Jane Bunnett has become one of the foremost jazz musicians in Canada, and has gained recognition around the world for her improvising talents, technical proficiency, and writing and band leading abilities. Born and educated in Toronto, she trained as a classical pianist from 1975-78 (attaining Grade 10 Piano Honors), until tendentious forced a switch to woodwinds at the Royal Conservatory. In 1979 she began concurrent studies in jazz at York University, Toronto, inspired by her first exposure to jazz great Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk in San Francisco. This led to studies with pianist Barry Harris, flautists James Newton, Frank Wess and James Moody; then, having heard soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s music, she began to focus on that instrument also. A 1991 Canada Council grant enabled her to travel to Paris to begin studies with Lacy.
Her first recording was an ambitious mix of Canadian and American players (the late pianist Don Pullen, tenor player and Ornette Coleman veteran Dewey Redman and Vincent Chancy, French horn) . This debut, In Dew Time, earned a Juno nomination in 1988. She toured Canada with Redman in 1991, and Australia with Pullen in 1992. A year later, Jane recorded New York Duets with Pullen, following it up with Live at Sweet Basil, then 1994's The Water is Wide which was chosen by The Village Voice as best record of the year.
A mid-‘80's trip to Cuba with new husband Larry Cramer turned Jane’s musical world upside down, into a passion for the island’s wildly fertile musical culture and its people. Since then, Jane has explored the music in every corner of Cuba, and has absorbed the lessons and traditions with the same devotion she has given to her other work, seeking out musicians all over the island. Her tourism has now given way to an obsession with the island’s music. “Over the years I developed relationships with some of Cuba’s legendary musicians,” she recalls. “I’ve had a great opportunity to learn the music in the streets and in the homes of these people, and that’s what fueled my vision.” Many of these musicians have played in her exciting group, The Spirits of Havana.
In 1991 she recorded Spirits of Havana, with a group of relatively unknown musicians (outside of Cuba) plus Cramer and Canadian bassist Kieran Overs, setting a trend to follow on subsequent recordings. This record was picked by the All-Music Guide as one of the top 300 jazz discs of all time and also captured a JUNO award. This was followed by the innovative Rendezvous Brazil- Cuba which featured the melding of Brazilian, Cuban and North American jazz music and musicians. In 1997 Jane completed Chamalongo. “Where Spirits of Havana was our initiation into this rich musical heritage,” Jane says, “it’s with Chamalongo that we’ve realized our musical dream to incorporate the total roots of Afro-Cuban music. All of my past musical experiences led me to Chamalongo..." I know it was the most passionate and powerfully-felt record of my career.”