Félix Award winner, band leader, recording artist and jazz master, hard driving bebop drummer NORMAN MARSHALL VILLENEUVE is an iconic and much beloved figure in Canadian jazz history. This veteran player has a successful career history spanning more than six decades.
Norm was born in Montreal on May 29, 1938 and grew up in the St. Henri district, in the famed Little Burgundy area, home to Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones, the Sealy brothers, and Claude Ranger. He began his performance career as a tap dancer and singer, entertaining audiences from age 8. He studied piano at Union United Church with Daisy Peterson-Sweeney. With a natural talent for rhythm and love for jazz, at age 8 Norm began to teach himself how to play drums, avidly studying jazz legends Elvin Jones, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones, Shelly Manne and Art Blakey, to whom Norm has dedicated his life’s work.
At age 14 Norm entered the Quebec jazz scene as a professional drummer. The bright and talented young teenager was tapped by seasoned musicians to play concerts and gigs around Montreal. When he came of age, in the 60s and 70s, he worked the Montreal clubs - Arcade, Rockhead’s Paradise, Chez Paris, the Black Bottom and Café la Bohème. In the clubs he met jazz luminaries Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and his hero, Art Blakey.
Villeneuve has worked with a legion of jazz greats, including Duke Ellington, Oliver Jones, Junior Mance, Cootie Williams, Curtis Fuller, Dave Young, Julius Watkins, Frank Motley, Jackie McLean, Ray Draper, Jay McShann, Anita O’Day, Blossom Dearie, Renee Lee, Charlie Biddle, Nelson Symonds, Ivan Symonds, Maxine Sullivan, Charlie Rouse, Booker Irvin, Big Big Miller, “Wild Bill” Davison, Jack McDuff, Bill McBirnie, Bernie Senensky, Pat Labarbara, Jane Bunnett, Alex Dean, Reg Schwager and Jackie Richardson.
Oliver Jones chose Norm as his drummer to tour with him throughout North and South America, once living in Puerto Rico for 11 months. With Oliver Jones, Norm has toured with Renee Lee, Dave Young and Kenny Hamilton. Norm's credits includes several appearances on national television and a movie with the Olsen twins.
In 1974 Norm moved from Montreal to Toronto and quickly established himself as bossman at the jazz clubs around town, including the Royal York, Westbury, Bourbon Street, George’s Spaghetti House, Top O' The Senator, Bermuda Onion, The Pilot and The Rex. In 1991 Villenueve took his Norman Marshall Villeneuve Jazz Message Sextet on a successful cross-Canada tour. He has performed at some of the best known venues in Canada,including The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Air Canada Centre, Place des Arts, Jazz Bistro and House Of Jazz and at jazz festivals throughout Canada.
Under his banner, “Norman Marshall Villeneuve’s Jazz Message” he has brought along and given innumerable performance opportunities to a new generation of those who now comprise the best of Canadian jazz, from established musicians, to college grads, to new Canadians - those who are now fast becoming jazz icons in their own right, including Robi Botos, Mike Downes, Grant Stewart, Eric Boucher, David Restivo, Bob Brough, Artie Roth, Gord Webster, Brownman Ali and Brian Chahley.
In 2012 Norm established the Norman Marshall Villeneuve Percussion Award. Each year Norm consults with educators to give the Award to a deserving percussion student who demonstrates high academic achievement, leadership, excellent music ability, and a passion for jazz.
In 2013 Norm returned to his home town of Montreal where he continues his life's work, playing with the pure passion and excitement for which he is known. With an outstanding career of more than 60 years, in his 7th decade as a professional musician, Norm remains an active and respected leader on the Canadian jazz scene.
©2013 Louise Villeneuve