Michelle Gregoire
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Michelle Gregoire

Calgary, Alberta, Canada | INDIE | AFM

Calgary, Alberta, Canada | INDIE | AFM
Band Jazz Jazz


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"Winnipeg composer up to musicians’ challenge"

OTTAWA-The sound was a bit muddy and the show was too short, but neither was enough to diminish the power of the performance.

Really, why should they have?

When you mix one of Canada’s most intriguing jazz composers with some of the country’s best jazz musicians, it requires more than a few technical limitations imposed by CBC Radio recording engineers to ruin the music’s reception by an appreciative audience.

Winnipeg pianist Michelle Gregoire and the rest of her top-notch quintet — saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ted Warren — officially kickstarted the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival Thursday afternoon with a dynamic concert of Gregoire originals.

“I know these guys can execute, so it pushes me to write more challenging material,” Gregoire told the audience gathered at Library & Archives Canada.

Throughout a wide-ranging roughly 50-minute set mostly of music from Gregoire’s new album, Diversity — her second with the quintet — the musicians proved her point again and again.

Gregoire not only writes memorable compositions full of contour and colour, but she also shapes them so they play to the strengths of her musicians.

On Dichotomy, a tune full of tricky harmonic and rhythmic twists, MacDonald raced up and down his horn, flirting with playing outside the changes, his attack gritty and fierce.

On the lilting, almost hymn-like Diversity, the sweet horn interplay of the melody was followed by Turcotte’s rich, round flugelhorn, a solo he started with started with understated beauty and eased into a slow burn.

The highlight of Thursday’s concert, and the album, was the three-part suite that Gregoire wrote originally for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra.

Called Gratitude — although it might, too, have been named Diversity for the breadth of its components — the suite featured gorgeous piano passages, some almost airy trumpet playing and an intense saxophone-drum duo that brought whoops from the audience.

It was Gregoire’s first appearance in Ottawa with the quintet — a 2006 show was cancelled because of a snowstorm — but, given her growing reputation as a composer and bandleader, it’s likely to followed by many more.

Let’s hope they last a little longer and the sound’s a little sharper.
- By Doug Fischer, The Ottawa Citizen

"Grégoire a Delicious Respite"

"At first blush, Thursday night at the Rex could have been any night at the Rex. The audience was in various stages of distraction, as usual, and four of the musicians on the bandstand were familiar figures at the Queen Street West club: tenor saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ted Warren.

It was the fifth musician, however, the emerging Winnipeg pianist Michelle Grégoire, who made the evening something notably out of the ordinary. Her name, or rather an anglicized variation thereof, Michelle Gregor, was on the chalk board outside, and her compositions graced the music stands onstage.

Grégoire, who's in her late 30s, would seem to be something of a late bloomer, at least by current jazz standards. But with age comes maturity, and with maturity a sense of balance, direction and sound judgment.

Her choice of bandmates stands as proof enough of her judgment; they appeared on her debut CD, Reaching, released late last year, and appear to be set for her first national tour next February. Her sense of balance and direction, meanwhile, is abundantly clear in the music she has them playing…It is, in very general terms, jazz of the post-bop sort. That's both a temporal and stylistic qualification, dating from the mid-1960s and referring to the twists and turns melodically, harmonically and rhythmically, that forward-thinking musicians of that era employed to free themselves from bebop's strictures -- musicians who recorded for the Blue Note label, by and large. Herbie Hancock was one, Wayne Shorter another.

Grégoire's opening tune on Thursday, Minor Alterations, was very much in the post-bop idiom without turning into an exercise simply in revivalism. It was a challenging piece, unfolding at length as it did in shifts and stages, but it came with a flow and logic that made it seem complete in and of itself, no matter what else Turcotte, Grégoire and MacDonald (in that order) added by way of development in their solos.

Grégoire's other compositions in the evening's first set were of a more modern cast -- post-post-bop as it were -- and none moreso than Reaching, which in both title and design revealed the very recent influence of the American Maria Schneider. This was a lovely piece with airy, floating quality that carried Turcotte through a long, stirring trumpet improvisation.

Grégoire's own solos at the piano tended to be patient in their delivery and rather pretty in their touch and contouring, neither as ambitious as her writing nor as urgent as the efforts of her fellow musicians. MacDonald, especially, likes to seize a solo by the scruff of the neck; he's a commanding presence in any band. In each case, though, the contrasts that Grégoire introduced into the music from the keyboard were quite effective dramatically. Tension is fine, but a little respite here and there makes it all the more delicious." - Mark Miller - Globe and Mail

"A Superb Effort"

"Michelle Grégoire, a veteran jazz pianist and educator, makes her recording debut as a leader with an all-star Canadian band, including saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, trumpeter/flugelhornist, Kevin Turcotte, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ted Warren. Grégoire, who has studied with such notables as Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider and Kenny Wheeler, proves herself as a capable composer, with eight thought-provoking originals. Like her mentors, Grégoire has a knack for utilizing intriguing voicings, and avoiding predictable charts. Her wistful "December 1st" showcases MacDonald's buoyant tenor sax, while her twisting ballad "Miles Away" also has a bittersweet air, with MacDonald switching to soprano sax. Grégoire demonstrates her bop chops in the strutting "Blues For Us" and one can easily imagine other post-bop/hard-bop bands interpreting her brisk composition "Knock It". Grégoire's lush solo is the centerpiece of the samba-flavored "Lost and Found" braketed by MacDonald's soprano sax and Turcotte's tasty muted trumpet. This is a superb effort by a pianist and composer deserving wider recognition, especially outside of her native land." - Ken Dryden - CODA Magazine

"Clearly in Command"

"Grégoire is clearly in command of a broader harmonic knowledge, yet her playing style is all about elegance, subtlety, and understatement. No sharp edges mar her approach, and she builds her solos gradually and with great care. As much as Grégoire’s heart is in the mainstream--and there is a clear Kind of Blue vibe to some of Reaching--she isn’t trapped in a time warp. Reaching may be approachable, but in a way that doesn’t sacrifice invention, interplay, and understated strength." - John Kelman - All About Jazz

"Grégoire Impresses"

"Pianist and composer Michelle Grégoire, a mainstay of Winnipeg's jazz scene, impresses with her debut CD that employs four Toronto sidemen to illuminate the strength of her writing. She's fond of melody on the eight longish originals here, but her concepts are broad enough to let colleagues roam in between the fascinating structures with which she gears ensemble statements and exits, a style immediately apparent on the rugged opener "Minor Alterations." Her comping and soloing are always poised, suffused with a stealthy subtlety that lets the tunes breathe and develop. Her ingenious creations are all of interest, from the hard-nosed ("Knock It," "Joe's Tune") to the reflective ("Lost And Found," "December 1st") and the hip ("Blues For Us"). Ah, yes, the sidemen. They are trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, bass Jim Vivian and drummer Ted Warren, who all revel in their roles and this music." - Geoff Chapman - Toronto Star

"Jazz pianist Reaching out"

"Apart from the expert tailoring of her arrangements on Reaching and the seamless way in which the solos emerge from the charts, Gregoire’s style is post-bop — modern in rhythmic and harmonic style...happily easy on the ear without sacrificing its integrity to commercialism.

"I don’t just play jazz," Gregoire pointed out. "I play pop, rock, whatever — all styles. It all comes together."

Yes, but in an unexpected way. There is nothing literal or imitative about Gregoire’s musical style. What comes together on Reaching is a very fine balance among its musical ideas: Turcotte’s easy, swinging way of playing slightly behind the beat, MacDonald’s magnetic sound and the lightning reflexes that allow him to trace complex currents and melodic undertows as he herds his horn through the changes, Vivian’s bold, meaty sound and alert drive, Warren’s subtle, intuitive time-keeping.

Gregoire herself plays transparent figures, clear melodic lines with a light touch and a glowing finish, and influences her quintet to play like a little big band — without the punch, but full of colour, leaving the intensity to the improvised solos — just exactly the kind of environment in which these first-rank players thrive."
- Stephen Pedersen - Chronical Herald, Halifax

"Right now is the right time"

Right now is the right time
Jazz pianist and composer Michelle Gregoire takes her music Canada-wide, writes Doug Fischer.

Doug Fischer., The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Michelle Gregoire likes to think it's possible to thrive as a jazz musician in Winnipeg.

"Sure, why not?" she says, pausing for effect, "as long as you don't want to be known anywhere else."
OK, the 38-year-old jazz pianist and composer is having a bit of fun.

Gregoire has done just fine during the decade since she returned to Winnipeg from Florida State University, where she earned a Masters in jazz studies and was the school's composer in residence. "I've had lots of work," she says. "Winnipeg is a strong city culturally."

To be sure, Gregoire has stayed busy. She's involved with several local bands, composes and writes for the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, performs solo in lounges, takes private bookings and appears regularly on Radio-Canada. She has even become a promoter, bringing jazz musicians to town as part of an annual concert series. "When you live in Winnipeg, it's necessary to do some outreach," she says.

This month, however, Gregoire is taking Winnipeg -- at least her part of it -- to the rest of Canada.
Buoyed by praise for her debut album, Reaching, and backed by an all-star group of Canadian jazz musicians, she has embarked on an 11-city tour that brings her to Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa on Friday. The show is presented by the Ottawa jazz festival and Alliance Francaise. Given Gregoire's age, and the calibre of her first recording, the question is: what took her so long?

"Someone said I'm just a late bloomer," she replies, "but I prefer to think I was waiting for the right moment."

Many of the tunes on Reaching were written when she was in university. Gregoire knew they were good, but was determined not to record them until she could hire the musicians who could give them the treatment she believed they deserved. Several events came together to make that happen. A few years ago, she began to study with Bob Brookmeyer, a respected American jazz composer who was a visiting professor at nearby Brandon University's School of Music.

"Bob said my music deserved to be played properly and I should get myself a good band," Gregoire says. "It was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed."

Soon after, saxophonist Kirk MacDonald came to Winnipeg as part of her outreach concert series -- and Gregoire knew she'd found her horn player.

"He was instantly my first choice," she says. "His knowledge and technique are so strong. I knew they were perfect for my tunes."

Already on a roll, Gregoire got her biggest break when she won a $15,000 recording grant in a 2004 competition sponsored by Winnipeg-based COOL-TV. The money allowed her to hire the rest of the musicians she coveted: trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ted Warren.

"It's so exhilarating playing with these guys," she says. "You never have to worry, you never have to say a thing -- you just know it's going to be a great musical experience."

While the album they made, with its clean horn lines and twisting, elegant melodies, is often compared to the post-bop Blue Note recordings of the late '60s and early '70s, Gregoire's personality is stamped all over it.

The rich colours and divergent harmonies in her compositions often give the impression there are more than two horns involved. The intricate lines she writes for bass provide a chant-like counterpoint to her melodies, and her subtle, slow-burning piano playing keeps the listener leaning in anxiously to hear what's next.

"I just love what these guys do with my music," she says. "It's even better than the way I heard it in my head. It's a dream to tour with them."

Of course, Gregoire hopes the tour brings wider recognition and invitations to play at summer jazz festivals. But don't think for a moment she plans to leave Winnipeg.

"There is a real pull for me there," she says. "It has a lot to do with the francophone community and my Metis roots. It is a constant reminder of who I am."

Besides, she says, if every artist left for the big city, what would remain for the residents of smaller communities? "It deprives them of their cultural identity. I like to think everyone can live where they want and still do what they do."


"GREGOIRE is remarkable"

Canadian pianist, MICHELLE GREGOIRE is remarkable and continues this spirit as such with her new REACHING cd. An excellent pianist and writer as expressed on this CD, Michelle Gregoire hits all the right notes in the post modern. We played a straight ahead "Blues For Us" and a sardonic "Joe's Tune." Michelle is a remarkable musician and a fine writer who devotes much of her time with the Winnipeg scene and has... commiserated with one of todays greats Lioness post modern composers, Maria Schneider. For beyond our pop culture purview there's a steady regaling undercurrent of very serious and talented musicians that'll carry the score.

From another review by the same broadcaster:

Sounds like...is an operative phrase, for this lady is very original with great depth and imagination, remarkably proficient on piano and dynamically sensitive to the kind of play you don't get off the rack at the mall or on commercial tv. This is the profound music of our hip unencumbered daily lives, a kind of magnetism that history repeats in harmonic balance, serious, melodic and open, free and swinging. Michelle Gregoire is a wondrous and swinging musician, we certainly can and do love down here and her boisterous iconoclast is most appreciated.

Dick Crockett
MONDAYS, 10am&10pm, Pacific
"The Voice" 88.7fm
Sacramento, Ca - Still Another Jazz Show - Sacramento, CA

"MGQ Opens for Branford Marsalis"

June 2009:

The opening band, the Michelle Gregoire Quintet, consisted of local pianist Gregoire and some of the top players in the Canadian jazz scene, saxophonist Kirk McDonald, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ted Warren. These are the same players who performed on Gregoire's much lauded debut CD, 2004's Reaching. Gregoire proved herself to be not just a fine pianist, at times beautifully tinkling the keys when not swinging, but also a formidable composer, as the performance included some of her originals that I wanted to hear again, that the audience responded well to. Drummer Ted Warren was not just there to keep time, but to also entertain in his own right, with his own unforgettable style, which was quite notable on some of the original Gregoire compositions. He doesn’t play it safe and always looks likes he's having a great time, with his constant grin. The duo of McDonald and Turcotte each took turns soloing and earning well deserved applause. When Turcotte blasted out notes on the trumpet, he seemed to have the entire room's attention....

...At the end of the show, each member of the Marsalis band was supplanted and then replaced by a member of Gregoire's band, until the entire band had changed, save for Marsalis. First, it was Ted Warren plunking down a stool beside Justin Faulkner and working a single drum until he took over Faulkner's kit. Kirk McDonald then appeared, taking Branford's spot. Michelle Gregoire sidled up to Joey Calderazzo and in one smooth move, took over the keyboard as he deftly slid off. Finally, Eric Nevis gave us the bass to Jim Vivian. Seeing one band virtually replaced with another while the music kept on playing was a real treat and a sign of the type of gracious person Branford is. The move had audience members applauding wildly and breaking out ear to ear smiles. - Trinimans Blog


DIVERSITY (to be released in 2010)

Nominee, "Outstanding Jazz Recording" Western Canadian Music Awards 2005. Reaching made the 2005 jazzenvoy.com list of top 50 jazz recordings in Canada, and the CBC After Hours list of best jazz recordings released in 2004. Release on the Boat House Records label (Hugh Fraser's label), distributed by CMC/Fusion III.



Jazz pianist and composer Michelle Gregoire has emerged as one of Canada's most significant jazz talents. She is surrounded by a veteran cast off all-star Canadian musicians creating a sound described as "exciting, beautiful, inspired and new while building on the tradition called Jazz." Her music has additionally been described as “ingenious”, “elegant”, “balanced”, “original with great depth and imagination”, and “approachable, but in a way that doesn’t sacrifice invention, interplay, and understated strength”. Her music is performed by her solid and interactive ensemble, the Michelle Grégoire Quintet, comprised of top Canadian jazz musicians, namely Juno winner, saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, National Jazz Awards trumpeter of the year Kevin Turcotte, and top call Toronto based rhythm section featuring Jim Vivian on bass and Ted Warren on drums. In June 2009 the quintet recorded a second CD Diversity supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and Manitoba Film and Music, featuring original compositions by Grégoire commissioned by CBC Radio and the Manitoba Arts Council.

"Her ingenious creations are all of interest". -Toronto Star
"One of the more significant jazz talents in Canada right now." -Daryl Angier, CODA
"You have some good music inside!!" -Bob Brookmeyer (March 2003)
"her playing style is all about elegance, subtlety, and understatement. No sharp edges mar her approach, and she builds her solos gradually and with great care" - All about jazz
"Grégoire is quickly making a name for herself both for her tastefully elegant playing chops as well as her burgeoning career as a jazz composer.” –Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press, March 2007.
"this lady is very original with great depth and imagination, remarkably proficient on piano and dynamically sensitive". -Still Another Jazz Show - Sacramento, CA

A talented composer and versatile pianist, Michelle Grégoire holds an undergraduate jazz degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies from the Florida State University. She attended the Hugh Fraser Jazz Orchestra Residency in Banff where she worked with Maria Schneider in 2002 and Kenny Wheeler in 2004. Grégoire has also studied privately with world-renowned composer Bob Brookmeyer. Recently, Grégoire spent four months at the Banff Centre where she spent focused time composing and working with some of the world's most brilliant musicians, composers and conductors. These included Joel Smirnoff, Rodney Sharman, Mark Applebaum, and John Halle. A performance at the Banff Centre with Kenny Wheeler was described as a "gorgeous duet by two astounding professionals, one in the twilight of his career and the other just emerging into the full light of day." –Rocky Mountain Outlook.

An active freelance musician in Winnipeg since 1984, Michelle Grégoire maintains a solid reputation as a sideperson and band leader and has worked with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra since its inception in 1997 where she appeared with artists like Bill Watrous, Phil Nimmons, Guido Basso, Byron Stripling and many others. She has appeared with artists such as Stefan Bauer, Martha Brooks, Brian Hughes, Liberty Silver, Walle Larsson, Peter Appleyard, VEJI (Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation), Frederic Alarie and Jon Geary to name a few. She has been a frequent guest with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and was recently featured with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra as part of a concert that was recorded by CBC Radio and aired nationally on various CBC Radio programs. The concert featured a world premiere of her new composition, Gratitude Suite for String Orchestra and Jazz Trio, a 15-minute work commissioned by CBC Radio. Grégoire is a respected composer/arranger and has been commissioned by the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, The Manitoba Arts Council and CBC Radio. Her work has been performed and recorded by various ensembles including the WJO and the Banff Jazz Orchestra.

Grégoire was the winner of the Project COOL 2004 jazz competition which awarded her a $15 000 recording grant to use towards the production and marketing of her debut CD Reaching. Her quintet features the crème of Canadian Jazz and has completed a Canadian Tour in February 2006 thanks to funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and Manitoba Film and Sound. The group was also featured in some major jazz festivals in 2006 such as the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and the All Canadian Jazz Festival. The quintet was nominated for the Grand Prix de Jazz and Galaxie Étoile competitions at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 2006 and was recorded by CBC for national broadcasts on Espace Musique, After Hours and other programs. Reaching earned a nomination as Outstanding Jazz Recording at the Western Canadian Music Awards and the CD enjoys continued airplay making the top ten lists on jazz radio programs