Jon Ballantyne

Jon (William) Ballantyne. Pianist, composer, b Prince Albert, Sask, 8 Oct 1963.

Ballantyne, Jon

Jon (William) Ballantyne. Pianist, composer, b Prince Albert, Sask, 8 Oct 1963. Raised in Saskatoon, he was introduced to jazz by his father, Fred, a pianist, took classical training 1973-81 from Maisie Calverly, and briefly attended Mohawk College in Hamilton, then North Texas State U 1982-5 and the Banff Centre for the Arts Jazz Workshop in 1981, 1984, and 1985. Ballantyne accompanied many leading US jazz musicians at North Texas State University and for Saskatoon Jazz Society presentations. Settling in Montreal in 1986, he was laureate of the Concours de Jazz de Montreal at the 1986 Festival international de jazz de Montréal (leading to an appearance at the Paris Jazz Festival that year) and toured briefly in 1987 with the Woody Herman Orchestra.

Ballantyne's quick rise among Canadian jazz musicians of his generation was assisted by his association with the US tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson: he appeared with Henderson in the USA and Japan in 1989 and in Finland in 1990. Henderson in turn toured the Canadian jazz festival circuit with Ballantyne in 1990. Ballantyne's record Skydance, with Henderson as a guest, received the 1989 Juno Award for jazz album of the year. Ballantyne, who brings confident technique, vivid imagination, and a substantial sense of the jazz piano tradition to what is at root a bebop-based style, also made club appearances in Montreal (eg, Biddles) and Toronto and in 1990 performed in Britain. His recorded compositions of that period included Miss U Miss Q, Clarke-Works, Skydance, and BYO Blues. Marian McPartland featured him on her US National Public Radio show in 1990; it was rebroadcast by CBC.

Career after 1990

Ballantyne embarked on a period of free-form playing after recording A Musing (JUST 39-2) in 1991 with Paul Bley. After studying in New York on a Canada Council grant, he moved permanently to that city in 1993, playing sessions with New York jazz artists and exploring new musical avenues. He continued to record in Canada: in 1994, for Justin Time, as leader on The Loose (JUST 65-2) with drummer Billy Hart and bassist Drew Gress; and, with the same ensemble in 1995 in Toronto, Trio Live for NY Jam. By his own admission, he had begun again to play some standards (although concentrating on a fresh sound) in these recordings. Skydance was reissued on compact disc (JUST 30-2) in 1995. Subsequent recordings were Known Unknown (NY Jam, 1998) with Gress and drummer Gene Jackson; and Round Again (NY Jam, 2000), in which Ballantyne explored the musical opportunities offered by the absence of time signatures.

Ballantyne began to appear frequently at European festivals, touring Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Sweden, and the UK 1995-99. He has appeared often at the Stockholm Jazz Festival and has performed as far afield as Japan, Israel, and Korea. His Canadian appearances have included a concert with Bley at the Halifax Jazz Festival 1994, a Canadian tour the same year (including the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival) and another in 1999, a solo concert in Ottawa 1996, and appearances at the JVC Jazz Festival in Toronto 1998-99. He has led workshops at McGill University, the University of Toronto, and Concordia University. Frequent appearances in the USA have included the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and university and club dates in Los Angeles, New York, Colorado and elsewhere.

As sideman, Ballantyne has appeared on recordings by Chris Carroll (for Invisible Music) and Kent Sangster (for Calgary's Jazz Focus Records). As of 2004, Ballantyne continued to be based in New York and was leading a quartet, recording, and appearing at the Rochester Jazz Festival and like events.

Awards and Recognition

Ballantyne has been compared to the jazz pianists Oscar Peterson and Paul Bley. He has received the Down Beat magazine award (1985) for outstanding individual performance, and a recognition award from the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. His Jazz Improvisation No. 1 is taught in Saskatchewan schools, and is featured on the recording A Love of the Music: Prairie Variations. The Bravo television network featured the pianist in its documentary series Jazz in the Key of Eh!

Discography

Trio Jon Ballantyne. Vivian double-bass, Clarke drums. 1987. Jazzimage JZ-111

Skydance. Henderson tenor saxophone, Swainson double-bass, Fuller drums. 1988. Justin Time JUST-30

A Musing. Bley piano, Laing drums. 1991. Justin Time JUST-39 -2 (CD)

The Loose. Gress double bass, Hart drums. 1994. Justin Time JUST 65-2

Trio Live. Gress double bass, Hart drums. 1995. NY Jam

Known Unknown. Gress double bass, Jackson drums. 1998. NY Jam 1197

Round Again. Quintet. 2000. NY Jam

As Sideman

John Nugent Did I Tell You ... Nugent tenor saxophone, Swainson double-bass, Fuller drums. 1990. Unity UTY-119


Further Reading

  • Sutherland, Greg. 'Jon Ballantyne: back to the future,' The Jazz Report, vol 3, Dec-Jan 1989-90

    Hadekel, Peter. 'Bully for Ballantyne: pianist finding humor in music,' Montreal Gazette, 18 Apr 1994

    Borshuk, Michael. "Sights and sounds north of the 49th parallel: Canadian jazz piano on video," Coda Magazine, March/April 2000

    Miller, Mark. The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada (Toronto 2001)