Chantal De Villiers’ Powerful Lineage

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Saxophonist Chantal De Villiers has released an album of duets recorded with three different pianists, including her father, Burt De Villiers.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

Adventurous fans who look beyond the sprawling, 10-day extravaganza of the Montreal International Jazz Festival might get the impression that the city’s jazz landscape is skewed toward the avant-garde. Often more closely aligned with European aesthetics than North American norms, Montreal has, in fact, bred several generations of woolly improvisers.

How, then, to explain tenor saxophonist Chantal De Villiers, whose tone and musical allegiances are a throwback to Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz?

On a conference call with her partner—fellow Montreal reedist Rémi Bolduc—as occasional translator, De Villiers laughed and replied that she has connected with the emotions expressed by mainstream tenor players since she was a teenager.

As a 44-year-old who has just finished her second album, the self-released À Travers Le Temps …, De Villiers might seem like a late bloomer. In fact, she’s been actively honing her sound for 30 years, playing primarily with her father, Burt De Villiers, one of the three pianists who perform duets with her on the nine-track disc.

The album’s program reflects her diverse tastes. The father and daughter perform his original “Samba De Doçura” and her “Once Again Dad.” Pianist François Bourassa is her duo partner on “I Loves You Porgy” and Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice.”

At 16, De Villiers made her debut with her father on a Quebec City TV program, playing his arrangement of “Blue Moon.” As a youth, De Villiers mostly had been listening to Michael Jackson and other pop music of the 1980s. Then she began to pay attention to Gordon, Getz, Benny Golson and other older tenor players.

“They began to inspire me to play jazz, because of their soul and their sound,” she said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Montreal, De Villiers began getting booked for performances in the area. “She played a lot of gigs with different musicians—trios, quartets and a lot of gigs with me,” her father said. “She developed her own musical style and sound, and her priority was to create a stunning, original sound that nobody ever had.”

“I loved ballads,” said the saxophonist, “because you can take your time and become part of the spirit of the music. I wanted to create something that people could respond to emotionally, something that would move them. I think I’ve stayed true to that as my career has developed.”

Bourassa, who plays on the album’s opener—the leader’s original composition “Romance Sur La Rive”—said, “Chantal has a beautiful sound with a lot of sensitivity and musicality. She is a great listener and she knows how to make music breathe.”

Despite De Villiers’ talents as an instrumental balladeer, it was a more rhythm-based recording—2015’s Funky Princess—that signaled her breakthrough as a musician.

“That was a turning point for me,” she said. “I found the musicians I wanted to work with and really started to express myself as a bandleader.”

Now, she has her sights set on moving beyond Montreal and testing her ability to move people on a broader scale. Although she said she’s striving to reach a bigger audience, she’s already accomplished one goal.

“I had a listener tell me they cried when they heard me play ‘I Loves You Porgy,’ and I thought, ‘My job is done.’” DB



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December 2018
Medeski Martin & Wood
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