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Primeau jazz

Acclaimed Montreal drummer/bandleader to bring the bop to MY Place

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Who: The Bernard Primeau Montreal Jazz Ensemble

What: Whistler Arts Council/MY Millennium Place 2004/05 Performance Series

Where: MY Millennium Place

When: Monday, Jan. 24, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $17-$20

Bernard Primeau speaks with a gruffness that suggests he’s been around a smoky jazz club or two.

These days he’s more impressed with clubs that exercise a ban on cancer sticks. But the gregarious Montreal-based jazz musician can’t contain his enthusiasm when recounting memories of trips to New York at the tender age of 16 to see icons of the genre such as Art Blakey and Count Basie at equally iconic venues like Birdland.

He’s not 16 anymore, but his passion for the music is still as strong in his golden years as it was in the early days.

A purveyor of traditional acoustic improv bop jazz, Primeau’s dazzling skills with the sticks has established him as one of the most respected bandleaders and composers on the vibrant Montreal jazz scene.

It’s a scene that courts all facets of jazz, especially when it comes to the jazz festivals, which incorporate World Beat, fusion, Dixieland, electronica, hip-hop – pretty much everything under the sun.

While appreciative of the diversity and drawing inspiration from the various forms, especially the spicy rhythms of Latin music, Primeau admits he’s remained something of a purist.

"I love acoustic jazz, either quintet or sextet or big band," he enthuses. "I was raised on Duke Ellington, Gil Evans with Miles Davis."

Primeau’s illustrious career includes nine signature albums with a 10th on the way, and he continues to tour actively. A six-show jaunt through Western Canada brings him to Whistler’s MY Place theatre on Monday, Jan. 24, part of the Whistler Arts Council and MY Place’s 2004/05 Performance Series.

He will head up a sextet incarnation that includes Bill Mahar on trumpet, Alexandre Côté on soprano and tenor saxophones, David Grott on trombone, John Roney on piano and David Watts on bass. The group will be performing material from Primeau’s seventh recording as leader – Evolution which was nominated for a Juno Award in 2002, along with well-known covers by artists like Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk. It will be Primeau’s first visit to Whistler, although he has played several shows in Vancouver.

"I don’t want to be funny, but I don’t have anything else to do," he chuckles, when asked what keeps him on the road.

Recording, touring, an endless list of acclaimed international collaborations, Primeau can’t even begin to hone in on a career highlight.

"The last 20 years, there’s a lot of highlights," he muses. "I’ve realized more than I thought I would be able to do."

All that jazz

Back at the Bearfoot Bistro this week is sultry Vancouver chanteuse Lee Aaron.

The former hairspray crazy, hard rock queen of 1980s CanCon-turned jazz crooner is a regular visitor to Whistler.

Aaron will be performing for five nights alongside the Bearfoot’s house piano man Cameron Chu starting Friday, Jan. 21.

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