Oliver Jones is seeing more Canadian musicians on the world stage: ‘It’s wonderful’
By Brad Barker2023/05/17
It’s not hyperbole to say that Oliver Jones is one of only a handful of musicians who can be called Canada’s greatest.
Growing up in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal, Jones was born to make music. An 11-time Juno nominee and two-time winner, Jones has recorded 23 albums as a leader; he’s a Governor General’s Arts Award winner; he’s an Officer of the Order of Canada; and on Thursday night, he’ll be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Jones for a conversation.
It was back in 2016 when you decided to retire from touring. What was it like to get off the road after 77 years?
I’m still thinking about it. I do think that it’s the best solution for me. I never regretted that decision.
Do you still get to the piano on a daily basis?
No, no, no. I go by it, I look it, and it always gives me pleasure just seeing the piano there and knowing that I could still sit down and play some things. Once in a while, I’ll sit and play maybe two or three minutes, and that’s about it.
Did you ever imagine when you were a young person learning to play that here you would be with all of these accolades? Did you have those kinds of aspirations?
Not at all. Not at all. This is why it was such a surprise to me. I had the ability to be a good accompanist, because I’ve listened to every type of thing that was going on, and so that familiarized me with so many different types of music. But playing jazz back in that period was unusual. Of course, the only one that I knew at the time was Oscar Peterson. He had done such a tremendous job, but being such a great pianist that he was, it overshadowed everybody.
That didn’t intimidate you, though. He was a beacon more than a deterrent.
He was always a very important part of my dream of playing at that level. But the one who really was in my corner all the time was his sister, Daisy [Sweeney]. She may have spotted something there many years before. Then after I had played with so many other piano players over the years, finally, someone that I knew intimately and had spoken to every day during my youth, I finally had the opportunity to sit down and play with him. What a thrill it was for me.
As you go into your induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, do you reflect back on other places that you played and other musicians with whom you shared the stage?
Yes, there were so many. Also, I noticed that within the last 10 or 15 years, so many Canadians have stepped up and are now really considered world-class musicians. That is something that, as a youngster and even into my twenties and thirties, was not prominent. It’s wonderful. Tomorrow I’ll see Robi Botos, one of Oscar’s favourite young players. And of course my sister Ranee Lee, who I love and have worked with so often. I knew Vic Vogel since we were 14 or 15 years old. Just before his passing, I realized that we had come through a lot together. I’ll miss all those that have gone, but I know that we’ll continue to produce and, hopefully, support so many other young ones coming up.
Nickelback and Trooper are going into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, too. Do you see a jam session happening with those guys?
Let’s see what’s going to happen. I cannot predict anything today!