Meet Alexander Gonzalez & Jonah Gaulin
2021 Keith Smith Scholarship Recipients
JazzYYC is excited to announce the recipients of the 2021 Keith Smith Scholarship, Alexander Gonzalez and Jonah Gaulin!
The Keith Smith Scholarship is the primary education award of JazzYYC of $1000 per recipient and is juried upon record of achievement, participation in the Youth Lab Band, and excellence in performance. Keith Smith was an outstanding musician, a fine person, and a key figure in the jazz scene in Calgary for many years. JazzYYC is proud of Alexander and Jonah and the legacy this scholarship holds in his name.
Keith Smith Scholarship recipient Jonha Gaulin eats, sleeps & breathes jazz, “When people ask me: “What do you do in your spare time?” The answer is: Jazz, “What do you do for hobbies?” Jazz. “What do you like to do for fun?” Jazz. It’s not very varied, but it’s consistent” Jonah laughs. Enrolled in piano lessons aged 5 at the suggestion of his maternal grandparents, Jonah immediately took to the instrument, sitting at his small, rent-to-own plastic keyboard sounding out the songs he heard on the radio. By age 11 Jonah was searching for an alternative to the systemic testing environment of classical piano and came across PostModern Jukebox, an ensemble that covers new songs in various jazz styles. He’d heard his first jazz riff and was instantly infatuated with the genre.
At his next piano lesson, Jonah showed the jazz video to his piano teacher, Bronwyn Schuman,
who in turn introduced him to a lead-sheet – a reduced score that jazz musicians can use as a basis to learn jazz standards. He immediately fell in love with the creative freedom offered by this; it did not mandate that he follow the written notes on the page, instead allowing Jonah to interpret the melodies in any way he could imagine. A class where his teacher brought in jazz bass player, Steve Shepard to play jazz standards with him sealed the deal and 12 year old Jonah knew he had to pursue jazz as his career.
Over the next few years, Jonah immersed himself in the jazz world in any way he could, attending weekly jam sessions at Ka’wa and jazz summer camp at Mount Royal University where he was placed in the top ensemble. During high school, Jonah transferred out of the district to attend Dr. E.P. Scarlett High School, known for its stellar jazz program. One of his favourite live music performance memories to date is from when he was in his high school’s jazz combo, they had won gold and best high school jazz combo at the Alberta International Band Festival (AIBF), and were invited to play in the lobby of Jack Singer concert Hall to open for the Count Basie Orchestra, Jonah recalls: “And after the show, we got to meet them (The Count Basie Orchestra) and oh my gosh I get goosebumps thinking about that.”
In grade 11 Jonah joined the JazzYYC Youth Lab Band first on bass and then in grade 12 he progressed to playing piano for them. Now about to enter his second year of studies at McGill University in Montreal majoring in Jazz performance for piano with a minor in Music entrepreneurship Jonah’s future looks bright. Along with the varied performance opportunities his program affords him he plans on starting a Klezmer ensemble with his tuba player roommate. The Keith Smith Scholarship will be a huge help as he progresses in his studies.
Alexander Gonzalez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and moved to Canada at nine months old. At age four his Dad enrolled him and his brother into the Yamaha School of Music for group piano lessons as well as the Royal Conservatory of Music for private lessons where he has currently reached level 9 and is pursuing the ARCT diploma. Although his parents don’t play instruments, Alexander says his Dad is a huge music lover, and enrolling his children in piano lessons was his way of giving them the opportunities that he did not have growing up to play music. Some of Alexander’s fondest live music memories are going to see the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra at The Jack Singer with his parents.
While classical piano was Alexander’s focus for the majority of his musical journey, about three years ago he began to explore the world of jazz. He says he was “looking for that language that captures how I love music” and jazz is where he found it. With the use of Mark Levine books and listening to the music of the jazz greats, he began to teach himself. He cites Bill Evans as his biggest jazz influence stating, “Bill Evans absolutely changed how I saw the piano and how I saw music for sure”.
Soon after this Alexander joined the Ambrose Jazz Camp where he met pianist and composer Michelle Gregoire who not only provided him with invaluable advice and resources but also encouraged him to join the JazzYYC Youth Lab Band. Alexander describes the Youth Lab Band as having “changed my life, providing me with a vibrant community of Jazz musicians and instructors.” A highlight of 2021 for Alexander was recording a performance with the JazzYYC Youth Lab Band for the 2021 TD International Jazz Days festival and he looks forward to performing in front of an actual audience on JazzYYC’s first outdoor stage in their summer festival this year (August 19 – 22).
In September Alexander will embark upon studies in Philosophy and Music at The University of Calgary and hopes to go on to pursue further studies in Jazz Performance. He is grateful for the opportunities the Youth Lab Band, Michelle Gregoire, and John Day have afforded him including the JazzYYC lab band scholarship, the Bob Allen Scholarship, a scholarship from Michelle Gregiore, and now, the Keith Smith Memorial Scholarship which will allow him to continue to attend private jazz instruction classes.View more news