My goal is to present a living legacy to Canadians….”
Montrealers and lovers of Jazz music the world over have come to know Oliver Jones as the exceptionally talented pianist who hauled himself up from his humble beginnings in the St. Henri-Little Burgundy district to become one of Canada’s most acclaimed musicians. And those who know him beyond the music know that he walks softly.
But the way documentarian Rosey Edeh tells it, behind this quiet, unassuming musical genius is a man who for years has known his share of excruciating pain and discomfort, but never shared any of it with audiences or fans.
“Instead, he smiled in the face of pain and he persevered,” says Edeh, who spent the better part of the last two years making a documentary on the musical icon as he entered the final phase of his spectacular career. “So whether he was on stage playing or receiving the accolades, all we saw was the brilliance of the man and his music.”
Edeh’s film, Oliver Jones: Mind Hands Heart, follows the iconic pianist, who has been in and out of retirement several times over the past decade, in what is his professed final tour following a career that spans more than 70 years.
Among its many highlights is a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for his last big concert at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which was one of three command performances featured in the documentary.
It also followed Jones to Barbados, where he staged a glorious concert in the native land of his parents who moved to Montreal at the turn of the century.
“My goal is to present a living legacy to Canadians and I think that’s what this film is,” says the journalist turn filmmaker about her first documentary.
Edeh says she was drawn to Jones’ story after watching a short presentation on his career on television.
“It was about three years ago, and I thought we needed to see more of Oliver Jones and his extraordinary career, but I wasn’t a filmmaker so I had no clue how to even begin to put something together.”
Her determination to pursue the project heightened after she was laid off from her gig at Global Television Toronto, where she was the midday news anchor.
She started to go about the conventional way, looking for people to finance the project, but soon realized how difficult a quest it was.
So taking a page from the life-story of acclaimed film-maker Anna Duvernay, who walked away from a marketing job to self-finance her first project, which paved the way to her eventual success in Hollywood, Edeh decided to go it on her own.
Once she contacted Jones and he agreed, she entered a zone of no return.
Putting all her skills as a reporter into play, Edeh set about researching all she needed to know about documentaries and film making.
“I have to say that the downtown Toronto Reference Library became my second home as I was spending six to eight hours a day there.”
“It was important that I got it right because as an independent filmmaker you have to believe in yourself also Oliver Jones who spent almost all his live perfecting his craft deserved the best.”
As a former Olympian who represented Canada in the1988, 1992 and 1996 Games Edeh, who is also the current Canadian record holder in the 400m hurdles, knows a thing or two about dedication and hard work and committed herself to the project.
She says it wasn’t long before things started to fall in place.
Calling on a couple contacts from her days in the media, Edeh was able to put a team together easily.
Much of the filming was done last summer in Montreal and Toronto in addition to the shoot in Barbados earlier this year.
Edeh talked about the learning process that was part of the project, especially in the editing and other technical areas, her being a rookie filmmaker, but says a highly capable team that included editor cinematographers and sound professionals buoyed her.
By May 2017, a year and a half or so into it, it was a wrap for Oliver Jones: Mind Hands Heart.
As a self-financed initiative, the project left her a bit poorer financially, having taken a good chunk of her resources and time, but she’s empowered by the success of getting it done and the grandness of the subject she’ll be sharing with the world.
Oliver Jones: Mind Hands Heart will be featured at the Montreal International Black Film Festival on September 30 at Cinema du Parc, 3PM and 530 PM at 3575 Parc Avenue. Mr. Oliver Jones will also receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
For You Ollie
On Saturday, September 16 the crowd extended almost the full length of Workman Street in Little Burgundy. Among those gathered were politicians including the mayor of Montreal, Denis Corderre, mayor of the South West district, Benoit Dorais, a full complement of dignitaries and other important people. But most importantly the place was packed with ordinary Montrealers there to pay tribute to a gentleman and a star, Oliver Jones.
Some of the city’s biggest performers were on hand for the block party, including one of Oliver’s protégées, pianist Daniel Clarke Bouchard, Skipper Dean, Ranee Lee and Trevor Payne and The Jubilation Choir.
The event marked the re-designation of Centre Sainte Cunegonde as the new The Oliver Jones Centre.