Norman Marshall Villeneuve is a beloved icon of Canadian Jazz. In his remarkable 8th decade in music, this legendary jazz drummer is a Félix Award winner, bandleader, recording artist, and master of bebop, is known as "Canada's Art Blakey" for his passion and iconic drum solos. His new CD, "Montreal Sessions" was named by CBC Music as one of the ten outstanding jazz albums of 2017. For decades, Norman has led jazz ensembles and bands under his banner, “Norman Marshall Villeneuve’s Jazz Message”, bringing to the stage respected jazz icons in their own right, including David Restivo, Robi Botos, Ken Fornetran, Grant Stewart, Jake Wilkinson, Kieran Overs, Shawn Nyquist, and many others.
In December 2017, Norman made an impromptu performance at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga. Walking on the stage alone, under a single spotlight, to join Robi Botos and Dave Young, the packed house of 1,300, welcomed Norman with a standing ovation, in a spontaneous outpouring of love and respect.
Born May 29, 1938 in Montreal, Norm grew up in St. Henri and Little Burgundy, home to Oscar Peterson, Victor Vogel, Oliver Jones, the Sealy Brothers, and many who are part of Montreal's beloved jazz history. Norm attended Union United Church Montreal, where he studied piano with Daisy Peterson-Sweeney.
With a natural gift for rhythm, at 8 Norm was tap dancing and singing at community gatherings, winning dance competitions at 11. He began to teach himself drums at 10 and jazz music by listening to musicians like Illinois Jacquet, Earl Bostic, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones, and Art Blakey, to whom he has dedicated his life's work. In 1955, at 17, Oliver Jones invited Norm to perform on CBC Radio with him and Richard Parris. This was followed by his first permanent gig at the Arcade Hotel. Montreal was swinging, and Norm played Rockhead's Paradise, Chez Parée, Penthouse, Esquire Showbar, Black Bottom and Café la Bohème. He met many jazz luminaries, including Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Rouse, Booker Ervin, Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey.
Villeneuve has performed with jazz royalty: Duke Ellington, Oliver Jones, Junior Mance, Charles Coleman, Frank Motley, Curtis Fuller, Barry Harris, Julius Watkins, Jackie McLean, Ray Draper, Jay McShann, Charlie Rouse, Booker Ervin, Big Miller, “Wild Bill” Davison, Jack McDuff, Charlie Biddle, Nelson Symonds, Dave Young, and Jane Bunnett He has backed many vocalists, including Anita O'Day, Blossom Dearie, Slim Gaillard, Sheila Jordan, Ranee Lee, Michelle Sweeney and Jackie Richardson.
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Oliver Jones chose Norm as his drummer, to join him on stages throughout North and South America, and on tours with Jamaican vocalist Kenny Hamilton, Ranee Lee, Richard Ring and Dave Young. With Oliver, Norman performed for Bill Clinton and Jean Chretien, and for thousands at the Air Canada Centre, Place des Arts, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, and even on a US Navy aircraft carrier, along with Bob Hope, Paul Anka, Red Skeleton, Jimmy Durante and others. Norm's credits include several appearances on national television and a movie with the Olsen twins.
In 1974, Norm moved to Toronto and quickly gained a reputation as a jazz master. He performed with dozens of local jazz musicians at top venues like Four Seasons Centre, Bourbon Street, George's Spaghetti House, Myers, Montreal Bistro, Top Of the Senator, Bermuda Onion, Jazz Bistro, Pilot and Rex. In 1991, Norman took his sextet on a successful cross-Canada tour. He has performed at many top venues in Canada and at jazz festivals throughout the country.
In 2013 Norm returned home to Montreal, where he continues his life's work, playing on stages large and small, with the passion and excitement that is his hallmark. With an outstanding career, in his 7th decade as a professional musician, Norm remains an active and respected leader on the Canadian jazz scene.
The Norman Marshall Villeneuve Scholarship, created in 2012, is awarded annually to a percussion student with high academic achievement, leadership, excellent musicianship, and a passion for jazz. Norm has been a guest at Concordia University classes and participates in community events about Montreal jazz history. The Norman Marshall Villeneuve Jazz Collection Fond is part of the Concordia University Archive.
by Louise Artibello ©