“Grégoire is clearly in command of a broader harmonic knowledge, yet her playing style is all about elegance, subtlety, and understatement. No sharp edges mar her approach, and she builds her solos gradually and with great care.” – John Kelman – All About Jazz
Pianist and composer Michelle Gregoire was born in 1966 in Fullerton, California of her Franco-Manitoban and Canadian parents. Her family moved back to Canada immediately after her birth. She grew up in Ste-Anne, Manitoba, a small francophone community thirty minutes outside of Winnipeg. Music studies began at the age of 5 with the Yamaha Music Program where she studied organ and won several competitions including a national competition in Toronto at the age of 14. By the time she was 17, she was working professionally as a pianist and keyboardist performing at “Le 100 Nons” as a houseband musician and freelancing in the local Winnipeg scene with established artists such as Walle Larsson and Larry Roy. She appeared in the CBC telecast “A Celebration of Promise” which featured promising young artists. At the age of 19, she pursued jazz studies at the university level attending the prestigious jazz program at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia (1986-90).
She holds a Diploma in Jazz Studies as well as a BA in Music jazz degree (in Jazz Composition and Arranging) from St. Francis Xavier University (STFXU). She completed a Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies from the Florida State University in 1993. She received a full scholarship and teaching assistantship to attend FSU. She attended the Hugh Fraser Jazz Orchestra Residency in Banff where she worked with Maria Schneider in 2002 and Kenny Wheeler in 2004. A performance at the Banff Centre with Kenny Wheeler was described as a “gorgeous duet by two astounding professionals, one in the twilight of his career and the other just emerging into the full light of day.” –Rocky Mountain Outlook.
She has also studied privately with world renowned composer Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, and Canadian musicians David Restivo and David Braid. In 2006-07, Grégoire spent four months at the Banff Centre where she spent focused time composing and working with some of the world’s most brilliant musicians, composers and conductors. These included Joel Smirnoff, Rodney Sharman, Mark Applebaum, and John Halle.
Currently an active freelance musician in Calgary (formerly Winnipeg), Michelle maintains a solid reputation as a sideperson and band leader having worked with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra since its inception in 1997 where she performed with artists like Bill Watrous, Phil Nimmons, Dick Oatts, and many others. She also performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as part of the pops series for several years working with artists like Byron Stripling and conductor Jeff Tysik. In 2010, she was featured in a special Jazz Winnipeg production featuring the WSO and Dee Dee Bridgewater. In Calgary she has worked with the Prime Time Big Band, The Calgary Jazz Orchestra, The Fox Big Band and the Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble.
Michelle has also appeared with renowned artists such as Amy Sky, Marc Jordan, Steve Bell, Tom Jackson, Brian Hughes, Liberty Silver, Daniel Lavoie and Marie-Denise Pelletier. She has appeared with prominent jazz figures such as Dave Young, Rob McConnell, Peter Appleyard, VEJI (Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation), Frederic Alarie and Jon Geary to name a few. She has performed regularly with artists such as Stefan Bauer, Martha Brooks, Janice Finlay, Ron Halldorsen and Walle Larsson. In Calgary she has worked and recorded with Amy Bishop and Ralf Bushmeyer, and she has performed with Tyler Hornby, Rubim de Toledo, Simon Fisk and many more.
She is very active in the world of Musical Theatre having performed in the pit orchestras of Theatre Calgary’s Secret Garden (2018), Crazy For You (2017), Mary Poppins (2014), Anne of Green Gables (2013) and CATS (2012). She has worked as part of StageWest Calgary’s production of Pure 90s (2017-18), 80’s Solid Gold (2014-15). She has also performed in pit orchestras in Winnipeg for productions such as Hairspray (2011 Rainbow Stage, Winnipeg), Grease (Manitoba Warehouse Theater), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Rainbow Stage, Winnipeg, and also Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg featuring Jimmy Osmond), and Fiddler On The Roof (Winnipeg). Additionally she worked with theatre reviews Divas of Pop I and II (1999-2000), and Masters of Pop (1999-2000).
Michelle has been very active in the francophone music scene working as musical director for various CBC and TVO radio and television productions such as “Le Chant Ouest”, “Les Prix Riel”, “Le Gala Manitobain de la Chanson”, “En Eclosion”. She was a houseband member for the TV series “Un air de famille”, The 1997 Red River Flood Relief Concert, and many more.
In 2004 she released her debut recording with her quintet (entitled Reaching) on the Boat House Records label (Hugh Fraser’s label) after winning the Project COOL 2004 jazz competition which awarded her a $15 000 recording grant. The Michelle Grégoire Quintet featuring Kevin Turcotte, Kirk MacDonald, Jim Vivian and Ted Warren, completed an 11 city Canadian Tour in 2006 thanks to funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and Manitoba Film and Music. The group was also featured in some major jazz festivals such as the Jazz Winnipeg Festival opening for Branford Marsalis, The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal , The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, Prairie Scene Festival in Ottawa, the All Canadian Jazz Festival, IAJE in Toronto and more. The quintet was nominated for the Grand Prix de Jazz and Galaxie Étoile competitions at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 2006 and was recorded by CBC for national broadcasts on Espace Musique, Canada Live, After Hours and other programs.
In 2010 she released a sophomore recording entitled Diversity. Produced with the participation of Manitoba Film and Music and the Canada Council for the Arts, the CD features her original compositions and arrangements and impressive performances by her all-star quintet of top Canadian jazz musicians, namely Juno winner, saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, National Jazz Awards trumpeter of the year Kevin Turcotte, and top call Toronto based rhythm section featuring Jim Vivian on bass and Ted Warren on drums.
Both releases Reaching and Diversity earned a nomination as Outstanding Jazz Recording at the Western Canadian Music Awards and both recordings enjoy continued airplay making the top ten lists on jazz radio programs throughout North America. Her music is regularly featured on XM Radio’s Real Jazz and on Galaxie Radio programs.
Michelle’s big band compositions have been aired on CBC’s Silence on Jazz, Afterhours, Arts Encounters, Atlantic Airwaves, Jazz Beat, and have been performed and recorded by many ensembles, most recently by the Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble, the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra and by the Banff Jazz Orchestra during the Hugh Fraser Jazz Orchestra Residency. In 2007 Michelle was commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and the CBC to create a suite for jazz trio and string orchestra. In 1998, she received a Manitoba Arts Council Commission and Development Grant to compose a large scale work for the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra which was recorded and released on the WJO’s self-titled CD. Her quintet was recorded by “Radio-Canada” for national broadcast on “Silence on Jazz” and her jazz orchestra works were recorded and performed by the WJO as part of a concert featuring Bob Brookmeyer and his music. She was featured as composer in residence at FSU and was featured in FSU’s prestigious International Festival of New Music. She also scored a film while at FSU which won a Student Emmy in the Musical Production category. She has received commission grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, The Manitoba Arts Council and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts,
A devoted clinician and educator, Michelle works regularly in Calgary schools as a jazz piano clinician. She has been a featured clinician in many colleges and high schools across Canada, namely Humber College, Capilano College and more. She is currently on faculty at Ambrose University in Calgary teaching jazz piano. In Winnipeg she held adjunct teaching positions at CMU as an applied jazz piano teacher, and was one of the jazz ensemble instructors at the University of Manitoba prior to the establishment of the current jazz program (1993-95). She was on Faculty at the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts teaching private lessons in jazz piano, jazz theory and composition. While at FSU, Michelle was a teaching assistant, directed the FSU Jazz Ensemble II, taught private students, and some improvisation courses.
A respected contractor and administrator, Michelle created and curated an important jazz concert series in Winnipeg featuring touring Canadian jazz artists (The Canadian Jazz Concerts). She is an honorary patron with the All Canadian Jazz Festival in Ontario, an award granted to her for her contributions to the Canadian Jazz Scene. She was a board member with Manitoba Music (formerly MARIA) from 2007-2011. She additionally served as a board member for the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra as well as “Le 100 Nons” (an organization promoting francophone music and industry in Manitoba).