His legend precedes him, like lightning precedes thunder. While he might not be The Most Interesting Man in the World, Oliver Jones certainly carries a stellar reputation. On Tuesday night, he took the stage at the Jane Mallett Theater alongside Jim Doxas (drums) and Eric Lagacé (bass). Jones was introduced not once but twice – first by Terry McElligott of JAZZ.FM91, and second by Céline Peterson, daughter of Oscar Peterson.
The moment Oliver Jones stepped onto the stage, all five hundred attendants were on their feet. Over his seven-decade musical career, Jones has amassed quite a following. The sold-out theater held family, friends and a multitude of fans. After the excitement died down, Jones quickly tuned up with Lagacé, and the musical journey set off.
Putting three gifted musicians on the same stage is bound to bring unique and interesting results. Lagacé alternated between plucking and bowing his bass while Doxas masterfully kept time. Oliver Jones was up to his usual standard of excellence, with perfect note selection whether soloing or complimenting his two companions.
During their version of "Georgia On My Mind", I couldn’t help but let a huge smile take over my face. It was plain to see that the trio had great chemistry and they had a blast playing together. A favourite moment was a “repeat after me” game, in which Jones would play a lick, and Lagacé would do his best to replicate it. Of course, this was done in a lighthearted mood and Jones would occasionally play a complex, polyphonic line – to which Lagacé would give a bewildered look, and try his best.
A unique aspect of this show was the way Jones incorporated the stories behind the music and told jokes. Introducing his tune "Stan Pat", he gave the spotlight to Jim Doxas’ incredible hand drum solo, with a cautionary note: “No longer than 35 minutes, please Jim. We have a schedule to keep.” He told stories of how he fooled his sister Shirley (affectionately called The Practice Warden) into thinking he was doing his proper practicing as a child.
Jones also played a couple tunes from an unreleased book by Oscar Peterson, given to him after Peterson suffered a stroke. Lagacé commented on the legacies of both Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones near the end of the show, saying “there’s only one Oscar and there’s only one Oliver.”
In line with tradition, the trio closed off their show with Oscar Peterson’s composition "Hymn to Freedom". This was introduced by Lagacé who invited the audience to join them in a final “amen” before playing through the iconic tune and leaving the stage. The listeners at the Jane Mallett were not about to give up that easily, however. Everyone rose to their feet again for the second standing ovation of the night, after which Oliver Jones returned to play a tune by himself.
After yet another standing ovation, the band was coerced to come back out for one last song. There was something so humbling about the 81-year-old Oliver Jones shuffling out to the stage, looking up at the masses with a twinkle in his eye. His entire musical career has led to this moment. Seeing it all coming together in this final goodbye left my eyes misty – craving more, but satisfied with what he has given us over the years.
On behalf of everyone in Toronto, thank you Oliver Jones for the gifts you have given us. Your music is a treasure that will be passed down through generations. Although this was first time I’ve seen you perform in my short life, it will stay with me forever. Whenever I hear "Tippin’ Home from Sunday School" I will imagine you happily heading off into your retirement. Nobody knows what the future will bring, but I will always have your music by my side.