Jim Doxas

MTL Jazz Notes

Jazz musicians from different parts of the globe are attracted to Montréal

The city of Montréal affords an atmosphere that is diverse and inclusive; this provides an excellent backdrop for a vibrant, artistic city. I think that this is widely known, as many artists from Canada and around the world have congregated in our city. Visual arts, performing arts and most recently the Indie-rock scene of the early 2000s have all developed strong roots in Montréal. One can draw many conclusions as to why this has happened, but I believe that part of the answer is that musicians can afford to live in Montréal, unlike some other global and musical hubs.

Cities like Toronto, Boston and New York’s economies make it difficult for artists to find affordable housing. Also, Montréal’s vibe integrates music and cultures from all over the world and offers a variety of styles and musical ventures. Furthermore, there are very high level and relatively affordable post-secondary educational options. Many faculties of music have somewhat evolved into springboards, replacing the Old School tradition of “on-the-job” experience. It is safe to say that the allure of Montréal has drawn some extremely noteworthy musicians to our city.

Every instrument has its specific technical hurdles. Though they all require dedication, there are a few that need some extra love and care, and the trumpet is one of those instruments. It is very physically demanding. Lex French exceeds the challenges the trumpet presents. Hailing from New Zealand, he arrived in Montréal in 2012, initially coming to attend McGill University to complete a master’s degree in Jazz Performance. Raised in a musical family, Lex began playing trumpet at the age of nine. He credits his introduction to jazz from hearing Dixieland bands busking on sidewalks in Wellington, and his mother’s affection for Miles Davis’ classic record, Kind of Blue.

I have had the privilege of playing with Lex over the last several years. I even had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand with him to play at the Wellington Jazz Festival. However, during all these hours together, I never asked him why he chose Montréal. It turns out that he has a fascinating connection. Lex describes, “My father was born in Montréal, and my family on his side lived here for a generation before he left. Interestingly, my great grandfather was an ice-man in Griffintown and worked for the city of Montréal shoveling snow with a horse and cart!” He continued his explanation; “My discovery of the great jazz scene here, coupled with a desire to discover my family roots made my decision for me.” For the betterment of the city, Lex has stayed and recently completed his doctorate at McGill’s Faculty of Music. Now, students at McGill profit from his versatility, inclusiveness, and friendly nature as a teacher in the Jazz program.

Saxophonist Bogdan Gumenyuk - Destination: YUL

Saxophonist Bogdan Gumenyuk was attracted to Montreal
because of the ‘vibe’ of the city

Bogdan Gumenyuk, a fantastic saxophonist from afar, has also made Montréal his home. Originally from the Ukraine, Bogdan’s parents both played instruments and introduced him to the sopilka, a Ukrainian wooden flute, when he was nine. He later switched to the alto saxophone. It was not until his late twenties that Bogdan discovered jazz. He points out that, “I could not find much information about jazz or jazz concerts, especially because the Ukraine, until 1991, was a part of the USSR, and the Soviets did not welcome Western Culture.”

Although inspired by the music of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, Bogdan says, “It was not about the genre itself, or the notes played. It was the spirit of the music that really appealed to me.” Upon receiving a Fulbright Scholarship, he moved to Philadelphia. He recounts that, “From there, I came to Montréal for a live audition, and was impressed by the city’s ‘vibe’.” His love of Montréal is obvious when he mentions, “For me, a city plays an important role in one’s musical education, since one learns from the musicians on the scene, as well as at school. Being in a big city with a vibrant creative life is an important element of artistic development.” I had the chance to witness the positive impact that Bogdan’s international success has had on the artistic community that supports him back in the Ukraine in 2017 when we played together at a jazz festival. He is truly a remarkable and talented musician and composer.

Today, both Lex and Bogdan consider Montréal their home. Lex affirms that Montréal; “…is vibrant and eccentric, replete with arts and music in spades. I really enjoy the variety of music that I’m able to play, but I especially love the depth of musicianship I encounter daily.” An aspect that grounds Bogdan to our city is its multiculturalism. He points out that; “The understanding that one has to use a foreign language to communicate with other people teaches one to be more accepting of other cultures and makes for a better listener. It is the same as in music – the more one is open to learning different things, the richer one’s musical language will become. Montréal, as a city, is a great example of a multicultural society that can listen in order to hear others.” Montréal’s music scene benefits greatly from having both of these fine composers, musicians and individuals as part of our community’s artistic fabric. Please keep your eyes open for their upcoming performances and visit our local venues to continue supporting live music.

Jim Doxas is an award-winning jazz drummer who has performed with many of North America’s finest musicians and has performed on more than 150 albums. He also lectures and teaches percussion at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music and at Concordia University. To learn more about Jim and his music, please visit: www.jimdoxas.com

Editor’s Note: Jim performs regularly with his own group and with other first rate jazz musicians at the UpStairs Jazz Bar & Grill at 1254 Mackay, just below Ste-Catherine St. I’m happy to report that the club has re-opened with live music, restaurant and bar service, following public health guidelines. Please visit: www.upstairsjazz.com for show information, or call 514-931-6808 for reservations.