Jazz legend Oliver Jones gives another 'last' performance after community centre renamed in his honour

Oliver Jones has performed around the world for the past 77 years — from Canada, to Nigeria, to Barbados — but he's never away from Little Burgundy for long.

Jones says 'I'm retiring, it's time,' but not before performing in his home neighbourhood of Little Burgundy

Oliver Jones performed at a concert in his home neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, Saturday, Sept. 16. (CBC)

Oliver Jones has performed around the world for the past 77 years — from Canada, to Nigeria, to Barbados — but he's never away from his Little Burgundy stomping grounds for long.

This weekend, a Little Burgundy community centre, the Sainte-Cunegonde Social Centre, was renamed in his honour followed by an outdoor concert Saturday.

The show was hosted by Kim Richardson and Charles Biddle Jr., and featured performances by Jones himself, Skipper Dean, Daniel Clarke Bouchard and Trevor Payne's Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.

"This is probably the nicest and most meaningful to me because it's right at home, right on the street that I grew up the first seven years of my life," Jones said at the concert.

Trevor Payne’s Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir at the Little Burgundy concert. (CBC)

The centre is on the corner of Dominion and Workman streets. There is also a mural of Jones painted in 2014 on the corner of Lionel-Groulx Avenue and Georges-Vanier Boulevard. 

"There's no place like coming home and especially Montreal."

The 83-year-old said there were familiar faces at the event, dating back to when he was five years old, and there were people Jones has been a mentor to. 

'A great friendship'

Mentees included 17-year-old Montreal piano prodigy Daniel Clarke Bouchard, who met Jones at the Orford Academy of Music when he was seven years old and now considers him a mentor.

"We kept a relationship that built into a great friendship," Bouchard, who is attending the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, said after his performance.

"It's really changed my whole career, being able to be around him and have my career progress with his watchful eye."

Daniel Clarke Bouchard, 17, performing at a concert honouring Montreal jazz legend Oliver Jones (CBC)

While on stage, Jones invited Bouchard to his side, saying, "I'm so very, very proud of what he has accomplished and I know that he'll go on to be one of Canada's brightest stars."

Fellow Montreal jazz mainstay Skipper Dean was in attendance and counts himself among Jones's childhood friends.

Dean described Jones as a "true human being, he's the best.… He's a star, but he's our friend and we have these luncheons at the end of every month."

Jones's childhood friend, also a Montreal jazz mainstay, Skipper Dean, described his friend as a 'true human being.' (CBC)

Biddle Jr., who co-hosted and performed with Richardson, remembered when Jones would play with his father, Charlie Biddle.

"I was young at the time and I listened, and you were incredibly inspiring to me, with your professionalism, the love and discipline you had for your instrument," said Biddle Jr. 

"You guided me in life."

Jones used to play at Biddle's club in the 1980s, with his first album called Live at Biddles.

'I think it's time'

The legendary pianist also played at Saturday's concert and concluded by saying he was "passing the baton" to the next generations.

"I'm retiring, I think it's time," he said. "I'm hoping that the children realize that there's hope regardless of whether we come from very influential homes or not. That there's always a wonderful, wonderful end if they work hard at it."

Oliver Jones speaks to his protege Daniel Clarke Bouchard on stage in Little Burgundy. (CBC)

Bouchard noted Jones's humility may be what keeps him coming back on stage.

"He's a just a humble person, always appreciates an opportunity to perform, always appreciated people coming to his shows, whether it's five or 5,000."

Dedicated to his community

Southwest Borough Mayor Benoit Dorais also highlighted Jones's commitment to his community.

"You're one of our greats, but you never ever forgot where you come from," Dorais said.

"You always came back … to encourage young people just like you were encouraged when you were young."

The borough organized the event with the help of Youth in Motion, a non-profit organization in Little Burgundy.

Its director, Michael Farkas, called Jones a "an icon, he's a role model for the youth coming up."

"He comes from Little Burgundy, has struggled through Little Burgundy and has visited the world; he's played through the four corners of the Earth."

Oliver Jones waves to the crowd on Workman Street in Little Burgundy, where a concert was held in his honour Saturday, Sept. 16. (CBC)

with files from Simon Nakonechny