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July 29, 2005

Jazz Saxophonist PJ Perry

Written by
cindy mcleod

Alto player PJ Perry is a jazz musician’s musician. Known as one of the leading exponents of bebop, his is a strident and powerful voice. His youth was spent performing in his Dad’s dance band, providing the musical mentorship that grounded him in the tradition. Taking that knowledge, he’s gone on to become one of the top saxophonists in the world, and has been formally recognized as such, among his credits are three Juno Awards, and being named a record 7 times by Jazz Report as the Critic’s Choice for Best Alto Saxophonist.

PJ Perry
PJ Perry
*Cindy McLeod photo

One of the things that I love about PJ is the high standard he’s established in the jazz community, inspiring us all by way of example to ever reach for greater heights. His discography grows continually and his expressions are diverse, from his work with Edmonton Symphony to the duo recording with Canadian giant Doug Riley, the lush sounds of the Boss Brass to his latest undertaking with the great Bobby Shew. One has a hard time catching up with PJ these days as he logs thousands of airmiles, high in demand as a player and clinician.

A true community spirit, I first met him at Bob Stroup’s home, when he arrived with coffee and a couple of cigars to savour along with the precious time left toward the end of Bob’s life. PJ’s respect and love for his fellow musician is unparalleled, if he is in your corner count yourself blessed, he is a true blue friend and compatriot. He honours the contributions of those who selflessly give of themselves to the music, and although he may be a man of few words, the ones he speaks are profound, his message simple but deep, much like his playing. Spending time with PJ leaves one feeling as though one has been touched by greatness.

I had the supreme privilege of recording with PJ, his contribution to my CD is a gift I will always treasure. I remember how nervous I was the first time I played the result for him, I knew he would tell me the whole truth and nothing but. His reaction still brings me to tears, he jumped to his feet and paced the floor as he listened through the headphones, he was excited and proud, a powerful statement as he doesn’t like to listen to himself, but he was pleased with our efforts, his response genuine as always. I remember, too, that he reached out to me shortly after the session, sensitive to the anticlimactic nature and the self-critical view of listening back to one’s work at the end of a recording project. Since that time, I have saved every email PJ has ever sent me, loving, supportive, and uplifting, I read them in my dark moments, they invariably encourage me to be strong and strive for more.

After hearing him on radio one day, I wrote him to tell him that for me, listening to him play is like going to church, the church of jazz, where souls are cleansed and the spirit is raised to heaven in bliss. From the blaze of bebop, to a heart-rendering ballad, every note played by this man illuminates. The universe is filled with your beautiful music, PJ, and it resonates in my heart forever.

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