“I’ve always had a very specific practice routine. I’m naturally a very regimented person and like to figure out what my goals are and how I can achieve them. My practice has always been divided primarily between working on linear conception (constructing lines), learning tunes and transcription. When I improvise, I think more about language than I do chord scales. If I’ve done enough practicing, I should be able to hear language through a chord progression rather than have to think about every single chord scale relationship.”Jocelyn Gould
I had first heard of Jocelyn Gould when I read an Instagram post from the great Jazz Guitarist Ulf Wakenius talking about this great Canadian Jazz Guitarist who he “really enjoyed playing with!” I quickly did a Google search and found all sorts of great music and prose about Jocelyn…AND…she was Canadian living in the Province beside me…I live in Quebec and she lives in Ontario. I reached out and was very pleased that she consented to do an interview via email.
In this interview she discusses her early years, her dogged work ethic and how she manages to do it all as a one woman operation, amongst other nuggets of truly valuable information. A great read and I hope you enjoy 🙂
As a one-man operation, if you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or two. Your support helps me to focus on Jazz Guitar Life so that I can continue to bring you great interviews, reviews, podcasts and other related Jazz Guitar content. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂 – Lyle Robinson
JGL: Thank you Jocelyn for taking the time to talk to Jazz Guitar Life. First off, if we can get into a little background about you that would be great. How old are you?
JGL: LOL…understood 🙂 What geographical area do you reside in?
JG: I’m living in Toronto but I have lived all over. I grew up in Winnipeg and have also lived in Michigan and New York City.
JGL: Ok cool. Now…for those who may not know you, could you give us an elevator pitch of who Jocelyn Gould is and then we’ll get into more detail as this interview unfolds.
JG: I am a jazz guitarist, composer and vocalist from Canada. I lead my own group and play in the groups of other musicians as well. I just released my second album, entitled Golden Hour, after my debut album Elegant Traveler won a JUNO for jazz album of the year. I do a lot of touring and am also a full time professor and Head of the Guitar Department at Humber College in Toronto.
JGL: Nice! I read that from the moment you decided to play guitar until your audition to music school, five months had passed!? Is this accurate and if so…whoa!! How did you accomplish such a feat in a very short time frame?
JG: I had been self taught through highschool, teaching myself how to play basic chords so I could accompany myself singing the songs I liked. I started studying the guitar formally, learning the notes, etc, less than a year before I auditioned to music school. I took it really seriously, set out a plan of how I was going to approach preparing for my audition, and spent a lot of time on the instrument in the most structured way that I could!
JGL: Nicely done! At what age did you first start playing the guitar and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz? How did you find your way to this particular music and instrument?
JG: I taught myself how to play some basic guitar in highschool. I was always really interested in music, and spent my whole childhood singing. I loved music, but wasn’t introduced to jazz until much later. I grew up listening to and singing folk music like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, etc. I started playing guitar initially to accompany my own voice, but ended up totally hooked, and eventually started listening to the canon of great blues guitarists. From there, it wasn’t a far jump to get into guitar players like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green.
JGL: Very true. Was there one – or more – particular moments that opened the flood gates so to speak as you went about learning this music?
JG: My dad was an elementary music teacher for his career, so he was my first music teacher, and would play piano for me when I was little and I would sing. I learned some piano, but wasn’t interested in it and quit as soon as my parents would let me. I didn’t learn very much about music theory until I was much older. I don’t think there were any flood gate moments – I had to work really hard to get to where I am on the instrument now, and have to continue to work really hard to improve from here.
JGL: Well speaking of hard work, in a Guitar World article on you, they state that you “…ditched science for music, and by 2018 had completed a Masters in Jazz Studies at Michigan State University.” What kind of science were you working on and did you have any idea early on that music was something you wanted to do as a career choice? What were some of the things you did back then to make this choice work for you?
JG: I had been working on a science degree with the intention to pursue chemistry. Deep down, I had always wanted to be a professional musician, but I didn’t know any professional musicians growing up so I didn’t know that it was a viable career option. It wasn’t until I was in university for science that I came to the conclusion that it was necessary for my soul that I give myself the time to learn music regardless of any career outcome, and that my chance to make time for music was then. Once I switched, I never looked back.
JGL: I hear ya! Speaking of looking back, who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning, and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years? Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?
JG: My main influences have largely stayed the same as far as guitarists go! I love Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell. I listen to a lot of music and lots of musicians who aren’t guitarists. Right now I’m deep in a Nina Simone phase, discovering a bunch of her albums that I had never listened to.
JGL: In the same vein, who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?
JG: Randy Napoleon has been the most influential guitarist in my life. He was my teacher at Michigan State University, and he continues to be a strong mentor and friend to me. Studying with Randy helped me figure out my path as a guitar player, and I am so thankful for all of his guidance over the years!
JGL: Randy certainly is a wonderful player and obviously a great teacher. What was your practice routine like when you were beginning and what is it like now? Are there specific areas that you work on or do you just play through tunes? When improvising, are you thinking chord/scale relationships or is there something else going on?
JG: I’ve always had a very specific practice routine. I’m naturally a very regimented person and like to figure out what my goals are and how I can achieve them. My practice has always been divided primarily between working on linear conception (constructing lines), learning tunes and transcription. When I improvise, I think more about language than I do chord scales. If I’ve done enough practicing, I should be able to hear language through a chord progression rather than have to think about every single chord scale relationship.
JGL: Speaking of practice routines, you are highly regarded as an educator. What would you advise students of Jazz Guitar to work on if you could only choose two components and why?
JG: Listen to records and transcribe! That’s the only way to learn jazz language – you have to learn to hear it and speak it the way you speak any language.
JGL: This approach definitely seems to be the consensus of all great players. In a little different direction, as a member of the Canadian – and now – International Jazz Guitar community, what are you most grateful for and on the other side of the coin, what irks you?
JG: I’m very grateful for the support that the Canadian government gives artists. We are very lucky to be able to apply for a grant that will pay for us to work on our craft, record, tour, etc. I didn’t realize until I moved away from Canada in 2016 just how lucky we are to have the granting system that we do.
One thing that can be frustrating as a touring musician is the vastness of Canada! Cities are so far apart that it is really tough and expensive to do a cross country tour, unlike many other countries where cities are much closer together.
JGL: Speaking of communities, from the little I have read about you, you seem to have moved around a lot: From Winnipeg to New York City to Detroit to Toronto and possibly more locations? Was this in pursuance of musical study and professional life or were there other factors involved? Is there one location you think you may end up spending a lot of time in?
JG: I moved to Michigan in 2016 to pursue my masters degree in Jazz Studies, and to New York City from there to get on the scene and play as much as I could. I moved to Toronto in 2019 when I began the position of Guitar Head at Humber College. I’m pretty set on staying in Canada for the time being, and traveling for gigs. But who knows what the future will bring!
JGL: Well one does need a base of operations so to speak, so hopefully you stay in Canada! 🙂 You have performed or recorded with Trombonist/Mulit-instrumentalist Michael Dease, Saxophonist Diego Rivera, Saxophonist Jon Gordon, Singer/Pianist Freddy Cole, Trumpeter Etienne Charles and fellow Jazz Guitarist Randy Napoleon amongst others. Can you talk a bit about how these associations came to be and what specifically do you bring to the table that is uniquely your own?
JG: All of these musicians were either teachers of mine, or teachers of my teachers. Each opportunity to work with a musician of that caliber is a huge opportunity and privilege, and I just try to bring my musical voice to the table. My goal is always to contribute to a musical scenario in a way that helps to lift up the group as a whole entity.
JGL: Is there anyone – alive or dead – who you’d love to play and/or record with and why?
JG: I’d love to play with Jimmy Smith – so many of my guitar heroes worked in his band, and I often fantasize about what it would have been like to play with him.
JGL: You are currently a professor and Head of the Guitar Department at Humber College in Toronto. Was becoming an educator part of your original career plan or did you fall into it somewhat unexpectedly? How different do you think your musical life would now be had you not gotten into the world of academia?
JG: I always knew that I wanted to teach in higher education at some point, but I had no plans for it to happen so soon in my life. Getting the position at Humber was a very serendipitous turn of events for me, and I’m so glad that it happened and very thankful for the opportunity to learn how to teach and share my passion with others. I also think that becoming a professor has opened a lot of doors for me in my own musical pursuits – I’ve met so many great musicians and get to be a part of a community that is constantly working on improving on their instruments. It’s a wonderful place to be.
JGL: Apart from formal teaching do you give private lessons and if so, how does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?
JG: I give lessons primarily at Humber, and when I have the time also love teaching lessons outside of Humber. I love teaching students of all levels – it’s all wonderful!
JGL: You have recorded and performed in a variety of musical situations, is there one that you prefer over the other and is there a particular situation you have yet to play in but would like to (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.)?
JG: Different configurations are great for different reasons. I love the support that I feel when I am playing in a quartet with a pianist, and I love the challenge of having to fill up more space in a trio with drums and bass. Solo is fun because I can play a lot of rubato and take turns on the fly. I haven’t played in a professional setting with an organ trio yet – that is something I would absolutely love to do.
JGL: I’d wanna hear that! Tell me Jocelyn, is there a particular style of music that touches your heart more than others?
JG: I can’t really say why certain music touches my heart. I think I love listening to music that I feel is sincere, soulful and honest. After that, it’s sort of intangible and I can’t describe what draws me to one recording over another.
JGL: Understood. Speaking of “soulful and honest”, you also seem to like to put the guitar down and sing a song or two.
JG: Yes! I grew up singing and love to sing very much. I love the way the human voice brings people together and resonates with audiences. It always feels good to sing, too!
JGL: In March 2020 you released your debut CD as a leader titled Elegant Traveler. If you can talk a bit about how this album came to be and what it represents to you as an artist? How has it been received so far? Actually I think I have answered my own question as I see that your album has been nominated for a Juno! Wow that is exciting news and totally re-affirming I would imagine.
JG: I put Elegant Traveler together when I was living in NYC. For me, it represents that period of time in my life – living in NYC and getting on the scene there. The reception of the album was beyond what I could have hoped for, and I felt very fortunate that my debut album won the 2021 JUNO for Album of the Year. It was very affirming to receive that kind of recognition. I released my second album, Golden Hour, in June, and am really excited about it, too!
JGL: What is the process when composing your own tunes? Do you sit down with your guitar and come up with ideas or is it more cerebral? In the same vein, do you do compose on the spot or do you need inspiration of some kind?
JG: I usually come up with either a rhythmic idea or a melodic idea and fill in the rest. Finding the first chunk of an idea to grasp on to is the hardest part, and then filling it in from there is more predictable. I also love to come up with something singable and go from there – my main goal with composing is to write something that will connect to a listener and make them want to sing it.
JGL: In a similar vein, care to elaborate about album number 2?
JG: Yes! I released my sophomore album, Golden Hour, in June. I recorded it in November 2021 in my hometown Winnipeg and I’m really proud of it. It’s exciting to have it out in the world and even more exciting that people are listening to it!
JGL: I can imagine how satisfying that must be as an artist! And speaking of artistry…I see that you are a Benedetto endorser. Can you talk a bit about the beautiful Benedetto model you play and how did this whole endorsement deal come about?
JG: I play a Benedetto 16-B. It’s an incredible instrument and I’m so happy to be able to pick it up every day. I joined the Benedetto family in 2019 and have had this guitar for three years. I got an email from Jackson Evans at Benedetto one day, and visited the shop in Savannah the next week. I’m really proud to play such an incredible instrument and to be a part of such a wonderful guitar community at Benedetto.
JGL: A few days ago – ed. note: back when these questions were bring formulated – you had the pleasure of playing alongside Jazz Guitarist extraordinaire Ulf Wakenius. Wow!! Where and how did that come about and was it as fun as it sounds? Were you nervous before hand?
JG: Yes! I was invited by Celine Peterson to play duo with Ulf in a concert that Celine had put together honoring Oscar Peterson. Ulf was so generous and gracious. I wasn’t nervous, just excited! It was a wonderful experience, super swinging, and something I’ll always remember.
JGL: Almost every musician, no matter their level and professional stature has their own insecurities to deal with when it comes to music and playing their instrument. What, if any, insecurities do you face on your instrument and how do you work at getting over them?
JG: Sometimes I have general anxiety that I won’t play well enough on a gig, or that the musicians in any given group won’t enjoy playing with me. I overcome this type of anxiety by reminding myself that music, and especially improvised group music, is about working together as a team with the common goal of creating special moments. I like to think of playing in a band as a group activity where everyone brings their own uniqueness to the table. If everyone had the same musical strengths, things would get pretty boring. Of course we all want to practice our instruments and reach our highest fluidity of musical expression. But it’s also okay to trust that where you are right now is great, too.
JGL: Do you find the business side of being a Jazz musician distracting or should the playing be left to the player and the business side of things be left to the managers and agents? Do you have a manager or agent or is it all a one-woman operation?
JG: I’m currently a one-woman operation! I often joke that in addition to being a musician, I’m a manager, a social media marketer, a website designer, an agent, etc. The list is long. Running a music business is a lot of work, and I often do wish that I had a team. But I’m also really thankful to have so many incredible opportunities coming my way, and so it’s very easy to count my blessings.
JGL: Any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar?
JG: Just dive right in! Don’t worry about it too much, just listen to a lot of records and transcribe the players that you love. Learn tunes, and play with other musicians whenever you can! Have fun!
JGL: Great advice Jocelyn! Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.
JG: I’ve never once had second thoughts about being a guitar player. Once I was committed, there was no plan B. I’m so happy to be a guitar player and I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else!
JGL: I expected that response…lol…BUT…If you had to do one thing over again, what would it be and why?
JG: I would worry less. I would trust that I’m on the right path, and that it’s okay to be where I am at any given point. I would have more trust that things were going to come together.
JGL: Thank you for that. So…apart from the new album, what else does the future hold for Jocelyn Gould?
JG: I’ve got a busy year coming up! The new school year is about to start, and I have a ton of touring coming up this year, too. I’m also already looking toward my third album, which will be released sometime in 2023.
JGL: Well I for one will be looking forward to that as well 🙂 Thank you so much Jocelyn for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. All the best in all that you do!
JG: Thank you Lyle.
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