Jazz great P.J. Perry no longer so self-critical


What: P.J. Perry Quartet featuring Oliver Gannon, Neil Swainson, Hans Verhoeven and P.J. Perry
Where: Hermann’s Jazz Club, 753 View St.
When: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. (dinner at 6)
Tickets: $20
Note: Perry’s Quartet also performs Sunday at the Lighthouse Pub in Nanaimo

Famous or not, talented or otherwise, every artist contends with bouts of self-doubt at some point in their career. Even living legend P.J. Perry, who is widely considered to be one of the finest saxophonists in Canadian jazz history, has had his moments.

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“It’s been a long struggle,” Perry, 76, said. “It’s not easy living up to your own expectations, and that has been my thing.

“I’m hearing Cannonball [Adderly] and Sonny Stitt and all these guys in my head, and comparing myself to them, and trying to play as well as those guys do. It’s not a healthy thing to do, really. It has been very, very difficult on oneself.”

Born in Calgary, the popular Juno Award winner is synonymous with several other cities, primarily Toronto, Vancouver and his longtime home base of Edmonton. The latter is where Perry got one of his first real breaks, working with bandleader Tommy Banks in the late 1960s. It was a relationship that would flourish over five decades, up until Banks’s death in January.

In addition to being named a member of the Order of Canada, Perry put together an impressive string of artistic accomplishments, the majority of which he’s finally been able to appreciate.

In tandem with his new come-what-may mindset, Perry (born Paul John Guloien) said his playing has taken a significant step forward. “I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it. I feel great. I actually feel like I’m at the top of my game, which is lovely. I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”

Perry is celebrating with a run of concerts. He’ll be on Vancouver Island for a series of shows over the next two weeks, beginning with a pair of performances at Hermann’s Jazz Club on Friday and Saturday. He will be joined by Oliver Gannon (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass), and Hans Verhoeven (drums).

Perry said he goes back 20 years with Qualicum-based Verhoeven, with whom he jammed when the drummer “was just a teenager.”

Perry’s friendships with Gannon and Swainson date back several decades — he co-founded fusion group Pacific Salt with Gannon in 1972 — but their respective home bases make it difficult to work together extensively these days. Swainson is based in Toronto, while Gannon lives in Vancouver.

When they do get together, “it’s very comfortable,” Perry said. “Playing with Ollie, it’s like Louis Armstrong said of playing with trombonist Jack Teagarden: ‘It’s like going on vacation.’ And having Neil in the corner is like having a great defenceman with you. He’s as solid as they come.”

The three friends have some dates left in them yet. Perry will be a guest at Phil Dwyer’s Jazz Camp in Parksville on Aug. 16, before the Quartet reconvenes for dates in Port Alberni (Aug. 17) and Crofton (Aug. 19).

Perry still can’t believe his good fortune, even though his natural talent is evident. Gigs over the years with Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Henry Mancini, Aretha Franklin, and Tom Jones offer only a glimpse of the highlights on a resumé he hopes will grow deeper and more varied in the years to come.

“I shake my head and say: ‘Why are all my childhood dreams coming true?’ And that seems to be the case. When I was a little boy, I had dreams of playing on the concert stage, and there’s where I’ve been.”

As for the self-doubt that would creep in, Perry believes he has pulled himself over the hump.

“I don’t go through that anymore, which I guess is a sign of maturity. I feel now that I can be human. I’m allowed to make mistakes, and take chances, and have fun at this stage of my life. It has been a very important transformation for me.”


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