Jazz Pianist / Organist / Arranger / Composer, Justin Time Records, Montreal, QC. Born: Montreal, QC.
Dr. Oliver Jones is one of Canada’s‚ best-known jazz pianists. Born and raised in Saint-Henri, a predominantly working class area of Montreal, he lived several blocks from Oscar Peterson. As a boy, he would sit on Oscar’s porch, listening to the older boy practice. Oscar’s sister, Daisy Peterson Sweeney, became his first piano teacher, with lessons continuing for the next 12 years. These lessons solidified young Oliver’s skills, which were already considerable; Oliver was performing publicly at age five, and by the time he had his first nightclub appearance, he was only nine years-old.
Oliver’s six-decade musical career has been rich and varied. His classical music education was followed by stints at Montreal’s Café St-Michel, enthralling patrons with his acrobatic piano stunts. From his teens to his early twenties, Oliver could play anything from swing to rock-n-roll; in those days playing jazz was not considered a viable career.
His diverse training proved invaluable when, in 1964, the opportunity to become musical director and pianist for Jamaican singer Kenny Hamilton presented itself. Oliver, with his wife and young son in tow, moved to Puerto Rico and continued with the Hamilton band for the next sixteen years. While popular music may have taken care of his practical needs, it did not satisfy his artistic cravings. During the tour, Oliver would take every opportunity to check out local jazz clubs and participate with other like-minded musicians.
In 1980, he returned to Montreal, determined to pursue jazz professionally. Oliver started by working regularly at Biddle’s, the now-closed downtown jazz club run by bassist Charlie Biddle. Three years later, after a fortuitous meeting with Justin Time Records founder Jim West, Oliver’s dream came true. Justin Time Records’ very first recording would be Oliver Jones with Charlie Biddles, called Live At Biddles, and it was also his first ever recording as leader. From 1983-1998, he released 15 albums with this label including The Many Moods of Oliver Jones (1984); Speak Low, Swing Hard (1987); Just Friends (1989); A Class Act (1991); Just 88 (1993); Yuletide Swing (1994); From Lush to Lively (1995); Have Fingers, Will Travel (1997); Just In Time (1998). Since then, he has released Then and Now (2003), One More Time (2006), Pleased To Meet You – an homage to the passing of his friend, Oscar Peterson (2007).
During the course of his career, Oliver played with many jazz greats including Charlie Biddle, Dave Young, Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen, Clark Terry, Ranee Lee, and others. Having toured internationally, he has performed in South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He is a regular performer at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and was the subject of a National Film Board documentary, Oliver Jones Live in Africa. In 1987, he taught at Laurentian University and in 1988, at McGill University.
Honours: Juno Award, Best Mainstream Jazz Recording, Second Time Around (2007); Jazz Album of the Year, Just You, Just Me, National Jazz Awards (2006); Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Governor General Performing Arts Award (2005); Best Jazz Recording, Just You, Just Me, CUMA (2005); Composer of the Year Award, Jazz Report magazine (1996); Order of Quebec & Order of Canada (Officer; 1994); Felix Awards, Best Jazz Album of the Year for Just 88 (1994), Just Friends (1989) and Yuletide Swing (1995); Honourary Doctorate in Music from University of Windsor (1999); St. Francis Xavier (1996); McGill University (1995); Laurentian University (1992); MLK Award, for contributions to the Black community in Canada (1993); Juno Award, for Lights of Burgundy (1986).