Manitoba

Jazz is 'not about competition,' says Juno-nominated Winnipeg musician Jon Gordon

Winnipeg alto saxophonist Jon Gordon feels like he's in good company among his fellow nominees in the best solo jazz album category at this year's Juno Awards.

Gordon, fellow U of M faculty member Will Bonness both nominated for best solo jazz album

Jon Gordon is nominated for the 2022 Juno Award for best solo jazz album. (Sean Jackman/Submitted by Jon Gordon)

Winnipeg alto saxophonist Jon Gordon feels like he's in good company among his fellow nominees in the best solo jazz album category at this year's Juno Awards.

The nominees include two of his friends — his University of Manitoba faculty colleague Will Bonness and Toronto-based saxophonist Jesse Ryan.

"Honestly, I'm going to be happy for anybody. I kind of feel like the nomination is the win," Gordon said in an interview with Marcy Markusa, host of CBC Manitoba morning radio show Information Radio.

Born in New York City, Gordon has received recognition from music publications and fellow musicians, including legends like Wayne Shorter and Phil Woods, as one of the best players of his instrument.

Rather than accept the accolades, Gordon echoes the sentiment jazz pianist and band leader Jon Batiste expressed when he accepted the award for album of the year at the Grammys last month: he doesn't think there is such a thing as the "best" musician.

"He said, you know, competition in any art form is — it's really not about competition," Gordon said.

"What you hope is you can make some work that you feel proud of, that is inspirational to other people, and it's part of the art form moving — that the art itself is moving forward."

Gordon received the nomination for his album Stranger Than Fiction, which features 10 tracks, all composed by Gordon and covering a wide range of styles, often within the same song.

"Pointilism," the album's second track, begins softly, with individual instruments from Gordon's nonet popping in, one over the other, building to a free-flowing cacophony over a minute before cutting out. The next section begins with rapid-fire cymbal and snare taps from drummer Fabio Ragnelli, followed by an extended solo by Gordon.

The whole song wraps up in three minutes and thirty-one seconds, much shorter than the average modern jazz tune.

"Sonny Rollins talks about when he gets beyond thinking and he's just kind of in the moment and reacting," Gordon said.

"You're just kind of being, and I think ideally that's what you want it to be, where you can really react to the other musicians around you."

Gordon knew he wanted to play an instrument from an early age.

"Every year they kept putting me in the choir and I kept having to sing Climb Every Mountain and all the greatest hits from Sound of Music. You'd really get a little tired of it," he said.

"But finally, in sixth grade, I got to middle school and I got the saxophone and I was thrilled."

The nomination of faculty and graduates like himself and Bonness, as well as last year's winner in the same category, guitarist Jocelyn Gould, shows the strength of the University of Manitoba jazz program, Gordon said. 

"I do take pride in that," he said.

Bonness played piano on Gordon's album, while Gordon appears on Bonness's album Change of Plans.

Other Manitoba artists up for Junos this year include pop singer Faouzia, born in Morocco and raised in Carman, in the breakthrough artist category, and Christian music group The Color, from Winkler and Plum Coulee, in the contemporary Christian album of the year category for the album No Greater Love

The 2022 Juno Awards ceremony in Toronto is on Sunday, starting at 7 p.m. CT.

With files from Jim Agapito and Cameron MacLean

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