OLIVER JONES passes on the torch
I caught a mind-blowing concert on the final day of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Pianists Oliver Jones, Matt Herskowitz, John Roney and Julie Lamontagne were sensational. A brilliant idea from Oliver Esmonde-White!
OLIVER JONES passes on the torch
The venerable Oliver Jones passed on the torch on the closing night of this year’s Jazz Festival. On stage at the Monument-National’s Salle Ludger-Duvernay, Jones was joined by three other “chameleons,” Matt Herskowitz, John Roney and Julie Lamontagne. As the show began, the 80-year-old Jones told us he’d had three major breaks in his career: the Montréal Jazz Fest, bassist Charlie Biddle (owner of the bar of the same name) and Jim West, founder of the Justin Time record label. Now, he said, it was his turn to do the same for the next generation. He wanted us to discover three pianists who, while immensely talented, perhaps hadn’t had quite his luck. The very least we can say is this: his faith in his protégés wasn’t unfounded.
Now in its second year, Piano Chameleons is the brainchild of Oliver Esmonde-White, a topnotch piano technician specialized in assembly and repair. Herskowitz and Roney have been the show’s featured duo from the start. In this unique performance concept, they amuse themselves laying jazzy improvisation over well-known works from the classical repertoire, reimagined for two pianos and rendered with breathtaking virtuosity. The idea is a winner, attracting jazz and classical fans alike. For last Sunday’s performance, Herskowitz and Roney invited Jones and Lamontagne to join them in a sublime session of musical fellowship and exchange.
You can read more about the Piano Chameleons here.
Jones served as the evening’s unofficial leader. The master did not disappoint, proving himself more than able to hold his own with these young upstarts. The first piece, a jazzy number, featured Jones playing solo and displaying a touch that had lost none of its beauty, power, fluidity and rhythm. He then took part in a highly entertaining relay where the four players alternated on the two pianos, exchanging sparkling themes with great panache. By the end of the “race,” all eight hands were on the keys!
Lamontagne is practically Jones’ spiritual daughter, with a deep affection for the man and musician who had such a decisive influence on her career. She told us she discovered jazz during a musical brunch in Orford that featured Jones. Upon hearing him play, she knew that despite her training as a classical pianist, jazz was her true vocation. During her set on Sunday, she showed the technical proficiency and nimble fingering for which she is known, playing various excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 (arranged for two pianos) with Roney and from Grieg’s Concerto in A Minor with Herskowitz.
For their part, the two original Chameleons dazzled with high-octane acrobatics. Breathtaking from the get-go, they delivered a profoundly accomplished mix of jazz and classical that had the power to take Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 ‘Pathétique’ into blues and boogie-woogie. Their ornamentation was remarkable, demanding great skill as well as mastery of both the classical repertoire and the codes of jazz. While one pianist played the main theme (often in a more classical style), the other embellished it with powerful jazz-tinged melodies. The resulting blend was seamless, a perfect fusion of both genres.
The Chameleons thus had two outstanding guests in Oliver Jones and Julie Lamontagne. The spirit of exchange, sharing and selflessness among these four talented instrumentalists was beautiful to witness. Their performance breathed authenticity and the joy of being in the moment
— a moment that Jones in particular seemed to appreciate. Having reached the twilight of his years, he had found his heirs, those ready to carry on the work he’d been doing for 75 years. One could only share his happiness.