Playing with fire

Local jazz pianist Will Bonness has become a city staple since first performing 10 years ago

Today Wolseley, tomorrow the world: Jazz pianist and U of M grad Will Bonness first began performing in the city 10 years ago. He completed his debut album Subtle Fire last fall.

Will Bonness lives and breathes music.

For the past six years, the local jazz pianist has been one of the mainstays at the Cool Monday Night Hang, a weekly jazz jam session which currently takes place at the Orbit Room on Pembina.

Bonness, like many of his contemporaries, began his career at a young age. The 24-year-old first made the decision to focus on jazz at the age of 13, after enduring several years of classical piano lessons. Forming a trio with some friends, he travelled around Winnipeg with a demo tape trying to score gigs.

“I didn’t know immediately that I wanted to make it a career, but I knew it was something I wanted to pursue pretty far,” Bonness said.

His persistence paid off and soon he was getting professional jobs.

When he was just 17, Bonness, still fresh from high school, got a call to join legendary Canadian trumpeter Maynard Ferguson on the road, an enormous opportunity for such a young performer.

Since then Bonness has continued to live in Manitoba, graduating with a Bachelor of Music from the U of M’s Jazz Studies program last year.

After graduating, he decided to spend the summer in New York City and try to see what other people in his field were doing south of the border.

“It was just an all-around checking-out-the-scene kind of experience,” Bonness said. “I just learned a lot and absorbed a lot about music.”

Following his return to Winnipeg, he went into the studio to record his acclaimed debut album, Subtle Fire, with seasoned jazz musicians Steve Kirby on bass and Terreon Gully on drums.

“They ended up bringing totally their own thing into the music,” said Bonness, referring to the highly improvisational nature of the art form.

Bonness will be featured in an upcoming concert at the Park Theatre as part of Jazz Winnipeg’s Nu Sounds Series.

He says that the March 14 show will incorporate everything from world to hip-hop beats, along with some charts from his new album. Joining him on stage will be drummer Curtis Nowosad and bassist Julian Bradford.

Bonness hopes that this current musical configuration might continue to perform together in a trio format.

“As far as chemistry goes, there certainly is a lot of that, because we’re all so familiar with each other’s playing,” he said.

At the moment, Bonness’s plans for the future are not set in stone, but one thing’s for sure: he’s just getting warmed up.

“Right now, the mindset I’m in is that I just want to keep progressing as much as possible as a musician.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 11, 2010)

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