(Blog post by Chris Maskell)
At 29 years old, Montreal alto saxophonist Benjamin Deschamps (B.Mus 2012, M.Mus 2016) has a lot of accomplishments under his belt. In relatively short order, he’s released two successful records as a bandleader, directed the Montreal All City Big Band, completed various tours in North America, Poland and France, and won the Rimouski Festi Jazz Grand Prix in 2013 with his quartet. Most recently, Radio-Canada presented him as one of the four Révélations Radio-Canada 2017-2018, where he was recognized for his promising career as an artist.
We recently spoke to Deschamps in a recent email exchange about this big career step, studying music in university and Montreal’s jazz scene.
What does it mean to you to be named as the Révélation Radio-Canada jazz for 2017-2018?
Fist of all, it's a huge honour and a recognition by my peers. I still have trouble believing that it's actually me who was selected. I’m very happy, but now I feel that I also need to deliver good music because that's what people are expecting from me. I see this nomination as a good sign to continue to do what I do, as people from outside the jazz/music scene are telling me “good job, keep going.”
In the previous years of the Révélations Radio-Canada, there were a lot of pianists that got the title. Now, as the second saxophonist ever to get it (the 2011-2012 edition showcased Samuel Blais), I want to take the responsibility to do projects with other horns to show people that jazz is not only a piano-only thing. I want to use this platform to show to a broader audience that jazz is accessible is some way, even with bigger bands including more horns such as trumpets, trombones or even woodwinds.
Your newest release, Demi-Nuit, features the addition of trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier to your long-running quartet. What made you choose to record in this format rather than doing another quartet record? How did you develop a relationship with Trottier?
After I released my first quartet record What do we know in 2014, I wanted to move forward and explore other sounds. The music we did with that band was very fun, so I adapted most of it for the quintet – but I needed another sound to complete the group. When deciding to add trombone to the mix, I saw this instrumentation as a modern compromise between the traditional combos of trumpet/tenor sax and trumpet/alto sax. I get to play the melody while being supported by the lower brass instrument.
While doing my master's degree at McGill University, I explored having more written (rather than improvised) material in my compositions. I wanted to write more of the music and have strongly arranged tunes. From this decision, it made sense to add another instrument that could allow me to reach out for more possible textures in the music.
I actually studied privately for a semester with Jean-Nicolas during this time and we really got along. I admire his work both as a performer and as a composer/arranger, which is why I decided to study with him. While playing in the lessons I really got used to the sound of alto sax and trombone, which I decided was perfect for my music. Plus, Jean-Nicolas can literally play anything!
As you completed both your bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Schulich, what advantages do you think attending music school offers for developing musicians?
I strongly believe in music schools. I’ve been teaching saxophone (and jazz) at Collège Notre-Dame for almost 10 years now, and want to continue doing this for long as I can because it’s something I believe in. Through teaching, I feel like I’m forming future adults that will appreciate music at a higher level. To be honest, only a few of my students continue to pursue music as a career, but all the others are still more likely to be music consumers who buy records and go to shows since they studied music in their teens.
Coming back to Schulich specifically, I think the best part of a jazz or music program at a university level is the students at the school. In today’s world, it’s hard to beat a situation where you’re surrounded by peers that are as interested as yourself in your passion and who you get to see on a daily basis.
At Schulich, people are practicing all the time and playing together, even with their teachers – who are living gods of jazz! If you want to learn jazz, the best thing to do is to play it all the time with people that are ''better'' than you. In the structure of Schulich, you study for three to four years to get an undergraduate degree, and throughout this time you play with a huge amount of players every day.
From my experience, I found that Montreal’s music scene was a fantastic place for a young Canadian jazz musician to grow. Being a Montreal native, what’s your perspective on this?
I agree that Montreal has a very nice jazz scene with a huge number of awesome musicians. Even after living in Montreal for my whole life and playing professionally since I was 18, I still meet new people here that play at the highest level and I love it!
There’s a lot to discover in the city, and not only in the jazz world. To be honest, I don't only play jazz – I have a lot of fun performing with bands that play music from salsa, merengue, reggae, afrobeat and world music to pop, rock and blues. It keeps me alive to play in so many styles with different musicians. I think I would be bored to only play jazz or only pop. Keeping a balance between the two worlds of creative music and entertainment music helps me make it through the day still thinking that I am not just working, but having fun playing music every day.
Now that the record is out, what are your next plans?
The quintet has couple of shows coming up. First, we’re playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 4th at 7 p.m. on one of the outdoor stages. After that, we’re doing a short tour in Québec in early August and another small tour in Ontario at the end of September. In the fall, we’re doing another tour with the Conseil des arts de Montréal, which is a 7-show tour of the Maisons de la culture in Montreal. Also, I’ve started to write new music because I got some studio time as part of Révélation Radio-Canada Jazz, and want to take this opportunity to release a third record.