Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

July/August 2009: Jimmy Greene

Will Bonness

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Will Bonness has been tearing up the keyboard for a lot of years now. He was touring with Maynard Ferguson’s band when he was still in his teens, playing all over North America, as well as in Europe and Asia. Not yet 24, he has now performed on stages here and afar with some of the most respected jazz musicians in the business—Jon Faddis, Regina Carter, David “Fathead” Newman, Avishai Cohen, Victor Goines, the list goes on. Having just completed the Jazz Studies program at the U of M, he’s spent the past couple of months studying in New York City. I caught up with him there…

How did you get started at the piano?

We had a Steinway in the living room and I was noodling on it at a young age. By the time I was 6 or 7 I wanted to take piano lessons. I started playing jazz in about grade 8. My best friend was a bass player in the school jazz band, and he was wise enough to tell me that I needed to listen to jazz and study it if I wanted to play it well. I ended up buying a few CDs—Diana Krall, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans—and getting into it. He and I and another friend formed a trio and started rehearsing together every week. We actually made a demo tape and went around to various restaurants and bars and asked them if they wanted to hire a jazz group. Our first gig was at the old Bluenote—I think we were still 13 or 14!

What players are really firing you up now?

At the moment, I’m listening to a lot of the younger generation musicians—Aaron Goldberg, Robert Glasper, Aaron Parks. I’ve been into Brad Meldau for ages. I really love Kurt Rosenwinkel, and I’m always into Herbie Hancock. I listen to a lot of older stuff too. And classical music. I’m not too rigid—I just like good music. I listen to a variety of things and try to figure out what I like and what I don’t like.

Tell me about New York City.

Obviously the music scene here is amazing. On any given night, you can go out and see something good. And because there’re so many great musicians living here, you can get lessons and ask questions very easily—it’s easy to get information.

In spite of that, you’re eager to get back to Winnipeg?

Winnipeg is my home town, and my family and friends and musical associates live there, so I have an emotional connection to it. Also, I don’t know if I like this mentality of having to live in New York to make good music. I think you should be able to make world-class music wherever you live or wherever you’re from.

You’ve recently received a couple of major grants to kick-start your career.

I’m in New York through a Canada Council grant for professional musicians. I wanted to study with several pianists here, and I’ve done that and more. It’s been a really important experience.

I also received a grant from Manitoba Film and Sound to put together a piano trio recording with Steve Kirby on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. Larry Roy will be the recording engineer. The piano trio is a classic format for pianists, and I really work well with these guys. We’re doing mostly original compositions, and a couple of standards. Actually, I feel I’ve been sitting on this repertoire for awhile now—it’ll be nice to get all of this music out of my system. I’m ready to get back to composing, figuring out new concepts.

I think I am on the slower end of the spectrum career-wise—I tend to wait and plot and take action in a calculated manner. But when I get there, it’s the right time. I’m happy.

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