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Canadian Heritage

Jane Bunnett


MARY JANE (JANE) BUNNETT (soprano saxophonist, flutist, piccolo-player, bandleader, composer) was born on October 22, 1956 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She began her early musical training in piano at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, but after three years, and achievement of Grade 10 piano credentials, she developed tendonitis which forced her decision to switch to woodwinds studies.

Inspired by her first exposure to jazz greats Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk in San Francisco, she began concurrent studies in jazz at York University in Toronto in 1979. Further studies followed with pianist Barry Harris and flutists James Moody, James Newton, and Frank Wess, later also focusing on the soprano saxophone after hearing Steve Lacy. A 1991 Canada Council grant enabled her to travel to Paris to live and study with Lacy.

Bunnett has become indisputably one of the foremost jazz musicians in Canada, and has gained recognition all over the world for her improvising talents, skilled technical proficiency, and writing and band leading abilities. She toured Canada with Dewey Redman in 1991, and Australia with Don Pullen in 1992, after playing with both of them on her first recording, an exciting mix of great Canadian and American musicians. A year later, she recorded New York Duets with Pullen, following it up with Live at Sweet Basil, then Dark Light, Music & Arts (a series of duets with Pullen), and Denon.

Jane Bunnett has built her career at the crossroads between Cuban music and jazz. It was in 1982 that Bunnett and her husband, the irrepressible trumpeter Larry Cramer, took a winter vacation in Cuba and their lives changed forever. Everywhere they went, they found drummers whose command of rhythmic complexity dwarfed anything they'd heard at home, horn players who deployed amazing dexterity in the service of heart stopping lyricism, and pianists who, “could make a decrepid old upright roar like doom or sing like a heart in love." They took out their horns to play along, and made plans to return soon and often to study this rich and challenging music.

By the early 1990s, Bunnett had become a regular visitor to Havana's music venues, and was incorporating Cuban musicians beginning with pianist Hilario Duran into her Toronto bands. Her adventurous 1991 Spirits of Havana which matches her playing with many of Cuba's top jazz musicians is, arguably, her most adventurous recording, although, continuing to record Afro-Cuban jazz throughout the 90s, Bunnett has released several critically acclaimed recordings on the Blue Note label. Her 2009 release, Embracing Voices, celebrates vocal music with an Afro-Cuban flair.

Jane Bunnett continues to perform at jazz clubs and festivals, in concert halls, and for broadcast throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, and Cuba with her bands and as a featured solo artist. She has toured North America several times in the past ten years, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and as far north as Whitehorse, Yukon. In 2005, Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer were instrumental in founding the ‘Art of Jazz’ Festival in Toronto.

In 2014, Bunnett released Jane Bunnett + Maqueque, which features a six piece band comprised of all female musicians from Cuba. The album, released on Jusin Time Records, also  features guests Eliana Cuevas, Jeremy Ledbetter, Hilario Duran, Telmary Diaz, and the Heavyweights Brass Band. The album won a JUNO in 2015.

1988 - JUNO Award nomination for debut album In Dew Time
1991 - Spirits of Havana album picked by the All-Music Guide as one of the top 300 jazz discs of all time
1992 - JUNO Award for Spirits of Havana Jazz Album
1994 - The Water is Wide album chosen by The Village Voice as ‘Best Record of the Year’
1995 - Named SOCAN ‘Jazz Composer of the Year’
2000 - Awarded the Toronto Arts Award for Music
2001 - Nominated as ‘Best Soprano Saxophonist” by the Jazz Journalists’ Association
2001 - Chosen as ‘Top Flautist’ in the Down Beat Magazine Critics’ Poll in the ‘Deserving of Wider Recognition’ category
2001 - JUNO Award to Jane Bunnett and her Spirits of Havana Ensemble for Ritmo and Soul
2002 - Winner of a National Jazz Award as ‘Saxophonist of the Year’
2002 - JUNO nomination for ‘Best Global Recording - Alma De Santiago
2002 - Again named ‘Top Flautist’ in the Down Beat Magazine Critics’ Poll in the ‘Deserving of Wider Recognition’ category
2002 - Honored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. D.C. for “contributions and dedication to the development of Latin Jazz”
2002 - Alma De Santiago album nominated by the Jazz Journalists’ Association in the ‘Best Latin Jazz Record of 2001-02’ category
2003 - Grammy Award nominee for ‘Best Latin Jazz Abum’ for Alma de Santiago
2003 - JUNO Award nominee for ‘Best Contemporary Jazz Abum’ for Spirituals & Dedications
2003 - JUNO Award nominee for ‘Best World Music Abum’ for Cuban Odyssey
2003 - Toronto Urban Music Awards winner for Cuban Odyssey
2003 - ‘Cuban Odyssey’ voted ‘Best Latin Jazz Album’ by the American Jazz Writers’ Association
2004 - Grammy Award nominee for ‘Best Latin Jazz Abum’ for Cuban Odyssey
2004 - Named an Officer of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour given in this country, granted to Canadian citizens 'for outstanding achievement and service to the country or to humanity at large'
2006 - Juno Award for ‘Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year’ for Radio Guantanamo (Guantanamo Blues Project – Vol. I)
2006- Honorary doctorate from Queen’s University
2009 - JUNO nomination for 'Contemporary Jazz Album' - Embracing Voices
2012 - JUNO nomination for 'Contemporary Jazz Album' - Cuban Rhapsody - Hilario Duran/Jane Bunnett
2015 - JUNO Award for 'Jazz Album of the Year, by a Group' for Jane Bunnett + Maqueque