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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 10

David Jacques: Guitarist Without Borders

by Caroline Rodgers / July 1, 2011

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If one had to use one word to describe guitarist David Jacques and his impressive career, it would undoubtedly be “versatile.” Soloist, chamber musician, professor, arranger and businessman, this jack-of-all-trades has already, at 32, participated in a thousand and one projects, exploring both classical and baroque music, as well as tango, jazz, rock and pop.

Known above all as a specialist in early music and chamber music, David Jacques is a member of Ensemble Caprice and plays regularly with Les Violons du Roy and Les Voix Baroques—among others. And although Jacques is most often found playing baroque or classical guitar, the lute or the theorbo, he is equally at home on the electric guitar.

He has played on over thirty recordings, including eight solo albums and two boxed sets. La Scena Musicale subscribers can hear Jacques on this month’s Discovery CD.

As if the 250-odd concerts he gives a year—here and abroad—were not enough to keep him busy, David Jacques is also a professor at the Music Department at Cégep de Sainte-Foy and the Faculty of Music at Université Laval. “Over the past few years, however, I have chosen to teach part time to better fit everything in,” he clarifies. “When I give a concert overseas, I fly out on a Friday and come back on a Sunday. Most of the time, my students don’t suffer too much. They actually benefit from the trips, since I always bring back new music.”

Composers for guitar are traditionally guitarists themselves. But David Jacques is leaving composing for a later date. “However, I write a lot of arrangements that are published by Les Productions d’Oz in Saint-Romuald, the biggest guitar music publisher in the world, which is how my work becomes known in many other countries,” he explains.

The guitar world, with its own societies, concerts and competitions, is almost separate from the rest of the music world. But these events attract more guitar players than members of the general public, which Jacques finds to be a shame. “I like getting out of my comfort zone by playing chamber music,” he says. “I feel that it’s there that the guitar really has a place with the other instruments. For example, in baroque-style music, I usually play the continuo part. There are not many of us in Quebec with this kind of savoir-faire, so I work as a freelance musician in at least fifteen different early music ensembles. This lets me tackle composers that guitarists usually don’t touch, like Purcell.”

The musician has a collection of around fifty early instruments. “The guitar isn’t a very resonant instrument, but at certain times in history, people liked to express their emotions in a different way,” explains the musician. “It offers a closeness and intimacy that other instruments don’t have, and evokes different emotions.”

Working with ensembles allows him to use what he considers one of his biggest qualities as a performer: his ability to listen to his peers. According to Jacques, it is also important that a guitarist know different playing styles. “The instrument covers over 500 years of repertoire and has been modified time and again,” he says. “To play these different repertoires well, you have to know the instrument, its history and its music. You also need a base in arrangement and transcription, since guitarists have always had to adapt music for their instrument, which is still the case today.”

Jacques has never stopped expanding his knowledge of music. In addition to his instrument collection, he has an impressive collection of diplomas. He has received a prize from Quebec’s Conservatoire de musique, a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in classical guitar performance from Université Laval, as well as a PhD in early music performance from the Université de Montréal. And the guitarist has also started a bachelor’s degree in jazz performance, which he is still working on.

Although he specializes in early music, he doesn’t idealize the past. When asked if he would rather live in a different era, he says no. “The 21st century is overflowing with inspiring composers and performers for classical guitar. Repertoire is exploding and technique is becoming more refined,” he says. “I’m happy to be alive in our era!”

Beyond baroque
On top of his chamber music and soloist pursuits, the guitarist also accompanies singers and is part of various pop music projects, like Beatles Forever, a homage to the Fab Four.

For many years, he was part of the Carmen and David duo, which recorded three albums, with his wife, jazz singer Carmen Genest. With the birth of their little girl 14 months ago, however, the new parents have put the duo on hold.

David Jacques accompanies singer Marie-Josée Lord in her new show, Voyage Latin, often playing to a packed house. Presently, there’s another project close to his heart: a collaboration with bandoneonist Denis Plante, in the ensemble Tango Boréal. “This time we’ll be playing Piazzolla’s Double Concerto for bandoneón, guitar and orchestra with Les Violons du Roy.”

As for his favourite composer, it’s not Ponce or Villa-Lobos, but Astor Piazzolla. “The boldness, enthusiasm and nostalgia in his work has always really inspired me,” he says. “I also like the lightness and sunny quality to Augustin Barrios’ music. And I really appreciate Claude Gagnon, my friend and colleague, for his instinctive, impressionist side.”

As for performers, the one he admires the most is David Russel, for his sensitivity and sound.

The musician-entrepreneur
An old cliché says musicians—artists in general—have no head for business. This is certainly not the case for David Jacques, a real musician-entrepreneur who successfully manages his own career.

In 2002, he founded a music creation and management business, Productions DJ, which promotes his concerts and those of the duos, trios and other ensembles he is part of. The business offers conceptually varied musical entertainment and shows for all kinds of events. Since it was founded, the company has produced over 2000 shows in 25 different countries. “I’m really interested in management and marketing,” he says. “I have as many books on business, marketing, sales and finance in my library as I do on music.”

Born in Beauce, a part of the country known for being a Quebec entrepreneurial hotbed, he grew up with a family of entrepreneurs. His passion for business was applied to music near the end of his master’s degree. With the help of his professor, Rémi Boucher, he learned how to make a living as a musician. “Rémi Boucher is one of the people who taught me how to break onto the international scene as a solo guitarist, how to make a website and invent ways to self-promote,” he explains.

Upon finishing his master’s degree, the guitarist organized his first tour and packed his bags for Australia. “I thought playing in another country was something reserved only for accomplished artists,” he says. “But Rémi Boucher made me understand that with the right repertoire and by making contacts, it can be done, even if you aren’t well-known yet.”

Even though this first tour ended in the red, it was an excellent learning experience and a launch pad for a successful international career. “I learned a lot from that experience, and thanks to word of mouth, I was invited to other festivals afterwards,” he recalls. “I started getting calls in the middle of the night from festivals on the other side of the world! So I fine tuned my sales skills and figured out ways to get my name out there.” One way was to join forces with foreign composers. “The composer would organize my tour in his country and, in exchange, I’d showcase their work. This allowed me to record many new pieces and to promote the guitar, all the while getting more exposure.”

In this business, a musician needs talent and personality. But for David Jacques, knowing how to sell oneself and manage one’s career is also fundamental. “My experience has shown that you need both,” he says. “If I hadn’t started my own company, I would probably still get offers to play, except I wouldn’t be able to organize my own projects. I’d be dependent on an ensemble or an orchestra, whereas right now I deal directly with concert organizers. Even better, I’m an employer myself, and provide a lot of Quebec musicians with work. When we all take the plane together to go play in Europe, it’s just as rewarding as the end of a successful concert!”

He believes that there are many equally valid ways to have his instrument appreciated. “I never turn down a concert,” he says. “I’m not someone interested in playing only in large halls or important festivals. I am just as happy to play in schools or museums. I will never belittle a concert organizer who offers me the chance to introduce the public to the guitar.”

David Jacques in concert:
» Music and Beyond Festival in Ottawa with Tango Boréal and Les Violons du Roy, July 15
» Festival des Hautes Laurentides with Tango Boréal, August 7 and with Marie-Josée Lord, August 12
» Domaine Forget with Les Violons du Roy and Tango Boréal, August 20

[Translation: Aleshia Jensen]

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