Documentary pays tribute to jazz great Oliver Jones
September 28, 2017
As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens.
When Global TV laid off news anchor and three-time Olympian Rosey Ugo Edeh just over a year ago, she didn’t drop her head and shed tears.
Just like she did in 1982 when she fell flat on her face the first time she tried to hurdle on the track, the media practitioner pulled herself together after the initial shock and went full speed ahead with directing her first film, ‘Oliver Jones | Mind Hands Heart’, that will premiere at the Montreal International Black Film Festival.
“Oh yes, it was a blessing in disguise when I severed ties with Global,” she firmly said. “It’s not the end when a TV station says we don’t need you anymore. Canada and the world still need my skills and I am not about to step aside and stop what I am doing.”
The one-hour documentary pays tribute to the acclaimed Canadian jazz pianist and follows him in the weeks leading up to his retirement earlier this year after seven decades as a renowned performer.
Edeh conceived the idea for the documentary after Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot made an appearance on Global TV about 36 months ago.
“He was on one of the magazine shows and I wanted to hear a little bit more about him, but this was a news program and there was only so much time allotted to him,” she said. “It occurred to me at that moment that I would love to see an in-depth story of Oliver Jones. I don’t know why his name came into my head. I guess I was equating him with other Canadian musicians who have been around for a long time.”
Another reason that Jones might have been foremost in her mind is because they are from Montreal.
“I was raised there and I knew he was an artist who was just doing his thing for decades and wasn’t looking for any real big recognition because he loves music,” the British-born Edeh said. “Oliver is one of those people who, even if you are not really big into jazz, you will know who he is just by being a Montrealer. I saw him perform with jazz vocalist Ranee Lee and they killed it. I am a fan of jazz like the next person who loves to go to the Montreal Jazz Festival and the chilled out music, but I am even more of a fan of artists who really dedicate their lives to their craft and perfect it. They were put on this earth to inspire people through their art. Oliver is one of those people and I thought it would be amazing to bring his story to light.”
When the time came to make the pitch, Edeh decided to go through Jones’ manager, Jim West, who launched the jazz label, ‘Justin Time’, in 1983.
“It so happened that Jim was coming to Toronto on business, so I took a day off from work and made the pitch to him,” she said. “I gave him some background of who I am and what I do and he said he would pass on my project proposal to Mr. Jones and we would see.”
It didn’t take long for the octogenarian to contact Edeh who was Canada’s first world-class performer in the one-lap 400-metre hurdles.
Jones once ran track and was familiar with her face on television.
“He said ‘yes’ even before we met,” said Edeh whose 54.39 secs. record at the Atlanta Olympics 21 years ago still stands. “He thought it was a great idea.”
Working with the musical prodigy and Order of Canada holder was an amazing experience for Edeh who attended York University and spent a year at Fresno State before completing her post-secondary education at Rice where she was inducted into their Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
“This is my first feature, so I needed to make sure this film is as good as I can make it,” the former Entertainment Tonight Canada co-host and reporter said. “He was so gracious and he let us be a fly on the wall. He and his people let us in on some really wonderful sessions. We followed him around in Montreal during his farewell tour and where it all started for him. For his last performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival, I ensured that we got access to this festival like no other media has. Normally, it’s just the jazz festival and their camera people that get to go backstage. We demanded to get that privilege and it was granted. It was just so nice to bring that side to the audience and I am proud of what we captured backstage. He was happy that we were there. Mr. Jones is as warm and kind as he’s talented and working with him was just a dream.”
Just as the crew was wrapping up filming, Edeh – a former two-time Canadian junior champion over 400 metres -- learnt that Jones was heading to Barbados for a farewell performance in his parents’ birth country.
Running short on money putting together the self-funded project, she found a way to travel with her producer to the Caribbean island.
“This is a project I said I was going to see through to the end and if it was going to be in Barbados, we had to go,” said Edeh whose only previous trip to the island was with other sports celebrities who attended National Hockey League goaltender Kevin Weekes annual golf classic a few years ago. “I am so happy we went because we got the footage we wanted.”
Besides excited that the film is about to be screened, she’s delighted that her daughter – Micha Powell just graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Maryland -- was the associate story producer.
Like her parents, Micha – whose father is American Michael Powell who holds the world long jump record of 8.95 metres set at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo – is an Olympian. She represented Canada in the 4x400-metre relay at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
“She is very interested in editing and creating stories,” said Edeh who is the chief executive officer of Micha Muse Media. “It was great to have her on board because, sometimes, you can become too close to the story and you need other eyes. I realised I just couldn’t craft it and hoard it to myself. I had to share it with discerning critical people who can be very objective. You can’t ask the entire world to edit or critique your story. You have to ask just the right people to help you and this is what I did.”
‘Oliver Jones | Mind Hands Heart’ will be screened on September 30 at 3 p.m. at Cinema du Parc, 3575 Park Ave. in Montreal. A question and answer session will follow the screening.
“I still feel like I am working on the film even though I know it’s done and I created it,” said Edeh who worked as a sports & entertainment reporter for Montreal’s CFCF (now CTV) and American networks CNN, NBC and MSNBC. “It will hit me when I sit down in the theatre, the lights dim and the movie comes up. That’s going to be quite emotional for me.”