Canadian jazz refers to the jazz and jazz-related music performed by jazz bands and performers in Canada. There are hundreds of local and regionally based Canadian jazz bands and performers. A number of Canadian jazz artists have achieved international prominence, including Oscar Peterson, Maynard Ferguson, and Gil Evans.[1]


Early history

The first jazz concert in Canada was by the touring Creole Orchestra and Ragtime Band, led by Bill Johnson and featuring cornetist Freddie Keppard at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba on September 21, 1914.[2][3] This performance was the first jazz performance outside the United States and the beginning of jazz as an international movement.[4][5]

Since then, given its proximity to the United States, Canada quickly became the first country beyond the USA to have its own jazz scene, with artists popping up in cities across the country, notably in Montreal, Quebec in the 1910s. In part this was due to U.S. black jazz musicians finding escape in Canada from the racism rampant in the U.S.[3]

In Vancouver George Paris organized a jazz band for the Patricia Hotel in 1917. He is regarded by some as Canada's first true jazz musician. Others give that status to pianist Harry Thomas who recorded improvisational-accented ragtime music in 1916.[6][7] Other groups soon sprung up, among them the Clar-Ra Ladies Jazz Orchestra. The Jazz Baby Vaudeville (AKA the Original Winnipeg Jazz Babies) was composed of Winnipeg teens, each playing two or more instruments. These bands performed in dance clubs across the Prairies in 1920s.[8] [9][10] In 1926 pianist Shirley Oliver, with a background playing "hot-dance" tunes, opened a jazz music studio in Edmonton.[11]

Guy Lombardo formed the big band called the Royal Canadians in 1924 with his brothers and sold between 100 and 300 million records during their lifetimes.[12]

1950s and 60s

By the 1950s, jazz was popular across Canada, and a number of Canadian jazz artists became well known beyond their home country, most notably pianist Oscar Peterson, known as a virtuoso pianist and recording artist.[13] During this decade, Canadian Gil Evans was noted for his collaborations with Miles Davis as well as his own recordings, many of which are important early examples of a fusion of jazz and classical music known as third stream.[14]

Montreal's Maynard Ferguson was a notable trumpet player in the 1950s and 60s, who has known for playing in a high register. He toured and recorded with his own band as well as with Stan Kenton.

Popular big bands of this era were led by Fraser MacPherson and Moe Koffman.[15]

1970s and 80s

Maynard Ferguson achieved mainstream success and recorded a number of popular albums in the 1970s, including a pop hit cover of "Gonna Fly Now" from the movie Rocky, earning him a gold album.[16]

During the 1970s and 80s, innovative Canadian guitarists, Lenny Breau and Ed Bickert, were among the most highly-regarded jazz guitarists of their time. Breau was known for finger picking style, his use of seven-string guitar, and his ability to play bass, chords and melody simultaneously. Bickert was known for popularizing the use of solid-body guitars, rare among jazz artists at that time, which produced a distinct and signature tone.

Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, who moved to the UK in the 1950s, released a number of albums on ECM Records in the 70s and 80s.[17] Also recorded by ECM was Canadian jazz pianist Paul Bley. John Warren released Tales of the Algonquin with British saxophonist John Surman in 1971.

During the mid-70s, American saxophonist Paul Desmond relocated to Toronto where he performed with his Toronto Quartet, including Ed Bickert, Jerry Fuller, and bassist Don Thompson.[18]

Pianist Oliver Jones returned to Montreal in the 1980s, where he performed and recorded a number of albums.

1990s to present

During the 90s and 00s, pianist Renee Rosnes released a number of albums for Blue Note. In the 21st century, a number of Canadian jazz vocalists, such as Diana Krall and Michael Buble became popular.

Nationally or internationally prominent artists

As of 2021, three Canadians artists have been inducted into the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame: Oscar Peterson, Maynard Ferguson, and Gil Evans. In addition to these three, six other jazz artists have been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame: Oliver Jones, Lenny Breau, Moe Koffman, Guy Lombardo, Rob McConnell, and Kenny Wheeler.

Other important Canadian jazz musicians include singers Michael Bublé, Diana Krall, Carol Welsman and Eleanor Collins, called “The Canadian First Lady of Jazz”, as well as bandleaders Fraser MacPherson and Mynie Sutton, renowned free jazz pianist Paul Bley, pianist Renee Rosnes, and guitarists Ed Bickert and Lorne Lofsky.

Jazz festivals in Canada

See also: Category:Jazz festivals in Canada

Many Canadian cities host one or more jazz festivals. The Montreal International Jazz Festival, for instance, is the largest in the world.[19] Other prominent Canadian jazz festivals include the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and the Toronto Jazz Festival.


  1. ^ James Hale. "Jazz in Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
  2. ^ "Such Melodious Racket". Quill and Quire. 3 March 2004. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Elliott, Robin (August 1998). "Such Melodious Racket". CAML Review. 26 (2) – via ResearchGate.
  4. ^ "Creole Orchestra The Big Hit on Pantages" ("Creole Orchestra and Ragtime Band"), Edmonton Bulletin, September 30, 1914, p. 3
  5. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, October 6. 1917 (one of the first uses of the term jazz to mean type of music)
  6. ^ Keillor, Music in Canada, p. 203
  7. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia: "Jazz in Canada"
  8. ^ Empress Express, March 18, 1920
  9. ^ Wainwright Star, Jan. 21, 1920
  10. ^ Keillor, Music in Canada, p. 202
  11. ^ Keillor, Music in Canada, p. 203
  12. ^ Koda, Cub. "Guy Lombardo". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  13. ^ Dobbins, Bill; Kernfeld, Barry (2003). "Peterson, Oscar". doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.j352400. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  14. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Gil Evans Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  15. ^ Nygaard King, Betty (4 March 2015). "Fraser MacPherson". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 2 January 2024.
  16. ^ "Ferguson, Maynard". Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  17. ^ Steve Huey. "Kenny Wheeler | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  18. ^ Cross, Dan. "Don Thompson". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 January 2024.
  19. ^ Montreal International Jazz Festival. 2018. Retrieved 10 October 2018.