'A wonderful shock': PJ Perry celebrates Order of Canada induction

More accustomed to caressing the brass keys of a saxophone, PJ Perry had a titanium club in hand when he got a call from the Govenor General’s office.

'It was, needless to say, a complete surprise'

PJ Perry of Edmonton has been named to the Order of Canada.

More accustomed to caressing the brass keys of a saxophone, PJ Perry had a titanium club in hand when he got a call from the Govenor General's office.

The Edmonton jazz musician was playing a round of golf with his brother when he learned he had been named to the Order of Canada.

"We were on the golf course, driving along in our little golf cart," Perry said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"It rang in the middle of the game and my brother looked a little puzzled when he answered the phone and he looked at me and said, 'It's the Governor general's office calling for you. What have you gotten into this time?'

"It was such a wonderful shock and such a great honour."
Perry, who has been a professional musician for more than six decades says music remains a labour of love. (PJ Perry/Facebook )
 The Juno Award winning artist, best known for his loose bebopper-style improvisations on the alto sax, is one of five Edmonton inductees who will be honoured at a special ceremony in Ottawa's Rideau Hall Thursday.

The recognition was established in 1967 to recognize outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Perry is being recognized "for his contributions to Canada's musical repertoire as an accomplished jazz saxophonist."

"It was, needless to say, a complete surprise," said Perry.

"There won't be any jam sessions at Rideau Hall, to my knowledge, but this will be a chance for me to relax and enjoy."

'Jazz resonated with me very early'

Perry, 74, has music in his bloodline. His father was prominent western Canadian band leader Paul Perry.

Perry spent his childhood surrounded by musicians, and soon became enthralled with the sounds that emanated from his father's jam sessions.

"Jazz resonated with me very early. I knew it was something special."

"When I was very young,  I was asked, well my father didn't ask, he ordered me to play in his dance band in Sylvan Lake at Varsity Hall and it required playing clarinet and saxophone.

"It came to me real early. Even our sewing machine was a Singer."

'It requires dedication' 

Since those early days in his father's bandstand, Perry went on to carve out his own path in Canada's music industry.

He's shared the stage with Michel LeGrand, Ray Charles, Henry Mancini, Aretha Franklin, and Dizzy Gillespie, just to name a few. And he has earned critical acclaim for his work as a solo artist and as a member of The Rob McConnell Tentet. 

Winner of a 1993 Juno Award for Best Jazz Recording for his album "My Ideal," Perry was given Jazz Report magazine's Critic's Choice Award for Best Alto Sax for seven years in a  row.

Perry says, even after so many decades, his musical career remains a labour of love.

"When you're trying to master anything, it requires dedication, and a lot of work and a lot of time and patience. And for people like myself with perfectionist tendencies, it can be frustrating at times," Perry said. 

"The good news is that if you persevere, and love what you're doing enough to persevere, then there comes a time when it turns from frustration to a very high form of communication with the external world."  


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.