McGill University’s $200,000 Improv Workshop Project takes on life of its own, says Jean-Michel Pilc

When jazz pianist Jean-Michel Pilc joined McGill University’s Schulich School of Music in 2015, he discovered that being a professor additionally meant making use of for peer-reviewed grants.

“I said, ‘That’s not exactly the thing that I know best how to do. But I’ll try,’” recollects Pilc, 58, who was born in France after which spent twenty years enjoying and educating in New York City earlier than shifting to Montreal.

Pilc formulated a proposal, enlisted the assistance of an expert grant author, and utilized to the Fonds de Récherche du Québec – Société et tradition. The fund’s assessors appreciated what they noticed and awarded Pilc’s mission $200,000.

“I was surprised as you are,” Pilc says. “I was elated and surprised and also a bit scared, because right now, I have to deliver the goods.”

Outside of academia, Pilc is internationally famend in jazz circles for his boldly unfettered and virtuosic music-making, often in solo or trio contexts.

However, the purpose of his analysis mission — dubbed the Improv Workshop Project, or IWP — is to check how a bigger ensemble of seven or eight individuals can “find ways to make great music that’s not planned in advance at all, or very little.”

The IWP is coming into the third of its three years and can carry out in Montreal Thursday night time at Le Ministère (4521 Boul. Saint-Laurent) as half of L’Off Festival de Jazz de Montréal. The mission additionally regularly performs at Resonance Café on Tuesday nights, and its upcoming gigs there are on Oct. 29 and Nov. 12.

The mission attracts from a various group of about 50 musicians, Pilc says. Along with him, key gamers are fellow McGill jazz professors Kevin Dean, who often performs trumpet in a hard-bop type, and alto saxophonist Rémi Bolduc, who’s equally at residence enjoying swinging jazz within the type of Oscar Peterson or intricately plotted, even mathematical music. McGill music college students and up to date alumni, naturally, are concerned within the mission en masse. Occasionally, particular friends take part, comparable to New York vocalist Elisabeth Kontomanou, who will sing with the mission Thursday.

In the previous, saxophonist Sam Newsome and violinist Meg Okura, each U.S. musicians, have joined the IWP.

One of the spurs for Pilc’s mission was his disinterest in jazz that strikes him as overly pre-conceived.

“My frustration when I listen to most of modern jazz is that things tend to be very controlled,” he says. “The compositions are very advanced usually — tons of odd meters, unique chord progressions and so forth — and other people have a tendency to write down rather a lot earlier than they even step foot on stage.

“Even although the gamers could be implausible and the music could be nice, I at all times feels there’s something that I personally am on the lookout for in music and I don’t discover in that kind of state of affairs as a listener.”

Pilc says he’s removed from the primary individual to plumb free music, made with out written materials to lean on. But he says that he wished to keep away from “what I name free jazz, which suggests individuals make all types of noises and there may be not a lot melody and rhythm or if there may be, it may be a bit chaotic, all people performs on a regular basis and in the identical time.

“I wished to go and see how by improvising utterly with such a bunch of individuals, we may create one thing that sounds actually like a composition, like one thing that really may have been written beforehand.”

With prepared collaborators, Pilc has met on roughly a weekly foundation, recording classes on video to scrutinize the method after the warmth of the second. Participants hold journals of their experiences, including one other dimension to the mission. All features of the mission are posted at its web site,

Most of the mission’s contributors, whereas familiar with jazz enjoying, are much less acquainted with totally improvised enjoying. Pilc counts himself amongst them. “To be quite honest with you, until recent years, I was myself scared to do it,” he says.

“But it’s attention-grabbing, these individuals are going to wish to uncover one thing about themselves that they didn’t know earlier than. They’re going to take part to the collective ‘writing,’ within the second, which in my thoughts is what this mission is about.

“I name it paperless on the spot composition if you wish to be extra particular,” he says.

In the autumn of 2018, a yr after the mission was launched, it landed the common gig at Resonance Cafe. “We got lucky,” Pilc says. “That changed completely the course of the project to me, because playing live every other week changed completely the spirit.”

So far, the mission has yielded a number of massive discoveries, Pilc says.

The first is that the mission “has a personality, almost like it was a person,” regardless of who’s collaborating, he says.

“There is this thing that transcends the musicians who are contributing, an interesting phenomenon of a certain mental state, that tends to instil itself, no matter who the musicians are.”

Secondly, Pilc says the mission has helped him rediscover the significance of the probably the most primary fundamentals of music.

“We had to use very simple techniques and ideas so that the music would really work,” he says.

“The easier the unique concept, the higher the music, in the way in which…Even if the music finally ends up being very advanced, the unique concept on the core of that music was easy.

“Simple melodies, easy rhythms, easy chords, easy concepts… easy something. Simplicity results in readability, I believe,” Pilc says.

He continues: “My objective for the final yr of this mission will probably be to go towards much more simplicity. To make music that’s even clearer, that’s much more clear, that’s much less encumbered by pointless litter or overplaying of you already know, simply notes.

“I believe we’re on the proper path to that. I’m pleased with the place we’re going and what we’re exploring.”

Improvisation Workshop Project at L’Off Festival
Featuring Jean-Michel Pilc, Kevin Dean, and Rémi Bolduc, and Elisabeth Kontomanou

When: Thursday, Oct. 10, eight p.m.
Where: Le Ministère, 4521 Boul. St-Laurent, Montréal
Admission: $30, $20 for college students, seniors 65 and older
Musicians: Jean-Michel Pilc (piano), Kevin Dean (trumpet), Rémi Bolduc (alto saxophone), Élisabeth Kontomanou (voice). Claire Devlin (tenor saxophone), Pierre Mendola (flute), Ananda Suddath (guitar), Mike de Masi (bass), Louis-Vincent Hamel (drums)

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