Lorraine Desmarais. Pianist, composer, teacher, b Montreal 15 Aug 1956; B MUS (Sherbrooke) 1977, M MUS (Sherbrooke) 1979. Desmarais studied with Armas Maiste 1978-9 at McGill University and Kenny Barron 1983-4 privately in New York, taking something of the latter's headlong improvisational style for her own. Desmarais first toured in Canada in 1982 for Youth and Music Canada (YMC). In 1984 she won the Festival international de jazz de Montréal (FIJM) Concours de Jazz Yamaha; the LP Trio Lorraine Desmarais that resulted received a Félix Award in 1985. She subsequently won the 1986 Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Fla, the first Canadian to do so.
Desmarais toured Canada in 1985, 1988, and 1990. A solo tour of Asia in 1988 included performances in Jakarta, Singapore, and Manila. She has been a favourite at the FIJM since the 1980s and also appeared at jazz festivals, eg, in Zurich (1985), Caen, France (1989), and elsewhere in Europe, the US, the UK, and Senegal. At the 1991 FIJM she introduced a fusion-styled group, Vision. Her reputation rising quickly, she toured France (1994), Europe (1997), the UK (1998), and Canada several times in the 1990s. Notable concerts included those with Les Vents de Montréal (1997), the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (4 Jul 2002), and Spain's Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia (2005).
The pianist has appeared at Toronto's Top o' the Senator club, and the New York clubs Bluenote and Birdland. She was guest pianist with Hugh Fraser and the Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation at the International Association of Jazz Education conference in Toronto (2002). In 2004, she was featured in the show Elles Jazzent, with Jane Bunnett and other Canadian jazz women. Other collaborating artists have included Chick Corea, Ranee Lee, Marian McPartland, Vic Vogel, Bruno Pelletier and singer-songwriters Jim Corcoran and Michel Rivard. As sidewoman, she toured and recorded with the New York female big band Diva in 1998. Although she most often leads a trio (with bassist Frédéric Alarie and drummer Camil Bélisle), she founded her own big band, which debuted in Montreal in April 2005.
Lorraine Desmarais holds the 2002 Oscar Peterson Prize from the MIJF, and the 2004 Prix à la création artistique from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. She acknowledges Peterson as one of her earliest influences. The 2003 Guido Basso recording Lost in the Stars, on which she appears, won a Juno award. In 2007 she won the André Gagnon prize from Société Professionnelle des Auteurs et Compositeurs du Québec (SPACQ).
In 2011 she was the first recipient of the Prix Gérard Hébert at the Festival de Jazz de Québec. That same year Desmarais was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Université de Québec à Montreal and in 2012 she was named a member of the Order of Canada.
Compositions and Teaching
Desmarais's recorded jazz themes include pieces showing a Latin influence (eg, Samba, Samba para la corrida) and others (eg, Andante) that reflect her early classical training. Her Odalisque and Sonata for Flute and Piano have been recorded by Oliver Jones, and Lise Daoust and Louise Bessette, respectively. She composed XIII Theme and variations for Angèle Dubeau. Her recordings (for CBC, Analekta) contain many of her own compositions, and in 1995 she founded her own company: Productions Lorraine Desmarais. She also wrote music for some National Film Board productions and themes for CBC radio broadcasts. Desmarais began teaching jazz (piano and ensemble) at the St-Laurent Cegep, Montreal, in 1979 and also taught at the University of Montreal in the 1980s.
She has been the host of a show on Radio-Canada Lorraine Desmarais reçoit.
Laurier, Andrée. "Making jazz in Montreal," Canadian Composer, (Dec 1985); Miller, Mark. The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada (2001)