Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2011: David Braid

Ron Halldorson

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Guitarist Ron Halldorson is a bit of a Winnipeg legend. Now in his sixties, Ron was born and raised here in Winnipeg, and has been playing music professionally for almost his entire life.  Over the last several years I have come to know Ron, both musically and personally, and his story is a fascinating one!

Ron’s musical journey began at age seven, when a man offering Hawaiian guitar lessons came to his door. For a few years it was his parents who kept him moving with music, but at age eleven he heard a new sound: the pedal steel guitar. Ron credits the sound of that relatively new instrument with drawing him into the music world. Within a year he was playing weekends out of town with a local country band.

By this point Ron realized that he wanted to play music for a career. He had been listening to jazz for a while, and since pedal steel didn’t really have a presence in the jazz world, he began learning guitar. At the Normandy Dance Hall on Sherbrook Street, different dance bands would play each night, and by his last year of high school, Ron was in every band, playing six nights a week.

After high school Ron spent time on the road and in the city, and got to know most of the musicians on the scene, one of whom was guitar legend Lenny Breau. Ron and Lenny became good friends. The two of them would get together and jam—Lenny on guitar and Ron on steel. At the time, Lenny had a regular gig with pianist Bob Erlendson at the Stage Door, a local jazz club. Lenny invited Ron to come and sit in, effectively launching the electric bass phase of his career.

During the 60s, Lenny was doing a lot of work with the CBC, both as a session player and hosting his own shows. Ron would play with him, and when Lenny left to focus on other musical pursuits, Ron became the go-to session player. His busy studio career lasted over twenty years.

In the mid 90s, when recording work finally began slowing down and many of his associates left, Ron was feeling somewhat disenchanted. Free from the obligations of the studio, he began to immerse himself in jazz guitar again, practicing and playing more then he had in years. This was a turning point for him—he dubs it his “musical renaissance.”

I first met Ron about five years ago. He agreed to play a gig with me and, although I was wildly inexperienced at the time, was nothing but encouraging. I’ve played often with him over the past few years, and those opportunities have been some of the most musically fulfilling for me. I owe a lot of my musical development to him.

When you listen to Ron play, you’re hearing a master musician at work. To me, Ron’s deep groove and understated lyricism on the guitar are a reflection of his warm character and kindness. What a treasure we have here among us!

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