Get to know 2023 Insturmental Album of the Year nominee, Jean-Michel Blais in our “7 Questions With” series where we speak with first-time JUNO Award nominees from all genres.
Jean-Michel Blais has been a celebrated figure in the post-classical piano world since the release of his critically-acclaimed debut album II in 2016. He attended Quebec’s prestigious Trois-Rivières Music Conservatory but left after two years of study, exhausted by the restraints of the traditional music curriculum. Blais then travelled widely before retraining as a special education teacher. Whilst working as a teacher, he returned to music on his own terms, rediscovering his passion through improvising on the piano. These improvisations formed the basis of a recording career that has earned him two Polaris Music Prize nominations, a #1 on the Billboard Classical chart and a Time Magazine top ten album of the year.
1. How does it feel to be nominated for a JUNO award?
Instrumental music has the capacity to transcend languages. It is therefore with joy and honour that I receive this nomination, moved, touched, and noting once again that music has left its French homeland to travel to an English and Allophone realm.
2. Tell us a bit about your JUNO-nominated project.
aubades (French for “dawn serenade”) is a celebration of sunrise, spring and the beginning of life! Pandemic confinement afforded me time to learn how to orchestrate this collection of optimistic, luminous and dynamic pieces for a chamber ensemble of 12 musicians, reflecting a collective resilience, as though, during this darker and lonelier period, I was writing my own light therapy.
3. What has been the craziest moment of your music career to date?
There are many: the fact that I never thought I would become a musician (I was a special educator 5 years ago), the nomination in Time magazine’s Top 10 albums of the year, the Cannes Soundtrack Festival award (for a Xavier Dolan film I scored), the opportunity to travel the world through and for music, but most of all, the chance to do what I feel I’m on Earth for.
4. What’s your favourite song from this project and why? What is the meaning behind it?
“amour” is an ode to relationships: the love of a parent for its child, of a lover for its beloved, of a friend for another … the piano acts as a tapestry on which each instrument lays down one by one, questions, answers, from the strings, to the winds, to the brass, to finally waltz together, in a loving harmony.
5. Which Canadian artist would you like to collaborate with and why?
There are many, but if I had to pick just one, both because it’s on the opposite side of my spectrum and because its beats have deeply influenced me, I’d like to work with Caribou.
6. What would you like music fans to know about you? How would you introduce your music to new or soon-to-be fans?
I would like people to know that at one point in my life I had to give up everything, music, classical music, piano, because I had not yet found my own way. That is to say, I had not yet learned to create music by and for myself and exist artistically as an authentic individual. I therefore had to free myself from the perfectionist and categorizing shackles from which I had emerged, in order to create music in my own image, sure with classical influences, but also contemporary accents, at once technical, moving and honest. It was at that point I was comfortable sharing my creations with others, and with the audience.
7. What’s next for you?
On the one hand, the last tour went so well that we are considering extending it for at least another year! On the other hand, creatively, I of course have a dozen secret projects simmering inside me with the fervent need to create again…and soon.
Rewatch every performance and memorable moment from The 2023 JUNO Awards broadcast, on CBC Gem, CBCMusic.ca/junos and The JUNO Awards social channels.