Music Completes Montreal’s John Roney

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In the 12-plus years since he has called Montreal home, jazz pianist John Roney has racked up a rather impressive list of accomplishments.

In addition to his work with the John Roney Trio, performing at Moncton’s Empress Theatre this Thursday night, Roney has worked with acclaimed artists including Alain Caron, Remi Bolduc and Ginette Reno. He has performed on more than 50 recordings as a sideman and has also produced two albums as well as a DVD for classical soprano Natalie Choquette.

Roney tells the Times & Transcript that his musical versatility as a performer, composer and arranger began, as it does for many musicians, as a child.

‘I took piano lessons as a child,’ John says, noting that his mother considered the lessons to be an apt ‘back-up plan’ for her son. ‘I attended an art-oriented high school that had a jazz program and just fell in love with the music.’

John laments how schools are stripping away music programs from their students. As a faculty member of both McGill University and a Montreal-area CEGEP (schooling following Grade 11, where students spend two years preparing for university or three years studying a trade) he says the impacts of the cutbacks to such programs are becoming more and more apparent.

‘I have noticed a lot of students from one year to the next where their level of general information about the arts is becoming lower and lower. Those programs just don’t exist anymore,’ he says. ‘When I was in high school, I played clarinet and saxophone in bands and also played for musical productions. Not only was I given the opportunity to do things like that but I was also exposed to Gershwin and Cole Porter as well as different kinds of dance and drama. The less that these programs exist, the spectrum of knowledge of these arts gets lower and lower every year. It is really a shame that the government doesn’t see it as a priority.’

After high school, John was a tough person to nail down. A 1996 win of the Yamaha Canada Rising Star Award in Jazz opened many doors for the young musician. After a 10-week stint at Berkeley in California, John settled into the University of Toronto for one year. At the start of his second year, he was hired to perform by a Montreal-based jazz quartet and subsequently undertook touring the Middle East for a year and a half.

After his return to North America, John completed his studies at the University of Toronto before moving on to study at Boston’s Longy School of Music, the Banff Centre of the Arts and UCLA.

He had a very simple reason for wanting to dip his toes in as many different scholastic waters as he could:

‘I really wanted to hang out and study with as many people as I could.’ John credits Canadian composer and musician Gary Kulesha as having truly opened his eyes to the possibilities that lie in music.

‘Gary knew everything about music from opera to thrash metal,’ John says. ‘His interests were so vast that it opened my eyes to anything being possible. As a student, he got me interested in building the desire to study so much different music. There is the expression ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ but I have always felt that studying these different styles of music makes me feel more complete as a musician and as a person. I have always been naturally curious about all kinds of music.

‘In high school, I was a semi-pro skateboarder and a part of that culture was listening to bands like the Beastie Boys and Black Flag. I was the guy who was also listening to Shostakovich and Beethoven, trying to write my own sonatas. It all goes together, as far as I am concerned. Music is such an incredible thing.’

While each of them were involved in different musical projects, Roney called upon Remi-Jean Leblanc and Damien Schmitt to comprise the John Roney Trio in 2011. The trio was brought together thanks to the simple fact that each member called the St-Henri area of Montreal home.

The trio’s latest record, St-Henri, is a reflection of their hometown: A diverse melting pot of new sounds and dimensions in contemporary music comprised of swing, electronica and drum n bass.

‘The area that we call home is home to so many great artists and is a direct reflection of the hodgepodge of different musical cultures around us,’ John says. ‘While there are many modern elements to the music, the people I am thinking about when playing are guys like Oscar Peterson.’

Article published in the July 9, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript

WHAT : John Roney Trio
WHEN : Thursday, July 11, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE : Empress Theatre, Robinson Court, Downtown Moncton
TICKETS : Start at $10, plus service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone at 506-856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca