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From a shy teen with a desire to make music to an acclaimed, globe-traveling jazz artist, Jocelyn Gould has journeyed far. As a high school student growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Jocelyn Gould knew nothing of jazz or of the great guitarists — Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell — whose work she would someday study and, in her way, seek to emulate. Back then, all Gould knew was the folk-rock songs favored by her parents. “And you can’t really play those songs without a guitar,” she laughs, speaking by phone from her Toronto apartment in October. “So I had to learn guitar just to sing them.
“I was really shy about the guitar,” she continues. “I never left the house with it. I was almost secretive about the fact that I even played it, even though it was a big part of my life and kind of how I was spending a lot of my free time in high school.”
Sitting in her bedroom, working to replicate the sounds of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and others in the folk-rock pantheon as well as, later, the elemental blues of B.B. King and T-Bone Walker, a secret desire began to form in Gould’s heart and mind. “I had these deep-down wishes to be a musician, but I didn’t know a single professional musician,” she says. “It was just not something that I even knew it was possible to be. I didn’t know it was something I could realistically do with my life.”
While studying science at the University of Manitoba, Gould finally encountered jazz. “I had two friends who had joined this brand-new jazz program at the University of Manitoba as students. They were just loving it, and I started going to jam sessions. I just got completely hooked and thought, ‘I really want to do this myself.’ It was so much fun and such a great community. I just did a complete 180, and started taking guitar lessons. I auditioned for the program and got accepted.”
Rapidly, a new world opened up before Gould’s incredulous ears and eyes. She began immersing herself in a vast ocean of jazz recordings. One of them, Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio’s Smokin’ at the Half Note, slayed her then and still does now. “I listened to that album in my car for, like, a year,” she recalls, “and that was it!”
Heavy traces of Montgomery’s warm, cleanly articulated sound and soulful brilliance resonate in Gould’s own recordings, the first of which, Elegant Traveler, much to the guitarist’s surprise and delight, won a Juno Award (often referred to as a Canadian version of a Grammy) in 2021 for Jazz Album of the Year — Solo. Her second and most recent effort, the self-produced and independently released Golden Hour, is yet another sterling 10-track outing featuring a predominance of Gould’s own strikingly melodic and tradition-bound compositions augmented by a handful of Songbook standards. A sturdy, steadily swinging piano-bass-drums rhythm section complements Gould throughout both albums, except for a couple of solo-guitar numbers. On Golden Hour, she adds vocalese and singing to three tracks — most prominently on a reflective version of the Willard Robinson/Larry Conley chestnut “A Cottage for Sale” — highlighting a plaintive, lovely set of pipes.
Gould is now very much the professional musician she once dreamed of becoming. In addition to staying busy on the vibrant Toronto jazz scene and gigging at a far-flung assortment of clubs and festivals — she’s toured internationally with the bands of vocalist Freddy Cole and trumpeter Etienne Charles — Gould is a professor and head of the guitar department at Toronto’s Humber College. She has already recorded the music for her next album — a straight-ahead, dual-guitar date with her former teacher Randy Napoleon — set for release next year.
These days, she says, “I mostly have dreams about how I would love to be playing the guitar. My thought has always been that if I’m really doing my best on the instrument, the rest will work itself out. I’d be very happy if I could just play for the rest of my life.” — David Pulizzi https://open.spotify.com/album/3fScft2X7UDyzxP1usBS5q?si=cBbccwYhScy9mKETxbJIRA
Photo by Katherine Kwan.