Joe Sullivan
Joe Sullivan

Joe Sullivan

About Joe Sullivan

The long and convoluted dramatis personae of jazz is sprinkled with artists who were fated to bear identical names. This historic musical realm that gave the world multiple Bill Evanses, Joe Thomases, and Willie Smiths also produced two distinctly different individuals named Joe Sullivan. Chicago’s Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) was a master stride pianist and cohort of old-school Windy City traditionalist Eddie Condon. The Canadian Joe Sullivan, a modern jazz trumpeter who perfected his art in the '90s and triumphed during the following decade as bandleader, arranger, recording artist, and educator, was born in the town of Timmins in northern Ontario on the banks of the Missinaibi River, not far from the southernmost shore of Hudson Bay. Self-described as Franco-Ontarian, he was raised in a large and musically inclined family. He received classical piano training at an early age and took up the trumpet when he was 15. In 1981, Sullivan earned a B.A. in classical trumpet at the University of Ottawa. He studied at Berklee School of Music and in 1987 was awarded a Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies by the New England Conservatory of Music. A longstanding member of the Vic Vogel Big Band, he studied with Jimmy Giuffre and gradually came to occupy a central position in Montréal’s thriving jazz scene. Leader of an established and widely respected jazz orchestra, he also gigs and records with his own six-piece modern jazz unit, and has performed as featured soloist with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The Sullivan Big Band & Sextet perform regularly throughout the Montréal area, and the collective personnel represent some of Canada’s most promising and accomplished improvising instrumentalists. They include trumpeter Jocelyn Couture and saxophonists Jean Frèchette, Janis Steprans, André Leroux, and Rémi Bolduc. In 2011 Sullivan blew trumpet and crafted horn arrangements for the hard bop group heard on pianist and drummer Andre White's second album, Code White. Sullivan has also collaborated with vocalist Ranee Lee, saxophonists George Garzone, Pat La Barbera, and Kirk MacDonald; guitarist Lorne Lofsky, organist John Medeski, and bassists Alain Caron and Don Thompson. Sullivan has devoted much of his life to higher education, teaching at Concordia University, Vanier College, and at McGill University, where he leads the McGill Chamber Jazz Ensemble. At McGill, students have the opportunity to learn first-hand from him the arts of trumpeting, composing, and devising big-band arrangements. The titles of Sullivan’s original compositions are frequently gilded with poetic references to the landscape and cultural traditions of his homeland. Examples of places and creatures invoked by his works include “The Mighty Missinaibi” (2001), “The Great Whale River” (1991) in Nunavik Quebec, which flows to Hudson Bay, and “Walker Bay” (2008), which exists in a particularly verdant portion of Saskatchewan. “La Danse des Maringouins” (1995) refers to mosquitoes, especially the big golly whopper varieties that dwell in northern wetlands. Sullivan’s “Whiskeyjack Waltz” (2002) is named after a lake in Northwestern Manitoba; the word is also used to describe the Gray Jay and a certain Anishinaabe trickster deity.

Perhaps the most clearly stated of his tributes to all things Canadian is the “Northern Ontario Suite” of 2007. Sullivan’s use of language and sound, of visionary ideas, and coordinated constructs place him squarely among North America’s truly gifted musical minds. He has yet to be properly recognized by the U.S. entertainment industry. ~ arwulf arwulf

  • HOMETOWN
    Chicago, IL
  • BORN
    November 4, 1906