Oliver Jones, trained exclusively in classical piano, began making a name for himself as a jazz performer. He played in the second year of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM), 1981, and performed in the festival yearly until 1999, opening and closing the festival seven times. He and Biddle recorded an album, Oliver Jones et Charlie Biddle, for Spectra Scène in 1982 and this, along with his regular playing at Biddle's, caught the attention of record producer Jim West, who was launching the jazz label Justin Time. West signed Jones, and the following year Justin Time issued Live at Biddle's. On this album Jones led, for the first time, what became his favourite type of ensemble, the trio, with Biddle on bass and Bernard Primeau (b Montreal 5 Jan 1939, d Montreal 10 Oct 2006) on drums. Jones recorded his first solo album, The Many Moods of Oliver Jones, in 1984. His appearances at Biddle's became intermittent as his national, and then international, career developed.
Oliver Jones was the 'success story' among Canadian jazz musicians in the 1980s, rivalled only (distantly) by that of the Shuffle Demons. He toured widely in Canada by 1985, appearing in concerts, festivals and clubs, either as a solo pianist or with a trio variously comprising the bassists Michel Donato, Skip Beckwith, Dave Young, and Steve Wallace, and the drummers Bernard Primeau, Jim Hillman, Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr, and Archie Alleyne. In 1986 Jones toured in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, and made his first US appearances, including performances at the Newport (Saratoga Springs, NY) and Greenwich Village (New York) jazz festivals.
The first of many European tours followed in 1987 - his itinerary encompassed Britain, France, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Portugual, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland by the decade's end. Jones appeared in Cuba and Brazil in 1988, and in Africa in 1989 (Egypt, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria) and 1990 (Namibia). He performed at major jazz festivals in The Hague, Holland (North Sea, 1987), Monterey, Cal (1988), and New York (JVC, 1989). Jones appeared with Symphony Nova Scotia (1987), the Orchestre métropolitain (1988), and the Québec Symphony Orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (at the FIJM).
Throughout the 1990s, Oliver Jones played a busy concert and recording schedule, performing over 130 times a year and recording eight albums. In 1993, he recorded his second solo album, Just 88, which included his compositions Blues for Laurentian U and Dizzy-Nest, and earned him a Félix award. He toured China at the behest of the Canadian government in 1994. The following year he released From Lush to Lively, his first recording with big band. He recorded another trio album, Have Fingers, Will Travel, with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jeff Hamilton at Los Angeles' Capitol Studios in 1997, before retiring in January 2000. By then, he was considered one of the best-known and most capable Canadian jazz pianists in history.
Jones's retirement was only partial. In 2002 he returned to the studio with bassist Skip Bey to complete an album, Then and Now, they had started in 1986. That year he became artistic director for the jazz segment of the Montreal Chamber Music Festival. Two years later at Place des Arts during the FIJM, Jones played duets with Oscar Peterson publicly for the first time. In 2005 his album with Ranee Lee, Just You, Just Me, was released to critical and popular acclaim. That year Jones headlined at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival and became artistic advisor to The House of Jazz (formerly Biddle's) in Montreal. Another recording, One More Time, with bassist Dave Young and drummer Jim Doxas, was released in June 2006.
Oliver Jones' belated emergence found him working in the shadow of Oscar Peterson, with whom he shares a similar cultural and stylistic background - the black community of Montreal's St-Henri district, and the idiomatic blend of swing and bebop - as well as a remarkable pianistic facility. Far from downplaying the similarities, Jones seems to have invited further comparisons, to the point of performing and recording with some of Peterson's former colleagues - eg, Clark Terry, Herb Ellis, and Ed Thigpen. "[Peterson] has been my greatest source of inspiration, without question," Jones remarked (La Scena Musicale, June 2004).
His background in both classical and popular music gave Jones a phenomenal technique, but also a sense for what audiences want and what his limits are. Though he can let loose flurries of complex pianistic gestures, he also knows restraint, and how to highlight a song's expressive nature rather than burying it in virtuosity. Not surprisingly for someone whose influences are Bach and Chopin, he has a marked preference for ballads, saying that he finds bebop repetitious and lacking in material for development (La Scena Musicale). Still, Jones can give his music the rhythmic vitality and drive of a devoted bebop player. Reviewing Jones's appearance at the New York club Positano, John S. Wilson noted, 'One hears light-fingered reminders of the facility of [Art] Tatum and [Oscar] Peterson, but it is done in a context that is reminiscent of the big, buoyant melodic structures that were created by Erroll Garner' (New York Times, 23 Apr 1987).
Oliver Jones's recorded compositions, many of which are dedicated to friends and colleagues - eg, Blues for Chuck and Big Pete to Chuck and Oscar Peterson, respectively - include de Gros Bois Blues, Lights of Burgundy, Snuggles, Fulford Street Stomp, Here Comes Summer Again, Dumpcake Blues, Hilly, The Sweetness of You, Looking for Lou, Bossa for CC, Stay Young, Blues for Hélène, Last Night in Rio, Sophie, Abunchafunk, What A Beautiful Sight, Jordio, Katatura, Mark My Time, Tippin' Home from Sunday School, Stan Pat, and Peaceful Time.
Jones taught at Laurentian University 1987-95 and McGill University 1988-95. He received Félix awards in 1989, 1994, 2007 and 2008 and Juno awards in 1986, 1990, 2006 and 2009. His album Pleased to Meet You was nominated for a 2010 Juno Award. Just You, Just Me also won recording of the year, and Jones keyboardist of the year, from the National Jazz Awards in 2006. He was awarded the Prix Oscar-Peterson by the FIJM in 1990 and the Martin Luther King Jr award in 1992. In 1993 he was named Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Québec and in 1994 was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada. He received a Governor-General's Performing Arts Award in 2005.
Live at Biddle's. Biddle double-bass, Primeau drums. 1983. Justin Time JUST-1
The Many Moods of Oliver Jones. 1984. Justin Time JUST-3
Lights of Burgundy. MacPherson tenor saxophone, Schwager guitar, Donato double-bass, Hillman drums. 1985. Justin Time JUST-6
Speak Low/Swing Hard. Beckwith double-bass, Hillman drums. 1985. Justin Time JUST-17
Requestfully Yours. Beckwith double-bass, Sharma drums. 1985. Justin Time JUST-11
Cookin' at Sweet Basil. Young double-bass, Clarke drums. 1987. Justin Time JUST-25
Just Friends. Terry trumpet, Young double-bass, Al-Khabyyr drums. 1989. Justin Time JUST-31
Northern Summit. Ellis guitar, Mitchell double-bass. 1990. Justin Time JUST-34 (CD and cassette)
A Class Act. Wallace double-bass, Thigpen drums. 1991. Justin Time JUST-41 (CD and cassette)
Just 88. Jones piano. 1993. Justin Time JUST 51-2
Yuletide Swing. Jones clavinova and piano, Richard Ring guitar, Dave Young bass, Wali Muhammad drums. 1994. Justin Time JUST 71-2
From Lush to Lively. Jones piano, Rob McConnell sax, and big band. 1995. Justin Time JUST 73-2
Have Fingers, Will Travel. Jones piano, Ray Brown bass, Jeff Hamilton drums. 1997. Justin Time JUST 102-2
Just In Time. Jones piano, Dave Young bass, Norman Marshall Villeneuve drums. 1998. Justin Time 120/1-2
Then and Now. Jones piano, Skip Bey bass. 2002. Justin Time JUST 180-2
Just You, Just Me. Ranee Lee vocals, Jones piano, Éric Lagacé bass, Dave Laing drums. 2005. Justin Time 213-2
One More Time. Jones piano, Dave Young bass, Jim Doxas drums, Ingrid Jensen trumpet and flugelhorn, Chet Doxas saxes. 2006. Justin Time JUST 217-2
Second Time Around. Jones piano, Éric Lagacé bass, Jim Doxas drums. 2008. Justin Time JUST 229
Pleased to Meet You. Jones and Hank Jones piano, Brandi Disterheft bass, Jim Doxas drums. 2009. Justin Time JUST 236
CDs on which Jones appears
Quiet Song. Ranee Lee vocals. 1989 Justin Time JUST-33
I Thought About You. Ranee Lee vocals, et al. 1994. Justin Time JUST 68-2
Jubilation VI: Looking Back. Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir et al. 1994. Justin Time JUST 66/67-2
In Good Company. Charlie Biddle bass, et al. 1996. Justin Time JUST 90-2
Ring In Minor. Richard Ring guitar, et al. 1996. Justin Time JUST 82-2
Jones also appears as organist on recordings by the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.
Oliver Jones: Serenade. Jones piano, Peterson piano. 2004. Justin Time JTDVD 5101-9
Oliver Jones in Africa (NFB 1989)
Author Revised: Evan Ware
Miller, Mark. 'A legend comes home,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 28 Jan 1982
Quig, James. 'Meet Oliver Jones, an out-of-sight piano player,' Montreal Gazette, 18 Dec 1982
Miller, Mark. Boogie, Pete & The Senator (Toronto 1987)
Sutherland, John. 'Oliver Jones: Canada's newest jazz ambassador,' Coda, 220, Jun-Jul 1988
Stewart, Robert. 'Oliver Jones and all that jazz,' Reader's Digest, vol 134, May 1989
Gilmore, John. Who's Who of Jazz in Montreal (Montreal 1989)
'Le rêve climatisé d'un pianiste,' interview with Maurice Segura, Continuum, vol 14, 18 Mar 1991
Miller, Mark. The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada (Toronto 2001)
Sansregret, Marthe. Oliver Jones, le musicien et l'homme (Laval 2005)
- Oliver Jones: The Musician, the Man (Montreal 2006)
Miller, Mark. "Jones, Oliver." Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (accessed 16 Aug 2006). http://www.grovemusic.com
Links to Other Sites
Inside The Music
Listen to past episodes of CBC's "Inside The Music" program featuring some of Canada's leading musicians. Click on the audio player to start streaming.
Oliver Jones - Giving Something Back
An interview with Oliver Jones, one of Canada's premier mainstream jazz pianists. From the website for "La Scena Musicale."
Oliver Jones in Africa
View screen shots from the 1990 NFB documentary about Oliver Jones’ trip to Africa, where he “discovered the roots of much of today’s music.”
Oliver Jones and Oscar Peterson
Watch a video clip featuring jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones playing "Hymn to Freedom." From YouTube.
Watch jazz master Oliver Jones perform "Remembering Chris" on the CBC Radio program Q. From YouTube.
Letter to my teacher: Oliver Jones
Read a poignant letter written by jazz pianist Oliver Jones to his piano teacher Daisy Peterson Sweeney. From the CBC website.