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April 25, 2002 The good life in jazz with Rémi Bolduc



Rémi Bolduc

Rémi Bolduc

by Robert Scalia

Don’t give up your day job? Rémi Bolduc never needed one to begin with. Wedding band gigs paid for CEGEP. He offered private lessons on improvisation to his fellow Concordia students. Oh, yeah — he was also jamming with the Vic Vogel Big Band at age 20.

Persistence is key, says the 40-year-old alto saxophone player and part-time professor at Concordia and McGill.

“If you’re able to be a jazz musician and do the little projects here and there for 20 years, by the time you’re 40, things are going to get smoother,” explained Bolduc over coffee.

His summer schedule is proof enough: Germany in May, followed by a two-week teaching stint in Banff, followed by a Canadian tour with Tom Gossage and fellow Concordia guitar professor Gary Schwartz.

Rubbing shoulders with legends

Bolduc believes jazz has helped him grow both as a person and musician. As a shy teen, he learned how to get comfortable with the “strong personalities” of tough-talking veterans like Vogel and Dave Turner.

Those lessons came in handy in New York, where Bolduc studied under sax legend Steve Coleman for two years on a grant from the Canada Council in 1991. “It was important for me to see how it was in a real jazz scene,” he said. “You meet a lot of really good players. You kind of learn where you’re at.”

He set out to find Ben Monder, a guitarist who constantly came up in conversations with other musicians. After several flat-out rejections, Bolduc convinced him to work on a project. For Bolduc, the connection was instant.

“For me, the human side is important in music.” The more soothing arrangements for duos and trios composed by Bolduc merely reflect Monder’s personality. “What comes out of him as a human when he plays — that vibe — I think of that when I’m writing music for that concert.”

Bolduc has adopted this idea of writing for people or about events to his own compositions, which he insists are more improvisational than those on the Monder project.

Take the piece Petit souper en famille, for example. “I’ll decide, OK, I’m going to write about my family having dinner. My kid talks. My baby cries. The TV is on. The phone rings.”

The instruments in this piece will converse one at a time, then interrupt each other and, finally, all talk at the same time. Composing becomes more thematic, says Bolduc, and surprisingly more structured and logical because of it. “It allows me to write a tune in a way I would have never been able to write before.”

Growing into music

A far cry from that teen who practiced 12 hours a day, Bolduc says he doesn’t even need his sax to write music and rarely has to concentrate on his notes when improvising on stage. “The good thing about getting older in music is that it kind of starts to grow on you in a way that you don’t need to work as hard to get it out.”

Still, when he speaks, Bolduc seems just as eager to run with the big names and learn along the way. His eyes sparkle when he discusses teaching at the Banff School of Fine Arts this summer alongside American pianist Kenny Werner (with whom he’s recording his next CD), Steve Coleman and budding young musicians from London to Hong Kong.

“It’s just nice to be listed with all those amazing players. Plus, you’re always around these guys. You eat with them. You just go out and hang with them. It gives you this energy when you see just how intense they are.”

He rolls the prospect over in his head, pauses and chuckles. “It makes me nervous now, because I want to take lessons with them.”

Rémi Bolduc’s latest CD is Renaissance (Effendi Records). He plays at Club Soda with Ben Monder on Thursday, May 2.