Tuesday, June 18, 2013


On Just for My Lady, revered Canadian jazz pianist Oliver Jones joins forces with classical violinist Josée Aidans for a swinging encounter that recalls the great Oscar Peterson/Stephane Grappelli collaborations of the mid '70s. The album marks Jones' 23rd release on Justin Time Records. "I normally do 45 to 60 concerts a year, but this year won't be as many," he says. "I'm trying to slow down. Next year will be my 80th year, so it's been a long road, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. Actually, the last eight or nine years I've enjoyed it more than ever."

That joy is evident on this latest recording. While showcasing several Jones compositions, including the title track and his three-movement "The Saskatchewan Suite," the album also features an inspired cover of Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of my Mind" and a swinging take on the Gershwin number "Lady Be Good," a longstanding jazz jam vehicle that is also closely associated with the aforementioned jazz violin icon Grappelli. From poignant ballads and earthy blues numbers to irrepressible swingers, Just for My Lady touches all the bases while showcasing the remarkable talents of the 79-year-old pianist-composer and the in-demand violinist (a key player in the string sections for Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand). The two principal soloists are capably supported by the accomplished rhythm tandem of veteran bassist Eric Lagacé and rising star drummer Jim Doxas.

Opening with the Count Basie-styled "Josée's Blues," Jones and his crew set a sprightly, swinging tone for this engaging collection. "You Look Good To Me" (a tune originally recorded by the Oscar Peterson Trio on 1964's We Get Requests) opens with a reflective minuet played as a duet by pianist and violinist before segueing to a swinging quartet number that also features a potent bass solo by Lagacé. Jones' plaintive ballad "Lights of Burgundy" (named for the Montreal neighborhood where both he and his friend and colleague Oscar Peterson grew up) is underscored by Doxas' sensitive brushwork and features Aidans' 'singing' the melody on her instrument with great finesse and lyricism. Aidans also carries the melody on "The Angel and Mr. Jones," which was originally written by Jones for another violinist, Montreal's Angèle Dubeau.

The title track is a gentle ballad underscored by Doxas' brushwork while "In the Key of Geoff," written for fellow Canadian pianist Geoff Lapp, is a jaunty swinger that has Lagacé affecting a Ray Brown-styled walking bass line and Doxas dipping into a Papa Jo Jones bag on the hi hat. Lagacé's virtuosic bowing on the bass again comes to the fore on Jones' gorgeous waltz-time ballad "When Summer Comes" and also on an interpretation of Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of My Mind," which surprisingly shifts gears midsong into a midtempo swing section before returning to the poignant theme. The collection closes on a lively note with the quartet's swinging rendition of "Lady Be Good," which features the classical violinist in some of her most unbridled playing on the album. "Actually, Josée has never played any jazz before," says Jones. "She's coming from a strictly classical background, so I ended up writing out some things for her to play on her solos. She's able to interpret it exactly the way that I wanted it because she's such a fine musician and she has a very wonderful approach. So I wrote everything down for her and she just went through it like butter.

"So far she seems very enthusiastic about working with the trio," adds Jones. "I'm looking forward to the next year of working with her and experimenting on a few other things. I'm really going to see if I can get her to start improvising on her own."

The centerpiece of Just for My Lady is Jones' "The Saskatchewan Suite," which was commissioned in 2012 for the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival's 25th anniversary. While the original commission was for big band, Jones has adapted the three-movement suite here for quartet. The first movement, "Prince Albert Sunrise," is a reflective ballad that has the maestro painting beautiful tones and textures with cascading arpeggios while the classically-trained bassist Lagacé contributes some virtuosic arco work. Movement two, the boppish "Regina Sky," incorporates a motif from Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" while drummer Doxas is featured on some hip fills. Movement three, "Saskatoon Spirit," is a Latin-tinged number with a busy, intricate line doubled by piano and violin.

Jones mentions that in 2009 he recorded Pleased to Meet You with the late, great pianist Hank Jones, who was 91 at the time of that Justin Time session. "He was still full of as many ideas as any young player out there," says Jones. "He was truly an inspiration, and was one of my favorite musicians. I'm hoping I make it to age 91. My mother's cousin just died at 114 in Barbados and he was the second oldest man in the world. And my mother lived to 102. So, let's hope that I'll be a young 80 and be able to continue for another few years."

Given his genes, and the vitality that he demonstrates at the keyboard on Just For My Lady, Canada's national treasure may be around for many years to come. A late bloomer in the jazz world, Jones was already in his 50s when he made his first recording. Born on September 11, 1934 in Little Burgundy, Montreal, Quebec, Oliver Theophilus Jones began studying at age five with Madame Bonner in Little Burgundy's Union United Church, made famous by Trevor W. Payne's Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. He later studied with Oscar Peterson's sister Daisy Peterson Sweeney. In addition to performing at Union United Church when he was a child, he later performed solo at the Cafe St. Michel as well as other clubs and theaters in the Montreal area. From 1964 to 1980, Jones served as musical director for the Jamaican calypso singer Kenny Hamilton, who made Puerto Rico his base of operations.

In 1980, Jones returned to Montreal and teamed up with bassist Charlie Biddle, working in clubs and hotel lounges around Montreal. From 1981 to 1986, they performed at Biddle's, the popular club owned by the Canadian jazz bassist. In 1983, Jones released his first Justin Time recording, Live at Biddle's, a trio recording with bassist Biddle and drummer Bernard Primeau. He followed up in 1984 with the solo piano album The Many Moods of Oliver Jones, which included liner notes by his mentor, Oscar Peterson. In 1986, Jones won a Juno Award (Canada's GRAMMY®) for Lights of Burgundy and in 1989 he won the Félix Award for his album Just Friends. He taught music at McGill University in Montreal in 1989 and the following year his tour of Nigeria was the subject of a 1990 National Film Board of Canada documentary, Oliver Jones in Africa. He has toured internationally since then and makes regular appearances at the Montreal Jazz Festival. In 2005, his album with vocalist Ranee Lee, Just You, Just Me, was released to critical and popular acclaim. His previous Justin Time studio recording was the acclaimed 2011 holiday album, A Celebration in Time, which paired the 77-year-old pianist with singer Ranee Lee, the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir under the direction of Trevor W. Payne and the Daphnée Louis Singers from Haiti.

Upcoming Oliver Jones Appearances:
July 5-6 / FIJM Cinquieme Salle PDA / Montreal, Quebec
August 17 / Festival Saint-Zénon-De-Piopolis / Piopolis, Quebec
September 22 / The Segal Centre / Montreal, Quebec

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