Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2012: Robert Glasper

Jimmy Greene: Thriving on a Riff

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Jimmy Greene’s powerful saxophone and big heart have been a part of Winnipeg’s music scene for the last two and a half years. He can be heard at numerous venues around the city but his presence is felt most at the University of Manitoba where he teaches jazz saxophone and jazz composition and arranging, and directs the jazz orchestra. Since his arrival in 2009 Jimmy has played a valuable role in inspiring and developing Winnipeg’s current generation of jazz musicians.

In reality, Jimmy is paying forward his own good fortune. Born in Hartford, CT, Jimmy grew up under the watchful eye of legendary saxophonist Jackie McLean. McLean grew up in Harlem in the 1940s and was playing with the likes of Miles Davis and Art Blakey by the time he was 19. McLean eventually moved to Hartford, and in 1980 founded the jazz studies program at the University of Hartford. Jimmy attended that program in the 1990s and recognizes McLean as “a huge influence on my outlook on jazz music, my philosophy of playing and teaching jazz. I seriously doubt I’d be doing the things I’m doing if I had never met him.”

Over the last two decades Jimmy has built an impressive and well-respected name for himself in the jazz world. In 1996, he was the first runner up in the Thelonious Monk Competition, one of the most prestigious jazz competitions in the world. He has performed regularly with a slew of great players, ranging from legends such as Horace Silver and Freddie Hubbard to some of today’s top players like Lewis Nash and Avishai Cohen.

This past fall, Jimmy completed his Masters in Music Education from Boston University, a program he did mostly through distance learning. It was, as he puts it, “a huge undertaking, with a lot of late nights and really early mornings,” but it allowed him to explore “different areas like philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history as they relate to music education.” His position at the U of M gave him tangible experience to ground all the theory. “I think it was very helpful for me as a teacher,” he says, “and very helpful for me as a scholar too—I really learned a lot about research.”

On top of his teaching and coursework, Jimmy also traveled more in the fall semester than he has since he arrived. In September, he did a live recording at The Cellar in Vancouver as part of Lewis Nash’s band. In early November, he travelled to Japan to perform with a big band led by Nash and famous Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino. Almost as soon as he returned from Japan, he boarded a plane to Brazil where he was the featured guest soloist with the Amazonas Band, a regional state-sponsored big band. Jimmy reports that he had a blast performing all the authentic samba repertoire—and he thoroughly enjoyed the tambaqui, a native fish which he ate every day.

Jimmy recently received a Creative Works Grant from the University of Manitoba, and on Thursday, January 19, he will perform a concert of new music at the Park Theatre. His band includes Larry Roy, Karl Kohut, David Restivo, and Quincy Davis, and the music is “very much gospel, R&B, and funk.” The evening will feature electronic instruments, so we’ll have a chance to hear Jimmy on the EWI, an electronic wind instrument.

As a student in the Jazz Studies program, I know how fortunate we are to have Jimmy Greene at the school and in the community. I’m happy to report that Jimmy also holds Winnipeg in high regard. He says, “I honestly feel like I have met some of the warmest and most welcoming, generous people that I’ve ever met here in Winnipeg. That’s what’s sustained me and my family—the warmth and the inclusiveness of the people we’ve met here.”

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