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Juno comes home

Jazz professor’s golden statuette arrives at School of Music

By Danielle Hamel

Florian Hoefner is no stranger to awards, but his most recent one is particularly prestigious among Canadian musicians.

The pianist, composer and assistant professor of jazz studies in the School of Music at Memorial took home the Juno Award for Jazz Album of the Year: Group during a ceremony held in Edmonton, Alta, in March of last year.

The winning album is titled Desert Bloom and was recorded by the Florian Hoefner Trio, which features Andrew Downing on bass and Nick Fraser on drums.

Only he did not get to literally “take home” the award back in the spring. Recently, he finally received the package and unwrapped the statuette with his and fellow bandmates’ names on it. It’s now in the School of Music and causing some excitement.

Born and raised in Germany, trained in New York City and now based in Canada, Prof. Hoefner draws from a myriad of influences that cumulate in his unique brand of modern jazz.

Along with bassist Jim Vivian, Prof. Hoefner hosts an international jazz series called Atlantic Jazz Nights presented by the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. The next event in the series will take place on March 24, followed by a tour of the province’s Arts and Culture Centres.

In addition to winning the 2023 Juno, the trio also garnered nominations for the 2023 East Coast Music Awards in the categories Instrumental Recording of the Year and Jazz Recording of the Year and received multiple MusicNL Award nominations in 2022.

Read on to hear from Prof. Hoefner about his music, his JUNO win and his upcoming projects in a Q&A.

DH: Tell me about your experience working with the trio. Has the Juno Award provided you with new opportunities?

FH: My trio is with Andrew Downing on bass and Nick Fraser on drums, both based in Toronto.

I cannot overstate the importance of these two fantastic musicians to the sound and success of the trio and consequently to the Juno win.

Three white men in their 40s sit together smiling.
From left are Andrew Downing, Florian Hoefner and Nick Fraser.
Photo: Bo Huang

We have been playing together since 2018 and Andrew and Nick really understand my music and what I am going for with my compositions. Over the years I have also tailored my compositions more and more to their specific musical personalities.

Thanks to our regular touring schedule we have also become really familiar with each other’s playing. All of this has led to the band becoming a really tight unit.

There is just so much freedom and room for risk-taking when we play these days because you can always rely on everyone to support you wherever you take it musically.

The Juno Award has definitely boosted our reputation in Canada and abroad and led to some new performance engagements.

DH: What happened behind the scenes at the Junos that we didn’t see televised?

FH: I will never forget that weekend. First of all, because I almost didn’t make it.

I was scheduled to fly out in the early morning of the awards show. But then we had a big snowstorm that day and all flights (including mine) but one was cancelled.

The one that went was hopelessly oversold but I took my chance and got up at 4 a.m. and headed to the airport to try to fly standby. I made it onto the flight as the last passenger.

Then I was lucky again in Toronto that I caught a delayed connecting flight that still got me to Edmonton in time to fit in a short nap and a shower before the awards show.

“When I led my first rehearsal with the jazz orchestra after I returned from the awards, [my students] all applauded and congratulated me.”

The show itself was fun. I had never been to anything like it. The best part about it was running into so many jazz musicians from all over Canada.

There was also a big hang after the show and the next day. When my name was called it was a total surprise — no one really knows ahead of time.

After I gave my short speech on stage, I was ushered backstage where there was a whole itinerary of different photo shoots, interviews and a press room. It was all very exciting.

DH: It’s been almost a year since the show. What projects have you completed since then, or have in progress now?

FH: In October I released a new album with my duo, Flying Pooka!, with saxophonist/vocalist Dani Oore, called The Ecstasy of Becoming. We also did a little tour in Eastern Canada shortly afterward.

I am also very excited about a collaboration with the classical chamber ensemble, Iris Trio, for whom I wrote a whole program of compositions in partnership with decorated Canadian poet Don McKay.

The Iris Trio is going to release the program on an album under the title Project Earth: The Blue Chapter on March 8 on Centrediscs.

“I also hope that it generates some excitement around possible career pathways for students in the genre.”

I have also just recorded a new album with a new group called the Atlantic Jazz Collective, which includes Jim Vivian, Mike Murley and me.

The album features legendary U.K. vocalist Norma Winstone and drummer Joe LaBarbera, as special guests and is slated for release in the fall of 2024.

Right now, I am busy writing one-half of a new program for jazz quartet and chamber orchestra.

This project is a collaboration with the Canadian saxophonist and composer Quinsin Nachoff and will be recorded in Montréal in October.

But between all of this, the trio remains a staple of my artistic activities and we are still regularly touring and performing.

DH: What sort of reactions did you receive from students once they found out that you won the JUNO Award?

FH: My students were so kind.

When I led my first rehearsal with the jazz orchestra after I returned from the awards, they all applauded and congratulated me.

Many students also spoke to me when I met them in the building — they brought a lot of excitement to the whole adventure.

DH: How do you think the Juno Award will inspire and encourage School of Music students, particularly those who are studying jazz?

FH: My hope is that the Juno Award helps to draw greater attention to what we are doing in the jazz area at the School of Music, such as our new minor in jazz, the jazz combo program, the jazz orchestra and a new jam lab where students can get together for jam sessions and rehearsals on their own time.

I also hope that it generates some excitement around possible career pathways for students in the genre.

DH: Where are you going to keep your Juno?

FH: For now, it is living on the fireplace mantel in our living room.

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