Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: Oliver Jones sparkles in an intimate solo concert

Montreal's own jazz superstar Oliver Jones played the first of two sold-out shows last night and was quite brilliant as usual. However, this time he played the entire night unaccompanied and unamplified, a lovely and all-too-rare presentation. The entire experience was delightful and even thrilling, earning him fully-deserved standing ovations.

He opened the show with "It Could Happen to You" and took us through a whirlwind of standards such as "Georgia On My Mind" and "All the Things You Are," his own "Something for Chuck," and compositions by his friend and mentor Oscar Peterson "Place St. Henri," "When Summer Comes" and "Hymn to Freedom." Interestingly, he included three medleys by audience favourites Nat King Cole, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Each was very warmly received and had some in the audience humming along discreetly.

After concluding the show with a rousing rendition of "Hymn to Freedom," his encore was a beautiful "What a Wonderful World" which he ended with an elegant glissando up to the final two notes.

Throughout the evening, he addressed the audience very casually between numbers in both English and French. He got a lot of laughs with his jokes. After saying, "I'll do something different for you," he added a self-deprecating, "I won't sing" before explaining that he'd play a Nat King Cole medley. Curiously enough, I've been told by those who have heard Oliver sing that he does indeed have a singing voice like Nat King Cole.

His playing was witty and charming as always. At age 79, perhaps he doesn't have the fiery intensity and fierce attack of decades past, but he more than makes up for it with lyricism and poetry. That is typical of great musicians, including classical musicians. His teacher Daisy Peterson Sweeney and his mentor Oscar Peterson both studied with Paul de Marky, who himself studied with a pupil of Franz Liszt. Thus Oliver's musical lineage goes back to Liszt, perhaps the greatest of all pianists, who himself became more noble and expansive with his playing in his later years.

I was fortunate to get to know Oliver these last couple of years while directing the interactive documentary Burgundy Jazz (now online, free) and he is as great a person as he is a musician. He was very generous with his time and help, in spite of his busy schedule – he officially retired in 2000 but continues to record and perform. He had mentioned at a Toronto concert in November that he'd only keep playing until he turned 80 (in 2014) but I was glad to hear him say last night that he'd still be playing for a few years yet, "maybe not until I'm ninety, but we'll see."

He performs again tonight at Place-des-Arts, Cinquième Salle.

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