Pianist Oliver Jones is one of Canada’s finest musicians. His career also intertwines with the proud history of jazz in his native Montreal, the thriving city that in its heyday also produced the late Oscar Peterson, Oliver’s lifelong friend and one of his influences.
Oliver was born and raised in Saint Henri, a predominantly working class area of Montreal, several blocks from Peterson, and young Oliver would sit on the Peterson porch, listening to the older boy practice. Oscar’s sister, Daisy Peterson Sweeney, became his first piano teacher, with lessons continuing for the next twelve years. These lessons solidified young Jones’ skills, which were already considerable; Oliver was performing publicly at age five, and by the time he had his first nightclub appearance, he was nine.
Oliver Jones’ six-decade musical career has been rich and varied. His classical music education was followed by stints at Montreal’s Café St-Michel, enthralling patrons with his acrobatic piano stunts. From his teens to his early twenties, Jones could play anything from swing to rock-n-roll; in those days playing jazz was not considered a viable career.
This diverse training proved invaluable when, in 1964, the opportunity to become musical director and pianist for Jamaican singer Kenny Hamilton presented itself. Jones, with his wife and young son in tow, moved to Puerto Rico and continued with the Hamilton band for the next sixteen years. While popular music may have taken care of his practical needs, it did not satisfy his artistic cravings. While touring with Hamilton, Jones would take every opportunity to check out local jazz clubs and to participate with other like-minded musicians.
In 1980, Oliver Jones returned to Montreal, determined to pursue jazz professionally. He started by working regularly at Biddle’s, the now-closed downtown jazz club run by bassist Charlie Biddle. Three years later, after a fortuitous meeting with Justin Time Records founder Jim West, Jones’ dream came true. “There was a lot of hullabaloo surrounding Charlie and myself. Anything pertaining to jazz, we were asked to do. I’d made my first recording. Truthfully, I was in a state of shock, because when you dream something for 30 years…” Justin Time Records' very first recording would be Oliver Jones with Charlie Biddles, called Live At Biddles, and it was also Jones' first ever recording as leader.
Oliver Jones’ association with Justin Time has produced an impressive catalogue of recordings whose sidemen are among the very finest in jazz. Have Fingers, Will Travel (1997) featured bass legend Ray Brown and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Recorded at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, this great trio session features such songs as "Street Of Dreams", "If I Were A Bell" and "My Romance". From Lush to Lively (1995) demonstrated Jones' unrivalled position as one of Canada's greatest gifts to the piano, in a big band setting. The recording showcased Oliver's unmistakable finesse: lightning-fast technique, solid articulation, powerful lyricism and rollicking rhythms. Then And Now is a charming session, with the late bassist Skip Bey, consisting of recordings made in 1986 and 2002, and Just In Time captured Oliver in a live setting, with Dave Young and Norm Villeneuve, at the Montreal Bistro.