Drummer Bernard Primeau was a driving force in the evolution of Montreal's contemporary jazz scene. A kind of French Canadian Art Blakey, his Montreal Jazz Sextet was the springboard that launched many of the scene's most gifted players to national fame. Born January 5, 1939, Primeau studied under drummer Guy Nadon before attending the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec à Montréal. He made his professional debut in 1956 playing drum rolls at the local strip club the Rodeo, followed by stints in support of pop singers Pierre Lalonde and Michele Richards. Primeau spent much of the 1960s in collaboration with jazz guitarist Nelson Symonds, relocating to San Francisco in 1971. Upon returning eight years later, he teamed with pianist Oliver Jones and bassist Charlie Biddle, emerging as one of Montreal's best-known and most respected musicians. In 1984 the drummer assembled the Bernard Primeau Jazz Sextet, a group of up-and-coming musicians modeled after his idol Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Renamed the Bernard Primeau Jazz Ensemble five years later, the rotating lineup was a launching pad for talents including Rémi Bolduc, Yannick Rieu, and Normand Guilbeault. After debuting as a leader with 1987's Perspectives, Primeau headlined 11 LPs in all, winning the 1997 Felix for Jazz Album of the Year with Oeuvres de Felix Leclerc. He also earned the 2005 Oscar Peterson Prize for his contributions to Canadian jazz. After battling cancer, Primeau died on October 6, 2006, a day before the release of his final album, Rencontre Jazz et Classique.
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