Canadian baritone saxophonist Jean Fréchette is a skilled arranger and multi-instrumentalist whose versatility has enabled him to work with artists of varying persuasions, including jazz, folk, pop, and chamber classical. He and his brother, pianist/trumpeter Denis Fréchette (1952-2008), came up in the city of Joliette, which straddles the river L'Assomption in the Lanaudiere region northeast of Montreal. Jean's earliest recorded activities as soloist and section man include Suite Mingus, presented in 1986 by trumpeter Denny Christianson's orchestra, and a high-profile session in 1990 with Vic Vogel's Big Band starring guest saxophone legends Zoot Sims and Phil Woods. Also in 1990, Fréchette recorded as a member of Quatuor Alexandre with saxophonists Marc Solis, André Leroux, and Daniel Gautier. Their album Reminiscence featured works by four composers including Alexander Glazunov. Fréchette's subsequent collaborations involved Quebec pop singer Mitsou, Montreal's creative performance ensemble Cirque du Soleil, vocalist Boule Noire, and Quebec rocker Robert Charlebois.
Fréchette is perhaps best known for his work with La Bottine Souriante (The Smiling Boot), a Quebecois roots music troupe composed largely of musicians from round about Lanaudiere. Jean participated with his brother Denis, who had joined the group in 1988. It was Denis who added jazz to the ensemble's progressive folk mix. Jean was well suited to the collective creativity that characterizes La Bottine, and felt comfortable enough to expand his selection of instruments to include flute, clarinet, flageolet, recorder, and pennywhistle. In 1998 La Bottine Souriante guested with Paddy Moloney and the Chieftains on their all-star Canadian Celtic collaborative album Fire in the Kitchen, sharing the bill with internationally acclaimed Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac. Jean Fréchette closed out the decade by working with Spanish diatonic accordionist Kepa Junkera.
He has since developed into a dependable, rock-solid presence on the Canadian jazz scene. The year 2006 saw him recording with Montreal-based trumpeter Joe Sullivan's Big Band, with accordionist and La Bottine Souriante founder Yves Lambert, and with saxophonist François Theberge. Fréchette recorded with pianist Vic Vogel in 2007 and blew bass clarinet in addition to tenor and baritone saxes with Cirque du Soleil on their 2008 release Kooza. In 2009 he was a featured soloist with the big band led by pianist Lorraine Desmarais, and recorded with saxophonists David Bellemare, André Leroux, and Janis Steprans as Quatuor du Nord -- their album on the Elephant Records label features works by Steprans, Thelonious Monk, and Béla Bartók. In 2010 Fréchette brought baritone and bass clarinet into play behind Montreal jazz vocalist Nikki Yanofsky on her Decca album Nikki. He can be heard in the reed section of the big band backing her during "It's a Small World" on the Hal Willner-inspired 2011 Disney jazz compilation Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.