Jun 28, 2023 by Bill King
I’ve known and worked with Virginia’s award-winning dad Kirk MacDonald for thirty years. With Kirk, it’s always been about the music. The degree to which he composes the most complex yet memorable jazz originals sets Kirk apart from the soloists. Kirk is one of those rare artists who actually has a book of his own music others know and perform. The Junos have honoured him on frequent occasions.
Jazz composition is an exclusive club. The Ellingtons, Brubecks, Horace Silver, Coltrane, Timmons, Shorter, Hancock. It’s one thing to splatter ink on paper to outline a blueprint for soloing. The other? Write with heart and soul and experience.
Through the years, Kirk often spoke of his daughter Virginia and her tenacious pursuit of music. We can only imagine the sessions within the home. The questions asked, the moments of resolution.
Virginia MacDonald is a one-off, much like her dad. Proficient, curious, driven and blessed with a gorgeous tone and delivery. The clarinet speaks her language.
The two of us sat down for an extended chat a few months back before the family European tour. Here’s that conversation and more.
Known for her lyrical and soulful clarinet playing, Virginia MacDonald has been described as a “powerful new voice in the Canadian scene” by Juno-winning bassist Mike Downes. Born and raised in Toronto, Virginia began playing clarinet at the age of seven. She has since established herself as a highly in-demand bandleader, sidewoman, and composer and regularly performs across Canada, the United States, and Europe. Virginia has performed at jazz festivals globally including performances at the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Rochester Jazz Festival, the Jaipur Jazz & Blues Festival, the Toronto Jazz Festival, and the Montreal Jazz Festival, to name a few. Virginia has relished performing extensively in India, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Italy, and the UK and has performed at acclaimed venues including Koerner Hall, Ronnie Scott’s, Birdland, Smalls, and Le Duc des Lombards.
In 2020, Virginia was selected as the first-prize winner of the International Clarinetist Corona Competition; judges included Anat Cohen, Victor Goines, Ken Peplowski, and Doreen Ketchens. Some of Virginia’s other accolades include receiving a Stingray Rising Star Award at the Toronto Jazz Festival in 2019, and being selected as one of three finalists for the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Emerging Jazz Artist Award in 2021. In 2023, Virginia was selected to headline the International Clarinet Association 50th anniversary celebration at ClarinetFest in Denver, Colorado.
Virginia has recorded and performed with esteemed artists including Michael Dease, Ira Coleman, Harold Mabern, Geoffrey Keezer, Rodney Whitaker, Xavier Davis, Quincy Davis, Randy Napoleon, Derrick Gardner, Kirk MacDonald, Pat Labarbera, Neil Swainson, and Terry Clarke. Virginia is a member of the Canadian Jazz Collective, a seven-piece ensemble consisting of award-winning and established Canadian jazz musicians. In 2023, Virginia was featured on the Canadian Jazz Collective’s debut album Septology, which was recorded at the iconic MPS Records studio in Villingen, Germany.
Virginia was featured on Caity Gyorgy’s 2022 Juno-winning album Now Pronouncing. Recently, she appeared on Caity Gyorgy’s 2023 Juno-winning album Featuring and on Grammy Award-winning trombonist Michael Dease’s album The Other Shoe: The Music of Greg Hill. Virginia has been featured on several Juno-winning artists’ albums, including Kirk MacDonald, Will Bonness, and Ernesto Cervini, and has appeared on many albums as a side woman.
In addition to her busy performance schedule, Virginia is an in-demand educator and has given workshops internationally at universities and post-secondary music programs. She has led masterclasses at McGill University, University of Manitoba, St. FX University, University of Toronto, the Global Music Institute, and the True School of Music.