If you follow this link, you'll find an article I wrote for the McGill Daily on jazz education at McGill University, in the Schulich School of Music. I had a lot of trouble writing the article because there was so much to say and so much to know and I wanted to make a good, succinct point. You decide if I've been too vague. As I was writing, I felt like I might be making too much of an obvious issue. It's hard to be a musician, and most don't make money only from performing. There was also the idea that jazz programs might stultify or narrow the range of styles you'll find in jazz. I don't think that's true, so I didn't really broach the topic. (Peter Watrous wrote about it almost eleven years ago for JazzTimes, and I don't even know if he was correct then.)
To my knowledge, though, there's not much writing on jazz or jazz programs in Canada. So if anything, you might learn a little more about McGill's program. I talked to many wonderful musicians--students and teachers in the McGill jazz program--as I was researching for the article, and they taught me more than I would have learned had I just read up on the subject (which I also did).
Above, you'll see a statue of Queen Victoria. That statue sits regally in front of McGill's music building. (Yes, Canada, a part of the Commonwealth, remains a constitutional monarchy.) I often go through that building to get to the music library, where I have been borrowing jazz CDs for the last four years. There's quite a collection and I can usually find what I'm looking for. I also sometimes practice piano in that building. On the top floor, you'll find a long hallway. Walk down that hallway and, if you're lucky, you'll find an open door. Go through that door and you'll find a grand piano.
I'm not a student in the music school, so I'm not actually supposed to practice there. You need to swipe a valid ID card to get to the top of the building. So I have a trick. I knock on the door, someone usually opens it, and I say sorry, I've forgotten my ID. It works. Try it sometime if you ever come through Montreal and are looking for a piano to practice on.
Then there comes the practicing. For me, it's not really practicing: it's just messing around, noodling on some blues scales, seeing if I remember the chord changes to "All The Things You Are". (I usually do!) I plan to go back sometime to learn "Bye Bye Blackbird," which I have been whistling for about the last month. (Is it just me, or are the lyrics to that song pretty abstract and hard to understand?)
Even if I don't play well, it's so nice to sit down at an acoustic piano and play a chord and hear the sound radiate out into silence. I'm not trying to be romantic--I think it's good for you. So is seeing live music. As I prepared to write the article, I gained a deeper respect for jazz in Montreal. I also realized that I knew less about it than I thought.
I asked Josh Rager, a pianist teaching at McGill, to name some of his favorite local musicians. Though I recognized most of the names he mentioned--Remi Bolduc, Jeff Johnston, Steve Amirault, Frank Lozano--I felt embarrassed that I had never seen any of them play. (I had also never seen Josh play, and I bet the musicians he mentioned would put him on their favorites lists.)
Two weeks ago, after my conversation with Josh, I saw the pianist Steve Amirault and wrote about how much I enjoyed it. OK. So now I'm aware. There's plenty of talent to go around. This is something I knew, but didn't feel. A part of my jury-rigged jazz education.