Jocelyn Gould hopes her beginner’s luck hasn’t worn off.
The Winnipeg guitarist’s debut album, Elegant Traveler, earned a Juno Award nomination for Jazz Album of the Year on March and is one of seven nominees that will represent Manitoba in ceremonies that will be held Friday and Sunday evenings in Toronto.
"I was not expecting my first album to get nominated," she says. "I thought maybe my third or fourth album could get nominated, so I was surprised."
Elegant Traveler came out March 20, 2020, right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Juno recognition helped salve the wounds of lost opportunities. Gould had to cancel about 100 concert dates across North America and Europe last year that she had fit into her schedule as a professor at Humber College in Toronto and head of its guitar department.
"Everywhere from Germany to Alaska to Miami that I was going to do over the course of 2020 and, of course, none of them ended up taking place, so that was pretty challenging," she says.
Gould performed in many choirs while growing up in Winnipeg and began playing guitar to accompany her singing.
“I was not expecting my first album to get nominated. I thought maybe my third or fourth album could get nominated, so I was surprised.” — Jocelyn Gould
She continued with the guitar, initially taking inspiration from blues greats such as B.B. King and Freddy King before making the jump to jazz after listening to Wes Montgomery’s intricate six-string melodies from the 1950s and ‘60s.
"Somebody introduced me to the record Smokin’ at the Half Note and I had that CD in my car for a whole year straight," Gould says of the record that has influenced generations of guitarists since its release in 1965. "I just got hooked and there was no going back."
Her recent musical journey has had Gould zig-zagging across North America. She left Winnipeg to study music at Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich., where she received her masters degree in 2018. She spent the next year in New York, the epicentre of jazz, composing songs and getting used to the concert scene while connecting with fellow musicians who would eventually accompany her on Elegant Traveler.
"New York is so special because you can go out any night of the week and see so many of your heroes play, interact with them and play with them if you’re lucky," she says.
It also connected her with her present job, thanks to a chance encounter at a New York jazz club, when she and the dean of Humber ended up at the same jam session.
"He phones me a few months later to tell me that a position had opened and was wondering if I was interested in applying, which I was. I was ready to take a step into educating at a more serious level."
The pandemic has also affected Gould’s teaching career. Her classes have switched to Zoom, the video-conferencing app, and she found she could teach those just as easily back home in Winnipeg as she could in Toronto.
Working with students’ jazz-improvisation skills while adapting to their varying speeds of internet access has changed Gould’s instruction methods.
"(Music) is probably one of the hardest disciplines to teach online — and throw on the fact we teach improvised music," she says. "With the current technology, there are still latency issues. We’ve had to be resourceful and creative and it’s been challenging for sure, but rewarding to think outside of the box."
This year marks the Junos’ 50th anniversary, and organizers had plans for a big gala in Toronto. For the second consecutive year, though, the awards will presented online, with the vast majority of them being handed out Friday night. The event can be viewed on a livestream at junoawards.ca starting at 7 p.m., Winnipeg time.
Event previewClick to Expand
● Friday, 7 p.m.
● Stream at junoawards.ca
● Sunday, 7 p.m.
The final six awards, along with special performances from the Tragically Hip and Feist, Justin Bieber, Maestro Fresh Wes, and Manitoba singer-songwriter William Prince, will be handed out Sunday at 7 p.m. on CBC. The event will include Jann Arden’s induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Prince, who hails from Peguis First Nation but lives in Winnipeg, earned a Juno nomination for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year for his 2020 album Reliever, the first of two records he released last year.
Also up for Junos are Winnipeg singer-songwriter Steve Bell, whose album Wouldn’t You Love to Know earned a nod for Contemporary Christian Album of the Year; the Winnipeg duo Burnstick, who received a nomination for Indigenous Artist of Group of the Year; and Begonia, the city songstress whose album Fear is up for the Adult Alternative Album of the Year.
Two former Manitobans with long ties to the Junos are also up for Canadian music’s top prize. Violin virtuoso James Ehnes, who grew up in Brandon but now lives in Florida, received two nominations in classical music categories, while former Winnipegger Neil Young is up for Rock Album of the Year, for the album Colorado, which he released in 2020 with longtime backing band Crazy Horse.
Gould’s record has also earned her a nomination for a Western Canadian Music Award, which will be handed out next February here in Winnipeg.
There’s a twist though. Also nominated in that category is Winnipeg pianist Will Bonness for his 2020 album Change of Plans. Bonness is Gould’s partner, and she sang on a few songs on the record.
"Somebody made a joke that we’re like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, we’re going to have to poison each other," Gould says with a laugh, referring to the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt film where the two actors portrayed married assassins. "It’s really fun to be both up for the same award."
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.