(L to R): Jocelyn Gould, Gentiane MG, Noam Lemish, Laila Biali.Ah, awards season. That very special time of year when artists across a variety of fields experience the thrill of being nominated, grapple with existential issues of the validity of awards and rankings within the arts, eat a moderately expensive banquet salad, and rub shoulders with fellow Canadian music-industry colleagues. (When I attended the JUNOs, in 2016, Canadian hip-hop legend Kardinal Offishall came up behind me, patted me on the shoulder and said “keep doing what you’re doing, man.” When I turned around, he said “oh, sorry, thought you were, uhh…” and promptly left. It remains a proud moment.)

This year, I had a chance to interview four nominated musicians (Jocelyn Gould, Noam Lemish, Gentiane MG, and Laila Biali) in anticipation of the big event: about their projects, their thoughts on the big day, on other musicians, and on what comes after the JUNOs.

By the time you read this, all that anticipation will be after the fact. The event will already have taken place – on Sunday March 24, 2024, at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, hosted by national icon Nelly Furtado. As the winners themselves will doubtless remind us, looking out at their fellow nominees, there are no losers at an event which more than anything is a celebration of the Canadian music industry at a particularly precarious moment in the history of recorded music. 

So in that celebratory vein, we offer you the thoughts of four worthy contenders, and alongside their reflections, a list of the other nominees in all the categories we usually cover in the “Mainly Jazz” beat of this magazine. The icing on the cake: almost all the nominated albums were reviewed in this magazine’s DISCoveries section over the past 12 months. So you can see what we said about them before we knew they were going to be nominated.

About their nominated albums

Noam Lemish's "Twelve" album.The artist: Noam Lemish 

Category: Jazz Album of the Year (Solo)

Reviewed by us: Vol. 28 No. 3

“My album Twelve features my original compositions for a chamber-sized jazz orchestra (12tet) featuring myself on piano alongside an all-star cast from amongst Toronto’s finest jazz musicians. The six pieces in the record showcase long-form, through-composed music that embraces genre-bending as an essential feature. My own multi-cultural upbringing and life shapes the sounds of this record, thus blending my rootedness in jazz and Western art music, alongside musical influences from my Israeli childhood and Eastern-European Jewish heritage.”

Laila Biali's album "Your Requests"The artist: Laila Biali 

Category: Vocal Jazz Album of the Year

Reviewed by us: Vol. 29 No. 1

Your Requests was my response to 150 song requests submitted by friends, fans and followers over social media (Facebook, Instagram and “X”). I’ve always loved engaging community and crowd-sourcing material – and for Your Requests I decided to make the Great American Songbook the focus. It’s my first full album release of jazz standards and it features Kurt Elling, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Caity Gyorgy, Anat Cohen, Grégoire Maret, Kelly Jefferson, George Koller, Larnell Lewis, Ben Wittman and Manino Costa.”

Gentiane MG's album "Walls Made of Glass"The artist: Gentiane MG 

Category: Jazz Album of the Year (Solo)

Reviewed by us: Vol. 28 No. 2

“Walls Made of Glass is my third trio album with this ensemble. Composing this music, my intent was to immortalize moments that felt particularly meaningful, just like one could do with a picture, but in this case, through music. I took a long time to create this album at every step of the way. Writing, workshopping, creating and thinking about the artwork, and every aspect of the recording process. A bit more than a year after the release, despite the fact that I am excited to start writing again and to explore new territories, there is nothing I would want to change about this album, and for me, this is a great artistic accomplishment.”

Jocelyn Gould's album "Sonic Bouquet"The artist: Jocelyn Gould 

Category: Jazz Album of the Year (Solo)

Reviewed by us: Vol. 29 No. 4

Sonic Bouquet is my third album as a leader. The personnel spans three generations of jazz musicians and contains mentors and peers of mine. The band is half Canadian and half American, and consists of an unusual front line of two guitars and clarinet. I co-produced this album with my mentor and friend, guitarist Randy Napoleon. The album contains a combination of originals and lesser played standards that have significant meaning to me.

On getting ready for the big event

Gould: I won Jazz Album Of The Year: Solo in 2021, a year in which the JUNOs were hosted online due to COVID. Although I have already won a JUNO, I have never had the opportunity to attend. The biggest excitement for me is simply to get to be there in person and be surrounded by the immense amount of talent that will be present. I also love Halifax, and am thrilled to have an opportunity to visit such a beautiful city.

MG: I’m very proud to be nominated for the JUNOs alongside so many amazing projects and musicians. As a French Canadian from Quebec, it means a lot for me to be nominated for the number one Canadian music award ceremony. It makes me feel more part of the great Canadian musical community. As an artist, I believe strongly in the meaning of sharing art as a way of making the world a better place, and to be nominated for a JUNO Awards definitely helps the music to be more widely shared.

Lemish: It means a lot for my music to be recognized in this way. This nomination is not only an acknowledgment of my work as a pianist and composer, but really the collective efforts of everyone that was involved in creating this album. I’m really looking forward to taking part in the festivities in Halifax with my fellow nominees!

Biali: This nomination came as quite a surprise. It’s been a tough few years for many musicians, so it was a lovely boost – though I always remind myself that we create music for the love of it, to connect with listeners and hopefully spread some goodness in the world. That’s really what drives us, though the recognition of a JUNO nomination is helpful and a great honour, of course.

On other nominees

Gould: I have always been a huge admirer of Christine Jensen. She’s a phenomenal musician, and is also someone that I look up to in the music industry. I’ve loved all of her records, including the one that is currently nominated.

Biali: Caity Gyorgy is a phenom and I was very grateful to have her guest with me on Your Requests (on Pennies from Heaven). I also had the opportunity to share the stage recently with Dominique Fils-Aimé and the audience was completely rapt. She is an electrifying performer, completely devoted to her art, and a beautiful soul.

Upcoming Post-JUNO Shows

Lemish: I’ll be performing at The Rex (in Toronto) May 8-11 with the wonderful American guitarist/oud virtuoso and long time musical collaborator Amos Hoffman.

Biali: I will be joining the Mississauga Temple Big Band for the first time on Saturday, April 27 at the Mississauga Salvation Army Mississauga Community Church. My trio featuring George Koller and Ben Wittman will play a few selections on our own, and then I’ll be playing and singing with the large ensemble the rest of the night.

The complete list of Jazz Category nominees

Vocal jazz album of the year:

  • Songwriter, Alex Bird & Ewen Farncombe Vol 28 No.4
  • You’re Alike, You Two, Caity Gyorgy and Mark Limacher Vol 29 No.5
  • Little Bit a’ Love, Denielle Bassels Vol 29 No.1
  • Our Roots Run Deep, Dominique Fils-Aimé 
  • Your Requests, Laila Biali Vol 29 No.1

Jazz album of the year (solo):

  • Day Moon, Christine Jensen
  • Walls Made of Glass, Gentiane MG Vol 28 No.2
  • Sonic Bouquet, Jocelyn Gould Vol 29 No.4
  • Twelve, Noam Lemish Vol 28 No.3
  • The South Detroit Connection, Russ Macklem

Jazz album of the year (group):

  • Migrations, Allison Au with the Migrations Ensemble Vol 29 No.4
  • Septology-The Black Forest Session, Canadian Jazz Collective  Vol 28 No.6
  • Cry Me a River, Hilario Duran and His Latin Jazz Big Band Vol 29 No.3
  • Recent History, Mike Murley & Mark Eisenman Quartet Vol 29 No.4
  • Convergence, Nick Maclean Quartet feat. Brownman Ali Vol 29 No.5

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, and on Instagram and X.

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