What would you do if you needed to keep your two-year-old son busy for a few hours? For Oliver Jones’ mother, the family piano was the answer. “During the day, I was the youngest; my mother said that the easiest way to keep me quiet was to tie me in front of the piano,” said Jones.
When he was around five years old, he first heard Oscar Peterson playing at the Union United Church in Montréal, where both of their families attended. After his family happened to move in down the street from the Petersons, Jones started studying with Oscar's sister Daisy. He has been performing regularly since he was 10 years old; his musical career has now spanned nearly eight decades.
Jones has seen many shifts in the musical landscape over the years. “Every 12 to 15 years, something new happens in the music world – a new trend, a new direction. This is good, because music played over 40 years becomes stagnated.” Jazz festivals, in Jones' mind, have greatly helped to popularize the genre worldwide. Speaking of his hometown’s Montréal Jazz Festival, he suggested, “this is one of the reasons that we are producing so many great young Canadian players.”
Jones also remarked that Canada has always been a tough market for musicians, and jazz is no exception. One problem is that the best Canadian talent often leaves the country seeking opportunity, never to return. "In order to have a stronger jazz following we have to have more venues [in Canada] and give them [musicians] the opportunity to be heard.” He suggests one solution could be to change how jazz is presented. He would love “to hear it during the day, rather than only at midnight or 2 o’clock in the morning when the kids don’t get an opportunity to hear it.”
In a perfect world for Oliver Jones, people would start dancing to jazz again. “In other words, make sure that [the music] has some wonderful rhythm that will attract people.” The history of jazz also remains crucial for Jones. “I think that it will continue to progress, but I’m hoping that they don’t forget the great artists that started this music.”
In that spirit, I asked Oliver Jones if he plans on bringing back some of his trademarks from his youth. He was well known for dancing, doing the splits and other stunts while performing as a child. “No! I doubt that very much,” he said. “I can’t even get down on the ground anymore! Those days are gone forever.”
Don’t miss Oliver Jones on his Farewell Tour, June 28th at Jane Mallett Theatre.