Saturday, April 12, 2014


Friend.   Father Figure.   Bandleader.   Elder Stateman of Canadian Jazz.   Devoted Dad.   Loving Husband.    Exciting Drummer.

I first encountered the mastery of Norman Marshall Villeneuve when I heard him on a double live album recorded by Oliver Jones called “Just In Time”.   From the get go I knew that this guy could swing, has a lot of pop, and brings a wealth of excitement and energy into what he plays and so much more.

He has certainly come a long way from the neighbourhood of Place St. Henri, the same neighbourhood that fellow Montrealer and jazz legend Oscar Peterson and Norman’s cousin Oliver Jones grew up.   He got his training and footing in the jazz scene of Montreal before moving on up to Toronto where for 40 years he made his mark as a Canadian jazz legend and a father figure to myself and many other young jazz musicians.    I know he hears this many times, but everytime I hear and encounter Norman Marshall Villeneuve he reminds me of the great jazz drummer and bandleader Art Blakey.    Like Art, Norman plays with such explosive fire and at the same time encourages young, up and coming musicians to play at their hardest and best before they launch into careers of their own.

I am forever indebted for the many chances I got to jam and play with Norman Marshall Villeneuve, working on swing, feeling, rhythm and mastering the concepts of the bebop language.   Not only I had such chances, but I am forever indebted for the many kind words, fatherly advice, and life lessons that I have gleaned just by talking and hanging out with him throughout the years of being a young jazz musician.  

Last year, Norman made the ultimate move of going back to his hometown of Montreal after 40 years in the Toronto Music scene.   He is strongly missed, but in my opinion he has never left Toronto.    This weekend, I was fortunate to catch him twice through three of his only Toronto performances of 2014.   The music swung, the energy was electric, and I was encouraged to find that his performances were packed to capacity, showing that real, unadulterated, swinging acoustic jazz is alive and well, and we need to keep it alive in the 21st century.    There may be a time and place for innovation, but the real meaning of jazz is about swing, history, and blues feeling, which has been embodied in Norman’s philosophy and groups.

To close, I just want to say this to Norm if he reads this: Thank you Norm, for keeping the jazz flame burning after all these years and bringing integrity into music.   I am honored to get to know you and keep on playing, encouraging, and giving for many years to come.


(Norman Marshall Villeneuve and Me)

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