Alex Francoeur: Missing Element

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Blog post by Chris Maskell

As a mainstay in Montreal’s jazz community, many are familiar with tenor saxophonist Alex Francoeur. After recently graduating from Schulich’s jazz performance program in May, Francoeur has continued to maintain a busy playing schedule, including a live album recording booked at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill for Tuesday, September 26 and Wednesday, September 27. We spoke to Francoeur in a recent email exchange to learn more about the record, his music and his experience at Schulich.

What prompted you to release this first album and what influenced you to record it live rather than in a studio? What benefits and challenges does a live recording offer?

After spending seven straight years in music schools, I felt the need to document this exciting period of transition from a controlled academic environment to life as a freelance musician. While in school, I had the benefit of being able to write and perform music with truly exceptional young musicians, and this album not only encompasses that experience but it will also act as a stepping stone for the rest of my career.

I've had the idea of a live recording for many years. Many of my favourite albums were recorded live, such as “Live at the Lighthouse” by Elvin Jones, “Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing” or “Stan Getz: Live at Storyville.” All of these records have a special energy to them, and I find it difficult to truly capture that feeling in a studio setting. However, there are a couple of challenging things to deal with during a live recording, like a noisy crowd or the fear of not getting a good take, but I feel like I’ve set myself up to limit the chances of these things happening. Joel Giberovitch (the owner of Upstairs) has been very supportive of my career and he’s allowed me to record a total of four shows over two nights. This way, I’ll have four different versions of each piece, which will hopefully be enough to get a good take!

Can you speak about the music you composed for the record – was it written with this specific band in mind?

The material we’ll be playing are pieces that I've written over the past two years. The two main aspects that I try to channel in both my writing and playing are melody and groove. A lot of non-musicians have told me that they find jazz difficult to listen to because they feel lost and don't have anything to ''latch on to.'' I believe that if there’s strong melodic content, listeners are more open to improvisation and to the whole song in general. Also, everyone should be able to appreciate jazz – not just jazz musicians! By writing memorable melodies while still using more ''modern'' harmonic and rhythmic devices, I think this balance can be achieved.

When I was writing the music for this project, I specifically had pianist Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon (M.Mus 2017), bassist Levi Dover (B.Mus 2016), drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel (M.Mus 2017) and alto saxophonist Chris Edmondson (M.Mus 2019) in mind. The rhythm section, comprised of Gentiane, Levi and Louis-Vincent, have been already working together for a few years in Gentiane's own trio, so their musical connection is already well established. I'm thrilled to have Chris in the group because we’ve already played together quite a bit and I find that our sounds blend nicely together. He’s also a beautiful artist who constantly renews himself with new ideas.

As a whole, these four musicians all have a strong melodic voice in their playing and it allows the music to grow further than I could’ve ever imagined. Most importantly, they are great friends to hang out with on and off the bandstand!

How do you feel Schulich’s jazz performance program prepared you for life as a freelance musician, and what are your next plans?

In many ways, the jazz program at Schulich is the perfect segue into the life of a freelance musician because you’re given lots of independence while still having access to world-class resources and faculty. This starts on the first day of your degree – instead of being assigned to a combo (as is common at many other schools), the jazz area sets up a jam session at which the students forms combos on their own. This system promotes autonomy in the students and develops their entrepreneurial skills, which are both crucial traits in a freelance musician.

My plans for the future are to keep doing what I love doing, which is both writing and playing music that moves people. I also plan to keep making albums (whether it be with this group or my other main project, a jazz/neo-soul group named “The Liquor Store”) in order attain more performance opportunities worldwide and to meet and learn from as many people as possible.

The Alex Francoeur Group performs on the following dates:

-       Friday, September 22 at Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean in St-Gédéon, QC
-       Tuesday, September 26 at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in Montreal, QC
-       Wednesday, September 27 at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in Montreal, QC