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Experience the best teacher, and he has it

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Will Bonness knows the importance of a good teacher.

The new assistant professor of piano in the University of Manitoba faculty of music clearly recognizes that "a lot of jazz is self-discovery. It's a big part of musical development."

That said, "It's really important for the music to have good teachers. That's how the music is transmitted to the next generation.

"I owe a lot to good teachers," going back to Winnipegger Earl MacDonald who "was one of my early influences when I was in high school," Bonness says. MacDonald, a former pianist and musical director in Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band, teaches jazz at the University of Connecticut.

If it seems that Bonness has been around the jazz scene for a longer time than his 26 years would suggest, don't forget he started at 17 by going on a world tour with Ferguson's big band.

Since that run, which saw the teenager perform in celebrated jazz clubs like the Blue Note in New York City and Ronnie Scott's in London, Bonness has completed a music degree in the jazz studies department he's joining; studied in New York and Boston; performed on the road with the likes of violinist Regina Carter, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and guitarist Lionel Loueke; performed in Winnipeg with visiting musicians such as saxophonist Miguel Zenon, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and trumpeter Marcus Printup; released a CD, Subtle Fire; and performed across Canada and locally.

Oh yeah, he's also done sessional teaching work at the U of M and Canadian Mennonite University.

When he starts teaching in the fall, Bonness will be working one-on-one with piano students, coaching student ensembles and likely teaching a jazz theory course.

The largest component of his teaching will be the individual instruction, he said. "That's really important; every student has completely different needs."

Bonness has the mix of academic and performance skills needed for a jazz studies prof. And the job itself allows the "flexibility to do music projects, to network with a lot more people," Bonness says.

"There is a certain amount of flexibility to perform out of town, say, (which) is good for teaching and helps put the university on the map," he adds. In turn professors maintain and enhance their musical skills and keep up contacts that may benefit the school.

Bonness said he applied for the job when it was created three years ago but wasn't ready for it then. New York-based George Colligan won the job competition, but he has since taken a teaching post in Portland, Ore.

"I felt more ready for it now, and was really happy" to get the job, Bonness says. He'll remain a presence on the city's jazz scene and plans a new CD in the next year. "I had a dry spot of composing," he said, but is ready to move on with the project.

-- -- --

If you crave a further taste of the future of local jazz, the U of M Jazz Orchestra, high school bands from Vincent Massey Collegiate and College Jeanne Sauvé and a new ensemble called the U of M Youth Jazz Collective perform on Saturday at West End Cultural Centre in what is planned as an annual event.

Tickets to the 8 p.m. concert are $12, $10 for students.

-- -- --

The Hot Club of Detroit, a Gypsy jazz and swing quintet featuring French vocalist Cyrille Aimee, performs two concerts in the 2012-13 Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series on Nov. 10. A wrong date appeared in an earlier story.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2012 D4

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