Kirk and Virginia MacDonald, a father-and-daughter jazz team, join forces on the bandstand

The Toronto-based musicians play Festival Japan in Ottawa on Sunday night.

PETER HUM Updated: November 23, 2018

Unlike most girls, Virginia MacDonald attended plenty of jazz shows in “dark, hazy clubs” when she was younger. Her reaction to the music? “This is so cool!” says MacDonald, now 24.

Of course, her appreciation of the music was furthered by the fact that her father Kirk, one of Canada’s premiere tenor saxophonists, was on stage. “I saw the joy that music brought my dad, and the countless other jazz musicians were present in my younger life,” Virginia says.

She has followed in the footsteps of her Juno Award-winning father. Virginia picked up the clarinet at the age of six or seven, pursued music seriously in high school, and is in her final year at Humber College in Toronto, where her father teaches.

These days, father and daughter are recording and performing together. The MacDonalds are the front line of a quintet that plays Festival Japan in downtown Ottawa on Sunday night. The bi-generational group also includes veteran jazz players Brian Dickinson on piano and Montreal drummer Andre White, who have long playing histories with Kirk, plus the young bassist Marshal Herridge.

Virginia is on Kirk’s new record, Generations, a collection of music that’s heavy on ballads from the Great American Songbook and from jazz composers.

“This is music that I grew up listening to and performing for many years,” says Kirk, whose previous albums have focused on his original compositions.

The new album “represents a more tangible return to my musical roots,” he says. “This format presents significant challenges, as you really need to relate to the music on a melodic level and get inside the songs.”

The album was recorded in true, off-the-cuff jazz fashion, when Kirk and his band, which includes the veteran American pianist Harold Mabern, had just finished touring.

“I wanted to capture a spontaneous feeling on this CD, so there was no rehearsal,” Kirk says. “Many of the pieces were first played together in the studio.”

He says Virginia leapt right in on the first day of recording and wasn’t daunted by the session’s seasoned musicians. “It was great to watch her interact with four elder statesmen in such a professional and confident manner,” he says.

“As a parent, of course I’m extremely proud of her,” says Kirk. “Virginia possesses a deep organic feel for music and has a mature melodic approach that belies her years.” He describes his daughter’s abilities on clarinet as “deceptive.

“She is understated and approaches the music with a great sense of spontaneity and a music-first attitude,” Kirk says.

Virginia says it feels totally natural to make music with her father.

“It is one thing to play with a person you have a musical connection with,” she says. “But when there is also a deep emotional connection and understanding between musicians, I think it just serves to elevate the music. Playing with someone as dedicated and inspired as my dad pushes me musically, and also reminds me how grateful I am to have him.”

Virginia says that apart from some “fleeting moments of doubt,” she knew she would always be a jazz musician.

Kirk understands that many a parent would have concerns about the financial instability that comes with being a freelancing professional musician. But he sets aside such concerns and stresses the plusses of the jazz life.

“Having been heavily involved in education over three decades, I see a wonderfully supportive and inclusive community of younger musicians making their way in the world,” Kirk says. “While the landscape has changed in many ways since the time I came up, there are still many great opportunities out there for talented musicians.

“It is important for one to follow their passion in life and to realize and enjoy the gifts that a creative pursuit and lifestyle can offer,” Kirk says.

“When you get up on the bandstand on a good night, the band is locking in, and the audience is into the music, there is really nothing better,” says Virginia.

Kirk MacDonald with Virginia MacDonald
Generations CD release
When: Sunday, Nov. 25, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Where: Festival Japan, 149 Kent St.
Tickets: $30 ($20 for students) in advance via or by calling 613-220-3819, an extra $5 will be charged at the door

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