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Canadian Heritage

The Journey of Jane Bunnett

In 1982, Jane Bunnett and her husband Larry Kramer traveled to Cuba as a cheap vacation to escape from the harsh Toronto winter. When they arrived, what they discovered for themselves was a connection to and a fascination with a musical heritage that was unlike anything they had ever experienced before. From there they set off on a musical journey, one that has taken them all over the world and led to connections with people who share the same passion that they do: the passion for music.

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Transcript of the audio documentary

I'm Ross Porter and welcome to the documentary "The Journey of Jane Bunnett."

"There's lots of good saxophone players around, and there's lots of good flute players around, but she's got something that a lot of the guys don't have, and that's that thing, so that when you hear it, you don't wonder, Well, who is that playing?' You know that's Jane. You know right away it's Jane."

"She's been consistently bubbly, and positive and highly energetic, like, she was just good.

"I'm always in awe, and I can sometimes hardly relate to how I produced this child, and I mean that very sincerely. I think what she's accomplished has been quite remarkable. You know, I'm very proud of that part of her life."

Musician, humanitarian, advocate, troublemaker. Charming and warm, Jane Bunnett is all of these things and more. She is one of the most notable Canadian musicians of her generation. Her command of the soprano saxophone and the flute can be described as nothing short of exceptional.

She's led a musical life that's taken her from the cold winters of Toronto to the humid streets of Havana, and back again. Her albums have been showered with critical praise and a multitude of awards. Her humanitarian work has made her a hero in Cuba, just as her music has made her a star at home. She has recorded and performed with Charlie Haden, Steve Lacey, Sheila Jordan, Don Pullen, Dewey Redmond and Paul Blaise.

All of this has been accomplished with a steadfast sense of determination and a disdain for authority that began when Jane was in high school, where a teenage Jane could also be found seriously playing the flute. She spoke about this to the Queen's University graduating class of 2006, when she was honoured by the school with an honorary doctorate of laws.

Jane Bunnett: "Chancellor, Principal Hitchcock, Rector, and graduates and honoured guests. It is an honour to be able to share the stage with all the graduates that are here today. I'd like to give you an example of how passion gives you the courage to over-ride the judgment of an authority figure. I was a 17-year-old student, in my last year of high school, when I decided to pick up the flute. I played the piano as a kid, but as a newcomer to this beautiful instrument, I loved it. I loved everything about it. And most of all it made me feel good. My high school teacher took his position very seriously. At the end of this year, the teacher interviewed all the music students to discuss their plans for music studies further. When he got to me, and I told him I planned to be a professional musician, his reply was quite direct, and shocking. He said, No Jane, not a chance. You should have started playing the flute when you were seven. You're certainly not a prodigy, and there's not much chance you'll make it in the music biz.' Well, I won't tell you what I said, because my mother's here, and your parents are here, but later when I got home, I cried, and I cried because when I compared myself to the other 15 very, very talented students there, part of me believed his opinion mattered. But there was also a part of me that was so passionate about the music that in some strange way, his low opinion of me empowered me, and pushed me to pursue my dream of being a professional musician."

That determination has served Jane in all aspects of her life, and given her the lifestyle and career that she enjoys today. Jane Bunnett is unique. She sees the world a bit differently than most of us. Her non-conformist point of view can be traced to her childhood.

Jane Bunnett: "I guess I've had a problem with authority, you know? Is that bad? (Laughter.) Authority figures I just I was just contrary, and it was one way of getting attention. I wasn't, you know, I wasn't into drugs, I wasn't into not in a big way, I should say, but, you know what I mean. I was not, like, I wasn't getting caught doing criminal action, I was just naughty. I was constantly falling into little problematic things and stuff like that."

Like what, for instance?

"Ahhh, well, some of them were, okay, well one of the things I had fun with was in Grade 9. I changed the organ pipes in the organ. I pulled them all and readjusted them, so I put, like, you know where the C was supposed to be, I took the C pipe and put it where F was supposed to be.


I pulled them all so basically it was just avant garde music the next day in the morning. So, I got caught for that. Oh, I did bad things. I threw a rock through the principal's office. And I don't know why I did it."

Through the window?


And witnessing all of this was Jane's mother.

"Mary Bunnett, Jane Bunnett's mom."

Now 89 years old and still as sharp as ever.

Mary Bunnett: "Well, three words sums her up: determined, impish, challenging. (Laughter.) Very challenging."

As a youngster, Mary remembers that Jane was passionate about many things horseback riding, painting and saving the neighbourhood cats, most of which, it should be pointed out, didn't need any saving. And Jane's mom was also there when a young Jane Bunnett started showing signs of a musical interest.

Mary Bunnett: "She started really very young, when I think about it now. This piano was always here. And, before she even took lessons, she'd be not trashing or bashing away at the piano, but picking out little melodies, you know, little somethings, I mean it wasn't like a child that just went over and crashed on the piano. You know, she seemed to have an ear even as a little child. She seemed to have something melodious about her."

Jane's late father picked up on this as well, and decided to take it upon himself to expose Jane to one of the jazz world's greats.

Mary Bunnett: "I think Jane was maybe in her early teens, you know 10 or 12 or something like that, and she was showing signs of liking, I guess, sort of modern music, and Charlie Mingus was in town at Colonial Tavern, and my husband said, at about, I don't know, 8 or 9:00, I think we should take Janey down to hear Charlie Mingus.' Well I had never heard anything so outrageous in my life. I said it was stupid, absolutely not. Anyway, of course we went out, and as we sat there listening to the music, Charlie Mingus kept looking down at our table, I sort of thought disapproving that this child was in the audience. And to my surprise, he pulled up a chair and said, Now,' and these were his words, something like, Now what's this young lady doing out at night?' And we said she loved the music and so on and so on. And Jane remembers the evening very, very well, and I think she met up with him years later, and I don't know why I think it was the coast, Vancouver, and he remembered the incident, which was kind of nice for her."

But even after being exposed to jazz greatness at a young age, Jane's true passion still lay in a different musical genre.

Mary Bunnett: "She had I think a great dream that she was going to be a concert pianist. She has very, very small hands, which you wouldn't be aware of, but she has very small hands. And her second serious teacher -- she was with the Conservatory and then left that and went to another teacher and for her exam she was given a heavy piece of, would it be Brahms? Who was it that played heavy, heavy music? Anyway, I mean a classic. And she wrecked her wrist. I can't remember what you call these things, but she got this growth and we ended up going over to Hamilton because apparently there's a doctor over there that looks after musicians with injuries to the wrists and hands and whatnot, and he was the one who said, Forget it, you know, her hands are too small. She's not going to go anywhere,' I mean, in that world, and so that was really the end of her piano career, and that's when she switched to woodwinds."

It wasn't until a few years later and another encounter with the music of Charles Mingus, that the jazz bug really took hold of Jane. Here, once again, is Jane Bunnett from her 2006 Queen's University Convocation address.

Jane Bunnett: "I also started playing jazz music in my early 20s, after a trip to San Francisco, where I was exposed to the great Charles Mingus Group. I came home from that trip determined to figure out this mysterious art form. I was a young, white, upper class Canadian, not the regular demographic profile of a serious jazz musician, but there I was, I've often had to fight that inner voice or critic that says, You can't do it,' and as I often say, We are our own worst enemy."'


Later, Jane talked to me about the influential Mingus performance.

Jane Bunnett: "This trip to San Francisco, and hearing Mingus' group, was just pivotal, because I had at that point, I had a pretty crazy, eclectic record collection. My older brother, Peter Bunnett, is a huge music lover, and so I would go in his room and get his records out and play them and get turned on to all kinds of stuff, and, so I had been, I had an idea of all these different kinds of music, but it wasn't until, really, I really got away on my own, out on the road, away from home, that everything just kind of clicked, and when I heard Mingus' group, and I went back night after night, Keystone Corners, that was it, it was like, when I came back, it was like, I've got to play this music.'"

And Jane Bunnett started doing what she's continued to do for the rest of her career, seeking out role models to help her further her craft. One of the first mentors that she sought was pioneering female saxophonist and clarinetist, Jane Fair.

Jane Bunnett: "Jane really, really supported me a lot and was extremely, I mean, Jane is a really wonderful teacher, and I remember at the time when I was really getting deep into it and I was working as a waitress and doing a couple other jobs and I just didn't have money, you know, and I want to come for a lesson and I phone Jane about something, and she said, "Oh, come over and let's do this," and I was like, I don't have any money,' and she'd say, Just come, don't worry about it,' you know, Just come over, just come over.' And I would go over there and I would play, you know, a couple of hours with her, and she'd sit at the piano. She really gave me a lot of confidence to go out, you know, and partly because she helped me get the tools together, so that when I did go out there that I would play well. It wasn't just like giving somebody false confidence and saying Ah, go on out there and play.' She was a thorough enough teacher and she, I think she cared about her students, and really didn't want to see somebody fall flat on their whatever."

Jane Fair: "I've known Jane, I'm trying to remember how far back, but I've known her forever, it seems. But I never thought of her as a student. I felt I would just offer whatever I thought would be helpful. There's these different kinds of musicians, and over in one corner you have these unbelievable virtuosos, okay, they started at age three, they have perfect pitch, whatever, and they can play anything standing on their head. And Jane's not in that category, but she has just gone for it. She just went and worked her buns off. I can hear that in her playing. She's a real serious musician."

She met one of her other musical influences around that time as well, a young man who would end up collaborating with her on almost every album she would go on to produce. He was a man who would influence her both as a musician and as a life partner. His name was Larry Cramer and their relationship began, as many great ones do, by chance.

Jane Bunnett: "I took a different route one day and shortly after coming back from San Francisco. And I was like, Oh, I want to play jazz. How am I going to learn to play jazz?' There was nothing, really. There were no universities or anything in the city at the time, and I saw this new school of music and, being the curious kind of person I am, I took myself up the stairs and walked in the door, and I started taking a couple of classes there. And I originally met Larry there. And he was down there and I was across the room and he was giving this you know he likes to heckle people, have fun with people and I was just watching this guy, thinking This guy's a jerk. Look at this. Why's this guy giving this guy such a hard time?' I didn't really hit it off too much with him at first."

Larry's first impression of Jane, however, was slightly more positive.

Larry Cramer: "She had just an incredible energy and a very artistic temperament. You know, a whiff of fresh air. You know just really bright, creative, and she was very cute, of course. It was one of those scenes where different guys were hitting on her, so I thought, I won't. I was pretty shy, believe it or not."


Jane Bunnett: "And then I ran into him up at York University and had a couple of conversations with him in the hall, and the thing that got it lifted was, we both arrived at an ethnomusicology class, 15 minutes late."

Larry Cramer: "The professor, who will remain nameless, was a little boring, so we both kind of met at the door of the class, the lecture hall, and sort of met together."

Jane Bunnett: "We both looked at each other and said, I don't want to go.' And he said, I don't want to go, either.' So we walked away and just went for coffee and we spent the whole day together."

Larry Cramer: "We hung out and Jane had a little bottle, a half bottle of nice French wine in her bag. I guess she was expecting something to happen, I don't know (laughter) so we just sat and talked about music and it was one of those pretty quick love affairs. It came pretty quick. You know, I had a great record collection I worked at Sam the Record Man I was a record fanatic, so we'd just hang out, drank brandy and listened to records, and it became a musical love affair. It was our dream to eventually have a project together and it finally happened."

Jane Bunnett: "And that was pretty much it. It's kind of unusual."

Jane's mother, Mary, remembers the first time she met the new man in her daughter's life.

Mary Bunnett: "The very first night we met him, they have a little pub, whatever you call it, on campus up there. I could see this pushy, musical person that Janey was with, she was, of course, the only female, and I think it was a quintet, and I could see that there was certainly a bonding, something was going on. I thought it was just music-wise, but it wasn't, and I think it's a respect, really, for his knowledge and his know-how."

Jane related the story of Larry's impact on her life to the Queen's University graduating class of 2006.

Jane Bunnett: "Ahh. The Rhythms of Jazz.' I started to search out people that loved the music as much as I did. I hung out at record stores. I asked the guys to play the musicians' music that I didn't know. I went to jazz clubs. I tried to absorb as much as I could. At the same time, I met a man who was playing a trumpet. He was a beautiful player and a beautiful person. He was encouraging and supportive and he had a passion for the music even stronger than mine. That same trumpet player later became my husband, and I married him and his record collection. Isn't that so? Together we're still on a mysterious and wonderful musical journey. In him, I found a musical friend who, like me, wasn't waiting for opportunities to fall from the sky."

Breaks didn't come easy for Jane. Most were hard fought. The opportunity that launched her career began one summer's day.

Jane Bunnett: "I was playing at Jim Galloway's birthday party, and this takes you back that long, it was his 50th, and Ted O'Reilly was there, and at the time, the CJRT concerts were happening at the Science Centre, and I was like, If only I could ever get into one of those.' And Larry and I were playing in some groups and having jam sessions at the house and they were pretty active. We were living in a house full of musicians, so it was always easy to get a drummer, bass player in the house. And I played at the birthday party, and about two, three months later, Ted O'Reilly called and asked if I wanted to put together a group for the Science Centre, and I was like Oh, my god.' I was so excited and I realized, I said, You know what?' Both Larry and I said, 'We've got to get the best drummer, the hottest drummer we can find.' And at that time, Claude Pontier was here in Toronto. He was doing all kinds of things and stuff like that on the scene. And I told a few people I was going to call him and they said, He'll never play with you' and Oh, he's a really weird guy.' I called him up and he said, Sure. I'd love to play. When are we going to do it?' And we did the concert, we got a good review, photocopied the review, bootlegged the tape,


sent it out across Canada it was the first year that DuMaurier was organizing jazz festivals and, lo and behold, we got accepted at all the jazz festivals, and that sort of launched us.

From December of 1986, at the Ontario Science Centre, here's part of that concert of the Jane Bunnett Quintet.

Ted O'Reilly: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another concert in the Benson and Hedges Sound of Toronto Jazz Series at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. I'm Ted O'Reilly and I'm here tonight to introduce you to the Jane Bunnett Quartet. Quintet. Five, right? Quintet." (Applause.) The leader of the band started out playing piano but somehow found that maybe the woodwinds would be a little more interesting for her, and that jazz would be a little more interesting than the concert piano music she had been doing. I think she's a really talented young woman, both as a player and as a composer. Ladies and gentlemen, the leader of the band, Jane Bunnett. (Applause.) Now we have a programme of maybe half a dozen songs, and we'll get underway with an original. Is this one by you, Jane, or by Larry? All right, this is one of Jane's. She'll be playing soprano saxophone on it. Ladies and gentlemen, the Jane Bunnett Quintet, and the first music is one called Neighbours.'"

You're listening to "The Journey of Jane Bunnett," an original documentary on Canada's premier jazz station, JAZZ-FM 91. Jane and Larry's collaboration with one another has spanned several decades and birthed many different incarnations, Jane fronting the band and Larry taking a back seat, away from the limelight.

Jane Bunnett: "He's an incredibly generous person, and what he does is very much out of interest and generosity and wanting to see something happen. He's not the kind of person that needs to have his credentials splashed all over the place."

Jane's mom, Mary, sees it a little differently.

Mary Bunnett: "You know, I really believe this with all my heart, and I've said this in front of people, I've said this in front of Larry: He does not get his just dessert. He has been a tremendous, tremendous influence on her life and her music, and on the slugging it, and so on. What's that expression? Behind every man, there's a something, something? Well, behind every woman, there should be a Larry, because he's given a lot to this mutual career that they share. And that must be very hard for a man. I mean, I think it must be tremendously hard to be in the background all the time."

Larry Cramer: "I mean, Sonny and Cher, you know. I don't want to be Sonny, you know? (Laughter.) I'd rather just be the, I mean, generally she takes the larger role. I take more of a production, conceptual role in terms of being right out front, and I just think it's kind of hard to have two, it just doesn't Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer you know it just doesn't -- I just think it's very important to develop a name and not develop two names. And she's doing different projects as well. I don't really care about that kind of fame. I think it's more important to name value is really important. Eventually if you earn a name in this business, that's how you make a living, so I've felt very secure in my relationship, so it didn't really worry me."

Regardless of whose name is on the marquee, Jane and Larry shared a strong vision that resulted in their careers rising with every chance they took.

Jane Bunnett: "I began to look to the musicians I listened to for my inspiration and my motivation. For me, it all came together in '87. It was our first recording and my risk-taking husband, Larry Kramer, and I decided to record with two of our musical heroes, the late, great pianist Don Pullen, and the late, legendary saxophonist Dewey Redmond. We believed that working with the masters would allow us to get closer to the roots of the music. Our peers thought we were overly confident, out of our league.


Why would these jazz greats want to play with us? We trusted our instincts, we made the calls, and our jazz heroes said, Yes.' And because of the time that they invested in me, I couldn't, and still can't, let them down."

Don Pullen and Dewey Redmond were both legends that Jane idolized. Don had gained popularity through his work with Charles Mingus; Dewey Redmond, through his collaborations with Ornet Coleman. For Jane, playing with both of these men meant a big step up in the world of jazz, and a chance to learn from two of the masters. Her gutsiness in collaborating with these two legends so early in her career impressed her friends tremendously.

Jane Fair.

Jane Fair: "Like, that's amazing. I'm not going to wait around for somebody else to do this for me, I'm going to do all this work. And she doesn't give up. That's the thing that's amazing, she goes, I really like this guy. Let's phone him up and do an album. I mean, it's free, you know?' It's really it's good. (Laughter.) And I think it's wonderful."

From the album "In Due Time," here's Jane Bunnett with "The Wanderer," featuring special guests Don Pullen and Dewey Redmond.

As a musician, Jane Bunnett can be incredibly diverse. Her influences are geographically wide-ranging, but it's the music that she plays from Cuba that's really helped her make a name for herself. And it's been a fascinating journey for Jane, one that began with a simple vacation.

Jane Bunnett: "I always like to get a little sun, and we had gone three times I think at that point to Mexico, and I had gotten horrendously ill every trip, and somebody told me, Well you won't get sick in Cuba,' and I said, Really?' and yeah, different kind of water system, so I thought, well, I'll give it a try and started looking in the papers, and there was an incredible deal that came up in the paper, and so we thought, What the heck. Nothing to lose.' So when we arrived when you go through Immigration and then get onto the side where the carousel is and you're waiting for your bags, there's a band playing music, and that was pretty unusual. It was just so different from anything that I'd heard. Bongos, conga drums, and I guess just the fact that it was in an airport was pretty impressive at that time, and then the real thing that hit home was, that night, unpacking in the room, I could hear music coming from outside up on a hill, and I though it was the sound system of the hotel, and so I went walking up the hill and when I got up there, it was like a mirage or something like that. It was like 18 guys, standing on patio stones, all dressed in white, with four or five trumpet players, three trombones,


timbales, keyboards, this unbelievable band, A Group of Song,' from Santiago, were playing. It was like Oh, my god. I feel like I'm in heaven.' They were dressed in beautiful white. No one had ever seen anything like that. And it was incredible, and I came back and said to Larry, You won't believe it. Quick, you've got to come and see this.'"

Jane and Larry grabbed their instruments, went up the hill, and asked to sit in with the band. And suddenly, a whole new relationship with the music and the players was born. Jane Bunnett; "When you have your instruments, it allows you to step into a situation and, that's what you do, especially if you can't speak the language, it opens doors, and all of a sudden you're no longer, I don't know, it just kind of opens the door for you and defines you a little bit."

Jane reflected on this experience in her address to the graduates of Queen's University.

Jane Bunnett: "The passion that drove the artists there was so intense, despite the intense poverty that surrounded them, and they dreamed that anything was possible, and always tried to make it happen. This was contagious to me and, upon returning to Canada, Larry and I began dreaming about finding a way to connect our passion to the music there. We had this crazy idea to record with some of Cuba's greatest musicians musicians that people outside of Cuba had never heard of, but that we had formed close friendships with. Fuelled by their excitement, and our rum-drinking, we approached the CBC about a Canada-Cuba recording project. After numerous meetings and trips to Cuba on our own dime, mind you, we got the go-ahead and the funds from the CBC. One month before this project was to start, the suits at the CBC decided, ehh, they didn't want to do it now, maybe ever."

"Dylan says, When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose.' I mean, I had nothing to lose, and I just marched in there and I went crazy. How dare you? One month before this project's to happen? And we've been done there three or four times on our own money. I've met with people, and I've spent money on taking people out for lunches, and we've got them all excited. The studio's booked. How can you you don't even have the nerve to call and say that it's not happening, I find out through your secretary?' And, luckily, we got them to look at it one more time, and then they said, Okay, we'll do it.'"

The album was recorded at Egrem Studios in downtown Havana, a legendary studio that's been witness to recording sessions of all of the major figures of Cuban music.

Larry Cramer.

Larry Cramer: "Yeah, that was a wild one. That was a wild, wild one. The studio was ridiculous. Half of the things didn't work, and we were the first foreigners to really do something in there for years. And the musicians the air conditioning was on full, it was either full or off, and the Romeros, the older folkloric musicians, all had winter coats on. If you look at the photos from the session, it looks like it's a session in Toronto. Everyone's freezing. And a lot of the headphones didn't work, but just magically, we forged ahead. That was really a long time in the works, but it was just so beautiful, the way it came off in the end."

One of the producers of Jane's first Cuban album, Danny Greenspoon.

Danny Greenspoon: "There was just a lot of musicians hanging around, and a little bit of rum flowing, and just a great vibe. The sweetest people in the world. It was all music, and as far as us gringos go, there was the excitement of learning from the masters. My co-producer on that album was a guy named Guillermo Baretto, who was a fantastic character in Cuba, who, in some ways, I think he's been likened to a Dizzy Gillespie type of character in that he was a real student and teacher of music his whole life, and was so respected that he was actually almost feared for his opinion because it carried so much weight. So he was out on the floor when we were recording but he, along with Jane, had such a large impact on the music, and the players that were assembled


were a combination of several generations of players, all phenomenally talented. We had three generations of piano player, the oldest being a guy named Frank Emilio Flynn, who is a brilliant piano player. And then Hilario Durn, who was still down there, and that was the first time I met him, and he was just a fantastic arranger and pianist. And the young Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who obviously went on to international success, and was already pretty big even at that time. And just all of them, just amazing players. And so, it was just an amazing feeling."

The album was called "Spirits of Havana," and when it was released, it made an impact that was heard around the world.

Cuban-born pianist Hilario Durn.

Hilario Durn: "The reaction was good. And it was something different, because it was the mix with the improvisation that Jane did over the Cuban music. It was something great."

From the album "Spirits of Havana," here's Jane Bunnett.

The album helped introduce audiences to a fusion of improvised jazz playing mixed in with traditional Cuban rhythms, something that music audiences hadn't heard that much of before. It gained Jane new fans for her music, and new critics of her methods.

Jane Bunnett: "I remember a certain wife of a very, very, very well known great musician one of my favourite musicians and she was running, opening up a particular theatre, it was in Hartford, Connecticut, a big theatre. She was the administrator, and she spoke to our agent, and she was very excited to have


Spirits of Havana' open the new venue. And he said, Well, I'd love to send you the CD.' So, when she got the CD, he called her up, he said, So, what about Spirits of Havana, having Spirits of Havana' playing the venue?' And she said, Oh, I wouldn't have her. She exploits Cuban musicians, you know? And plus, she's white. And she's Canadian to boot.' And that really stung."

It was criticism that had been lobbed at many musicians before her, innovators who were influenced by the music of another culture and combined it with their own. Larry sees what they did as something slightly different.

Larry Cramer: "If you look at something like a Paul Simon doing his thing, he did his Brazil or African things that were so successful. He's using that music as kind of a flavouring to what he does. But we tried to get inside the music and respect it for what it is, and work around it. We don't try to get them to play different, or to play the way we want them, or to be in the background. That's the difference."

Long-time collaborator, multi-instrumentalist and composer, Don Thompson.

Don Thompson: "There's always people that resent other people's success, and usually it's because they're too doggone lazy to do anything themselves, but they don't like to think that somebody else is getting any kind of acclaim, anyhow. It doesn't matter. Why should he be getting this and not me? Meanwhile, they're not doing anything. And a lot of guys say, Well, she's just playing with a bunch of Cuban guys,' but it's not that. I mean, she loves that music and it's so important to her. I mean, she really sounds great in that music, and it's really great what she's doing."

Jane Fair.

Jane Fair: "It's an easy thing to say, you know, someone steps out of line and tries something, and is doing something new, and so it's easy to say, Tsk, you shouldn't have done that, you shouldn't have done that.' You know, to be critical, but, the perspective of time helps with seeing it that way, but that's how it feels."

Jane's mom, Mary Bunnett.

Mary Bunnett: "Well, I've seen her on the streets down there, with the people, and on the beach, and we've been in a couple of the same hotels and so on, and she always has time for them, because they bug her like crazy, you know, and they treat her like she's a messiah or something whatever they have in Cuba, I guess not a messiah -- but I just respect her, that she respects those people so much, and still has the time for them. You know, Come and hear me, come and hear me.' That's kind of rewarding. I mean I would think it would be rewarding if I was the person that had done something like this."

On one of those visits to Cuba, Jane was struck with an idea of how to give back to the rich musical culture of Cuba that had given her so much.

Jane Bunnett: "It was a night that I had been up until about four or five in the morning. Be careful when you tell someone, Sure, I'll go to school tomorrow at 10 in the morning. Yeah!' I was at the jazz festival and they knocked on my door. They were in the lobby at 9:30 and I'd had no sleep, and they said, Okay, we're going to the conservatory,' and I was like Huh?' Don't you remember? You said, like, a couple of days ago that you were going to come to the conservatory and hear the kids sing.' And I'm like, Oh honey, I feel really crappy, I'm going to go back to bed.' And he said, You've got to come. The kids are waiting for you.' So off we went, staggered off there, and went to the school, and there was probably 30 students that performed individually for us. Flute with piano. Three or four flute players with other musicians. These kids were from the age of eight or nine to, I think the highest one up there was 12 or 13, and these kids were unbelievable. Their focus, just the way they carried themself from the moment of picking up the instrument. Their poise, you know? Playing, there was a whole kind of way the teachers teach these kids to play, and I think that's why you see this incredible outpouring of music from there.


Real incredibly professional young musicians. And anyway, we were just really, really impressed, and I was really impressed with the teachers, too. Like, the teachers were just so sweet with the kids, and the connection between the students and the teacher, it was almost like a parent. It was really, really nice. And afterwards I tried a few of the instruments and I could not play any of them. Couldn't get a note. And these kids were playing Bach, Mozart, and really playing with incredible facility, and I just thought, We just can't turn our back.' So it was pretty simple, a pretty simple decision. So upon returning from that trip, Larry and I, within a couple of months, quickly got stuff together and took it down."

And so began an informal programme of Jane's. She would canvass North America for quality musical instruments, and ensure that they got into the hands of talented Cubans. Through her work, she's given a whole generation of Cubans a chance to shine in a way they otherwise would not have had. It was a development project that began almost organically. Jane saw a problem and came up with an idea of how she could help.

Jane Fair.

Jane Fair: "I mean, I'm sure she didn't go down there with that intention, but it just grew out of her, and I find that extremely endearing and very impressive, that she just went with her heart and said, Maybe I can do something here,' you know? Which is amazing. She didn't just go to hang out and play. She turned around and tried to give back, or do stuff that would help that situation, and of course she became very vocal, and I think that's very brave and also dangerous, as we all know. Once you start to talk, you have to be pretty informed. On the other side of saying what you feel, you have to have that balance of what's going on. But you get nervous for a person. It's the same for anybody. If you had to be on camera or being listened to, you're so exposed and vulnerable, and I guess that's my feeling. Sometimes I go, Whew, you're vulnerable. Be careful what you say.' But that's not how she is, she's just like, come forth with it, and I appreciate that."

Don Thompson.

Don Thompson: "Her dedication to music and people and everything is just endless, and what she's done for the Cuban people, and everything she's done for them is just absolutely amazing. Everything she does, I mean she just does all these great things, just because they need doing, not for any other reason. This has to be done and I'm going to do it.' That seems to be the way she is. These people need help and I'm going to help them. I can do something for these people and I'm going to do it. This situation has to be fixed and I'll fix it.' And that seems to be her thinking all the time."

As Jane Bunnett's exposure grew through her work with Cuban musicians, she quickly became typecast as "Havana Jane" or "Cuban Jane," the lady that did the Cuba music. It's a stereotype that she both rejects and embraces.

Jane Bunnett: "I just came from doing an interview with a Toledo paper, because we're going there in a couple of days to play. The guy said, he just, I don't want to say stereotyped me, but it was like, Oh, you're Cuban Jane, and you just make Cuban records.' And I was like, Noooo, I don't just make Cuban records. Don't you have a bio in front of you? Like what I've done, the people I've worked with in the past? And I still continue to work with some of these people, too. The Cuba thing is forefront, because that's what sort of launched us, and that seems to be -- how do you say it? -- we get programmed into certain things because we cover that area. But in terms of mainstream jazz and creative modern jazz, that's so often the one I'm listening to and thinking about, and continue to want to develop."

Jane's career has seen her branch out in many different directions.


Perhaps her most personal statement being her 2004 album, "Red Dragonfly," a melodic take on folk songs from around the world.

Jane Bunnett: "I had a collection of songs, pieces that I loved, I really loved, and a lot of those pieces I couldn't put on any other records. They didn't really suit the other things we were doing. And as I started to think about them, I thought, Hey, here's a common theme.' I think Larry I think we both came up with the idea of the string quartet. I met Christine Vliet, the violist from Pendereski in Peterborough at a concert I was playing at. She was there and she came up and gave me her card, I put it in my pocket never throw out cards -- I put it in my pocket and it stayed there for, oh, close to maybe eight years before I called her, and when the time came, I was like, Oh, I remember, Pendereski.' I called her and she was very interested. So it was an idea to take pieces that I thought would be a common flow, which was just beautiful, lush melodies, and put them in the setting of the string quartet, and keeping it with the soprano being the main voice and hopefully just trying to get a theme happening from start to finish."

From the album "Red Dragonfly," here is "Witchi Tia To."

Has this career come at a cost? Your career?

Jane Bunnett: "Mmmmm. Some things. Yeah."

Like what?

Jane Bunnett: "Well, the travel, once again, the travel thing. As a jazz musician you have to travel. You can't stay in Toronto and expect to be playing a certain amount of days a month. You've got to move, you've got to go where the work is, and often because of doing that you miss out on a lot of things, occasions, people's birthdays or birth of children, death of family members. Often you're not there to be able to be a part of something that's happening. I find that very difficult, both our families, we're both really connected to our families and our friends, and to miss those moments"

Is there a compromise in there that you're not telling me about?

Jane Bunnett: (Laughter) "Like what?"

I don't know, but there's one you're not telling me. I can tell by your language.

Jane Bunnett: "Well, family, having your own family. That's a pretty difficult thing to do."


In 2004, Jane received a letter in the mail informing her that she was going to be acknowledged with perhaps the greatest honour that she'd ever received, the Order of Canada.

Jane Bunnett: "Well, it said that I couldn't tell anybody. That was the worse thing, I'd like to tell my Mom. So I phoned them and I said, Look my mom's 87.' Or she was 86 at the time, and I said, And I really don't know what's going to happen. Can I tell her?' And they said, Oh yes, of course you can. And you can tell a few people, but you can't tell anybody else. You can tell your immediate family, but you can't tell anybody else.' So I had to sit on it for a little while. And then when I got to the thing, it was, for me it was very emotional, because it was like, well my mom was there, and Larry's mom was there, and Larry was there, and the Cuban Ambassador was there. And just some of the people in my -- they were all people I just thought I'm just getting this for -- really, why am I getting this? For music. And I'm not looking down on myself, but, I can't remember everyone's name, but there was this incredible a lot of humanitarian people, a lot. People that had -- one man, who's a really nice person I sat at his table who's in Angola and he's working getting land mines out, and it's not like he's been doing it for five years, he's been doing it for 25 years. His whole family lives in Angola. I felt like a punk at this thing. I mean, everyone was older, grey-haired people. There was nobody young."

And I've never seen you wear the pin.

Jane Bunnett: "Yeah. It's funny you're asking this, because my mother thought I should have worn it to this thing, Convocation, and I can't find them. She said, Deary, shouldn't you be wearing your' and I was like, Uh, I don't think so, Mom. I don't think I should be wearing it. I think it takes away from the other thing.' I really think you should be wearing it.' I'm sure it's not hard to get replacements. (Laughter.)

Through a career that has lasted for more than 30 years, Jane has truly become one of Canada's shining musical stars. She's made huge inroads around the world with her Latin-inspired music. She's provided countless young Cuban musicians with the tools they need in order to grow and perform, and her exceptional playing just keeps getting better with age. Her resilience and persistence have helped to create opportunities for herself and others that a less determined person would have left as just an unfulfilled dream. Jane's extraordinary journey is still underfoot, the next chapters still waiting to be written, the next musical adventure still waiting to be had. Jane is grateful to the people who mentored her in her life. In an attempt to pass on some of this wisdom, she wrapped up her Convocation address to the graduates of Queen's University.

Jane Bunnett: "Dewey Redmond told me, If you take care of the music, that music will take care of you.' I've had a fortunate musical life. Music's given me over 30 years of extraordinary experience. It's been my friend, my companion, and my strongest means of communication. It has also taken care of me. My mentor, Dewey, was right, and I only hope that it embraces you in the same generous way. Build on what you had the privilege to learn here, be a great teacher, a mentor, and support your creative peers. Be kind, and always try to have fun at what you do. As another great mentor, the legendary raconteur Slim Gaylord, said to me, Fun is a good invention.' I wish you all good luck, and good fun."

I'm Ross Porter, and you've been listening to "The Journey of Jane Bunnett," an original documentary on Canada's premier jazz station, JAZZ-FM 91. The documentary was produced by Geoff Siskind. Executive producer was Ross Porter. We recognize the financial support provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage, by the Canadian Culture On-line Programme. A special thanks to Queen's University and to Jane Bunnett.


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