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Jocelyn Gould: "Jazz is a language – if you don’t hear it, you can’t speak it"

Jocelyn Gould
(Image credit: Anna Yatskevich)

“For artists there are these moments of serendipity,” says Jocelyn Gould, whose smile implies both wonder and gratitude. “You can’t explain them, but they change everything.” 

For this rising Canadian guitarist such a moment came in June, when her debut album, Elegant Traveler, scooped the trophy for Jazz Album of the Year at the Juno Awards, Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys.  

Another came a decade ago when the Winnipegger was 19, a bedroom guitar player into the folk of Joni Mitchell and the blues of BB King. “I was majoring in Chemistry in college, and I had a couple of friends studying jazz in Winnipeg,” she recalls. “I went to a jam session with them and was blown away by the community, and the fun of it.” 

She ditched science for music, and by 2018 had completed a Masters in Jazz Studies at Michigan State University. Elegant Traveler showcases Gould’s clean, sophisticated and soulful playing, her warm tone coming from her Benedetto 16-A guitar via a Fender Blues Junior. 

The record speaks to her skill as a composer, too. Garnished with songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Richard Rodgers, it’s stacked with original instrumentals dreamed up on long daily walks through New York City. She was living there back in 2019, making rent as a session guitarist.

“New York’s so cool,” she says. ”I’d play clubs with musicians like Etienne Charles, Diego Rivera and Michael Dease.” That same year Gould was jamming at a late-night, guitarists-only club gig. The Dean of Toronto’s Humber College was present and so impressed that he mooted the possibility of Gould teaching there. 

Just a month later a vacancy came up, and she now balances her performance commitments with her duties as the head of Humber’s 80 student-strong guitar department. 

“I try to impress upon my students that jazz is a language, and if you don’t hear it you can’t speak it,” she explains. “So on the first day I list 10 amazing jazz guitarists to listen to. My ‘big four’ are Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Joe Pass.”

From there her students learn the juicy stuff, like the best way of approaching a dominant (fifth) chord in a progression. Gould’s hot tip: next time you’re jamming blues in A, over the E turnaround try the E altered scale – E F G Ab Bb C D – for extra spice.

“Blues is the bridge between jazz and rock,” she says. “Grant Green is rooted in the blues. He’s a lot like, say, Eddie Van Halen – ‘pentatonics’ is just a fancy term for blues. The further I’ve got into this the less I see genre divides as an obstacle. It’s all about the spirit of the music...”