, definitely [with] the melody lines and so forth. It will be something different, something that I do at home, all the time.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So you haven't done this as much for audiences?
Jones: I've done some, and the reactions have been very good, so this time they've asked me to do a full concert. I will do probably about seven or eight pieces which are classical pieces that people will recognize – and hopefully they will enjoy.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: In the second half of the show, you'll be doing a tribute to Oscar Peterson. Are you going to include any less-frequently-played pieces of his?
Jones: Yes. Because I have a book that Oscar gave me years ago, and I've already recorded some of them with the big band. So this will be an opportunity to play some of them . Actually, these are some of the tunes that he had not recorded and so it will be nice to do.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: At several of your concerts which I've attended, I've heard you tell the audience they should be going out to hear Canadian musicians – even hip-hop musicians, I think you said at your last concert here!
Jones: [Laughs] It's very important to me. I've said so many times we seem to, as Canadians, we're very docile people. And what we do is let the others come in and do things. We have very capable musicians who can do a good job, and hopefully we'll start to consider some of the jobs for local musicians.
I'm always very, very interested in making sure that we're going to give the opportunities to our young local musicians. And give them an opportunity to be heard!
It took me all these years to finally get to the point where I would do a lot of openings for Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and so forth. That gave me so much exposure that I needed. I'm hoping that we'll stick to that format and let people hear some of the wonderful young – and older – musicians that we have in this country.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You yourself have been promoting some younger Quebec musicians, haven't you?
Jones: Yes, I have. One in particular is Daniel Clark Bouchard, a wonderful young classical pianist, that I've been following since he was seven years old. He's now 16 and he's a tremendous talent – one that I'm certain will become one of our greatest musicians. He's getting ready to go into Juilliard next year. So people like that, you just have to do what you can to help them. [He's] a wonderful personality, so I'm hoping that in a few years time, that I can sit back and say 'I was there when he first started'.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Thank you so much, Mr. Jones, and have a great concert tonight!
Jones: We're looking forward to it.
Music & Beyond will present Oliver Jones and his trio at Dominion Chalmers United Church, on Monday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m. More information.