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Montreal’s Jazz Icon Sits Down With Noxwire

Written by Patrick Rice on Saturday, December 4th, 2010


Noxwire wishes to thank Lorraine Desmarais for taking time out of her busy schedule to grant us this interview.

Noxwire: So Lorraine, how was your concert with Jackie Terrason?

LD: Jackie is a great pianist who used to live in New York. It was our first meeting together. When he arrived in the afternoon and we started to play around 12-15 tunes in which later during supper we decided which one’s to keep for the concert.

Noxwire: So you didn’t rehearse a lot together?

LD: We rehearsed maybe for 75 minutes before deciding on 8 or 9 tunes for the concert.

Noxwire: How do 2 jazz pianists decide on when and what to play when you are playing a duo concert? I mean how do you decide who takes the lead and who does the accompaniment?

LD: We try to create spontaneity for ourselves and for the public. We were discovering each other and the public was discovering at the same time because we only had about 75 minutes to rehearse and not even a full rehearse.

Noxwire: Would you say that your style is similar to Jackie Terrasson?

LD: Yes, we have many similarities. We both listened a lot to Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Thelonious Monk. The thing is not to reproduce Monk but to take the mood and influence and reappropriate the songs.

Noxwire: OK. So if we were to go back to the beginning, I guess you have been playing jazz piano for a long time.

LD: I started in 78. I was doing a Masters Degree in Classical piano at the University of Sherbrooke. At the same time I would go to McGill to be part of the jazz combos.

At that time there were no major degrees in jazz…just a few courses in jazz.

I also began learning by myself.  I didn’t attend schools like Berkley and such. I went to New York in 83 to take some private lessons from Kenny Barron. And later I took some lessons from a teacher from Berkley. His name was Charlie Bernacles and at that time it was like correspondence. I would record a cassette and send it to him and he would send it back to me helping me with improvisation.

Noxwire:  So I guess most people don’t learn jazz on their own? It’s best to take some time of lessons?

LD: Oh no, you can be self taught before there were no jazz schools. The people who established and played jazz had to learn by listening to others and create their own way. Today we have more facilities. Even when I was trying to play jazz, I didn’t want to go to Berkeley because I already had a Master’s degree and I thought that’s enough school for me. So I started to learn jazz on my own by learning a lot of methods and mostly by transcribing Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Chick Corea solos.

Noxwire: How did go about transcribing Oscar Peterson solos? How can you hear even 1 note that he plays. He plays very fast.

LD: I was crazy back then. I was impressed by his technique and those very fast tunes. Instead of transcribing ballads because of the slower tempo, I was taking very up-tempo songs and say ‘I’m going to learn it’. Sometimes I would transcribe right away by writing down the notes and other times I would not write anything down until I know 4-5 bars first. Then I would put on the record and play over the record until I could play it right, just like the record. Then at that time I would take the notes and transcribe them to paper. It’s just different ways of transcribing music.

Noxwire: Do you have perfect pitch?

LD: No. Well, I would say maybe on the piano, but not for other instruments. Though I have very good relative pitch. It comes easy for me. When I was around 10 years old I would listen to the radio and play all those pop songs. I guess it’s a gift I have.

Noxwire: Let’s go back to your earlier influences again. You mentioned Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans.

LD: Yes. When I decided I wanted to play jazz I was very impressed by Oscar and Chick Corea. I was coming from a classical world so technique was very important for this medium. So when I heard their brilliant technique and the most impressing thing about it was that it was all improvised. It was 2 difficulties…the technique and the improvisation combined in one. That’s why I decided I wanted to play jazz. I had fairly good technique and the natural ability to improvise. The only thing I had to do was learn their chords and scales that would match along with their chords and language. I needed to know how they turned that Bebop language, like Bud Powell and Charlie Parker, how they turned their phrases with those scales. It’s a science.

Noxwire: Would you say you’re still learning?

LD: Oh yes. I’m learning all the time. I’m learning some new tunes. I’m learning how to arrange for the big band. I’m always learning.

Noxwire: What’s your preference these days in playing Jazz vs Classical?

LD: Well I mostly play Jazz and compose Jazz. I have a Master’s Degree in classical Piano and kept playing Bach and different repertoire but my main interest is to improvise and play jazz piano.

Noxwire: What about playing solo vs ensemble?

LD: I like both. I like playing solo for the freedom. You can sometimes decide at that moment what you want to play according to the vibe of the hall or piano or simply the way you feel. With a trio it’s mostly decided before hand on what we’re going to play.

Noxwire: That sounds good. Do you have any new CD’s coming out soon?

LD: I’m working on that. Right now I’m kind of in a double period where I’m writing new material for an upcoming CD and I’m touring a lot. I’m going to stop touring in December. Till then I’ll be touring in Europe, back to Quebec, we’ll be touring all over Quebec from East to West.

Noxwire: How do you feel Jazz is received in other parts of Canada?

LD: Yes, for sure. We’ll be playing the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton, which is the main jazz venue in that city.

I really enjoy this. I like bringing Jazz to clubs but also to the concert hall. I think it’s very important.

Noxwire: Even though Montreal is known for having one of the best jazz festivals, how do you feel we do against these other Canadian cities? In other words, how is jazz in Montreal after the fest closes?

LD: Well, we have a few clubs like Upstairs, Dieze Onze and House Of Jazz, but it’s not like before. Back in the day we had Air du Temp. We would book ourselves for 4-5 days straight. These days you get bookings for 1-2 nights and that’s all. Maybe it’s because we have more jazz musicians now than before and everybody deserves to have their turn.

Noxwire: Which would you consider to be the main jazz venue in Montreal?

LD: I would say Upstairs and Dieze Onze.

LD: Are you a musician as well?

Noxwire: I began playing classical piano when I was young and I’m now making the switch to Jazz. I think it was hearing those beautiful chords from Thelonious Monk that made me say “I want to be able to play like that”. So I put away my Chopin books and dived into jazz. I’m also a huge Gershwin fan.

Noxwire: Do you teach?

LD: I’m not teaching right now because I don’t have time. The writing and touring has my priority right now.

Noxwire:  When you’re in town, do you go to enjoy the Montreal nightlife?

LD:  Oh yes, I go to Upstairs sometimes. Sometimes the Jazz Festival organizes some shows and I try to keep in touch with them. I mostly try to enjoy the nightlife in the city where I’m at.

But when I’m in town I try to see some jazz artists that may come down from the US or Europe.

Noxwire: Will you be in next year’s Jazz Fest?

LD: I don’t know yet. Right now I’m mostly writing and touring so my mind is into that for now. I’ve been very spoiled at the jazz fest. I’ve done everything from solo to symphony orchestra so I’ve done many shows. I don’t want to repeat myself.

Noxwire:  Lorraine, in closing I would like to add that your solo concert was the first indoor concert I’ve ever seen at the Montreal Jazz Festival and I really enjoyed it.

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