Andrew Boudreau - Jazz Pianist

He/Him - Pianist Andrew Boudreau is quickly becoming an active part of the North American and international jazz scenes. In 2013, Andrew was one of eight outstanding Canadian musicians, and the only pianist to receive the Astral Artist Prize at the National Arts Centre (Ottawa).  Andrew completed a Master of Music at the New England Conservatory, Bachelor of Music at the Schulich School of Music (McGill University), holds an ARCT Diploma (Piano Performance) from the Royal Conservatory of Music. 

Andrew has performed in the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Jazz Educators’ Network (Dallas, TX), OFF festival de jazz de Montréal, Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Halifax Jazz Festival and the International Chamber Music Festival (Stavanger, Norway). Andrew has also had the privilege to perform with a diverse array of musicians and ensembles, such as the Orchestre national de jazz de Montréal with David Binney, Kevin Dean, Rémi Bolduc, Joel Miller, Jeff Johnston, Jan Jarczyk, Measha Brueggergosman, and the Altsys Jazz Orchestra among others. Andrew currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. 

Andrew and I grew up together. In fact, our childhood homes are about a block from each other through a small patch of trees. We played together in groups all through grade school, but now I have the pleasure of knowing him as a musician who is internationally known. As a pianist, Andrew has a career that has him performing with some of the most acclaimed jazz musicians in the world. As a friend, he was an essential person to talk to for CQ. Here is an excerpt of a lovely chat from his home in Brooklyn.

{Jacob} - From my understanding, as someone who doesn’t work in jazz, I am guessing there are not many out queer people working in jazz. Is that fair to say?

{Andrew} - Yes. Correct. Though, there are people of course, but they’re usually younger people. Though there are more established people - people like Fred Hersch. But as you look down through people who are younger and younger there are more and more people who are out. A friend of mine here at the New England Conservatory started Q.U.E.S.T the Queer Student Union and we presented a few concerts and a panel discussion. But, this is the first year that it happened. But it’s going to continue on which I think is a really great thing. But those concerts included many musicians in the classical department, however that department is much larger. But yes, all the queer musicians I’ve worked with have been in the younger age category.

{Jacob} - Fred Hersch! Yes. The only older, out, jazz musicians names I know are Fred Hersch, Andy Bey, and Billy Strayhorn. Do you listen to all of them?

{Andrew} - Oh totally.

{Jacob} - Do you listen to them, or listen differently, because you’re queer and they’re queer?  

{Andrew} - No. No, I don’t think I do. I think there might be a difference with vocalists, cus they deal with lyrics, but I don’t think Fred Hersch’s piano playing sounds more queer than anyone else. I do think that because he’s from a different generation than me that he’s had to deal with a fair amount of people presuming things about his music or about him personally. Hopefully people don’t have to deal with that as much today. But, he came out in the 90s, and in New York. I think the world is a different place now. There was a queer jazz festival that only happened, to my knowledge, once in Philadelphia. In 2013 or 2014 and it was called Outbeat: America’s first queer jazz festival - which is a very funny name - and it had, I believe, the drummer Bill Stewart, Terri Lynn Carrington who is another drummer who is fantastic, Patricia Barber who is a queer jazz vocalist.

{Jacob} - I will look that up! That all sounds fantastic. Do you think that people don’t get into jazz because it’s perceived as a not so safe space for queer people? In comparison to other genres, is it viewed as much more of a hetero boys club?

{Andrew} - I don’t think it’s considered a queer space or really even a very safe space for queer people. But, I also don’t think it’s a terribly safe space for women. Which is no  shock to anyone in the community, but I think a lack of role models is definitely one part. For both queer people and women in jazz. Though, I think the environment is much more hostile toward women for sure. In my opinion. The whole “play like a man” mentality rubs the wrong way with a lot of different people. And that is certainly a large part of early jazz pedagogy, which is sad and stupid, but hopefully that’s going away.

{Jacob} - Have you ever felt that hostility?

{Andrew} - I don’t think I’ve ever felt outright hostility or violence. Or even really any extreme discomfort, but certainly via microaggressions. You know, people making a joke, not directed toward anyone, or language they might use. And I would imagine that it is largely unintentional. It’s not that all jazz musicians are horribly mean-spirited. But it’s easy if you’re in a room of entirely male musicians - or largely - people feel like they can make jokes, or make comments without taking other people into consideration.

{Jacob} - When I talk to musicians, I’m always curious to see if you play differently. Or if you think you play differently based on your life and identity. There has been a lot of writing done on the classical side about how queer composers and performers approach playing and writing differently, and how that creates a different outcome. Do you think there is anything in that for you?

{Andrew} - I wouldn’t say no. For sure. But I don’t think it’s something that occupies a lot of my headspace or artistic consciousness. But I wouldn’t deny that it plays a part. Perhaps if someone picked up a recording of me playing and a straight person playing that they wouldn’t notice a difference. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.     

{Jacob} - I am of the belief that there are often innate things that we project into our art, whether we intend it or not, based on our perception of the rest of the world. That there are things that we can’t control.

{Andrew} - It’s hard to say what makes Billy Strahorn’s music so different from the other people writing in the early 20th century because he’s also just such an important jazz composer to begin with. But if you take his music and compare it to other composers at the time, his music is quite different and I think quite distinct. He’s also a cool person to look at because he was out in the 20s 30s and 40s. And even in his job working for Duke Ellington, it was no secret to anyone that he was gay. But that is arguably because he was under the wing of Ellington who was one of the greatest jazz musicians and composers ever. And so he enjoyed a certain level of protection, or stability, or comfort that others might not have enjoyed at that time.

{Jacob} - Maybe not unlike someone like Leonard Bernstein, who made very few attempts to hide his homosexuality, but because he was at the absolute top echelon of performing, composing, conducting - who is saying anything against him?

Do you have a network of queer people outside of music that influence your life? Do you feel connected to the larger gay community?

{Andrew} - Absolutely. There are people who are maybe not directly involved in my music making that influence my life. My art. But it is also important to have musicians around too. Like, the Queer Student Union. We did a concert recently and I accompanied a friend on "Lush Life"- actually by Billy Strayhorn - but there were classical people as well. A harpist, a violist, a couple composition majors, a pianist. The concert ended up being one of the most diverse and inclusive group of students I’ve ever seen at the NEC. So that actually created a great cohort of people. Queer music by queer music kind of reassembled us in a weird way.  

{Jacob} - I don’t know that i’ve heard of another Queer Student Union in a conservatory or arts school.

{Andrew} - Yeah. I think it’s pretty unique. Especially for such a small school. You know what musicians are like. They’re so disengaged sometimes. They just want to practice and make music. Especially since about half the student population are graduate students. So I think it’s amazing that this has been so well received and accepted. That there is really great engagement with it. I think the two that put it together, Sam and Jack, have done an amazing job. It’s been really well received. Even the drag show! It was so well attended. The school itself also published an interview with people involved and published it through its normal channels as well which is wonderful!

{Jacob} - That’s amazing. That’s such progress!

{Andrew} - One thing I should say is that I think there has been a more recent shift in my own understanding of my music, and how much queer related stuff I can find and incorporate into my own work. People like Billy Strayhorn. And there are more reasons than him being gay for me to play his stuff - I would anyway - but I think it’s important to play his music. I remember reading an interview with Fred Hersch where he said he always finishes a concert with pieces by Thelonius Monk. It’s become my own quiet and personal mission to see how much of Billy Strayhorn’s music I can incorporate into my own programs. In my last recital I ended up playing two of his pieces. But maybe it’s even too easy to just play some Billy Strayhorn. Maybe it’s more interesting to play something like Bach in a queer context.

{Jacob} - Queer-ing Bach! Such a heterosexual. He had so many children!

Lush Life by Billy Strayhorn

I used to visit all the very gay places

Those come-what-may places

Where one relaxes on the axis of the Wheel of Life

To get the feel of life

From jazz and cocktails

 

The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces

With distingué traces

That used to be there

You could see where they'd been washed away

By too many through the day

Twelve o'clock-tails

 

Then you came along with your siren song

To tempt me to madness

I thought for awhile that your poignant smile

Was tinged with a sadness

Of a great love for me

 

Ah, yes, I was wrong

Again, I was wrong

Life is lonely, again

And only last year everything seemed so sure

Now life is awful, again

 

A troughful of hearts could only be a bore

A week in Paris

Will ease the bite of it

All I care is

To smile, in spite of it

 

I'll forget you, I will

While yet you are still

Burning inside my brain

 

Romance is mush

Stifling those who strive

I'll live a lush life

In some small dive...

 

And there I'll be

While I rot with the rest

Of those whose lives are lonely too...

 

AndrewBoudreauHeadshot.jpg