James Prescott composes a beautiful future
2020 DFOM graduate James Prescott wows audiences with his impressive performances and compositions.
NOTE: We in the Desautels Faculty of Music are incredibly proud of our students. While COVID-19 is sidelining in-person commencement ceremonies around the globe, we want to find alternate ways to celebrate our graduates and give them the recognition due to them. Until we can gather together to properly applaud the years of study and practice that have led to this milestone, please join us in congratulating our 2020 Desautels Faculty of Music graduates.
Today we celebrate James Prescott!
As his time in high school came to an end, James Prescott did a lot of soul searching about what he’d like his future to look like.
“I’m the only musician in my family, so growing up music was not something I thought of as a career,” he admits.
“Both of my parents are elementary school teachers, and I knew that I wanted to pursue something similar except at the middle or high school level,” he says.
“I was set to go study Chemistry because I wanted to be a High School Chemistry teacher,” he says of his original plans.
However, as he researched universities for chemistry and education, he found himself perusing music programs.
“Once I started looking into University programs I realized that I was more drawn to Music faculties rather than the Sciences. I figured I would apply and audition and if I got in I’d pursue music, if I didn’t I’d take a gap year and then see where my interests would be after a break,” he says of his ultimate decision.
He was accepted to Capilano University’s undergraduate music program, and hasn’t looked back.
“Ever since, my life has been centred around music,” the talented guitarist says.
After graduating with his Bachelor of Music, Prescott fully immersed himself in the scene, and found a community of kindred spirits.
“I’ve had the honour of sharing the stage with my peers, mentors, Juno nominees, and Canadian Music award winners. I love the community aspect of Music and how if you’re involved in the ‘scene’ of a city you’ll eventually get to know all or most of the professional musicians in your area,” he says of the personal relationships that have resulted from his professional relationships.
“I also managed to get a full time performance job at a tourist attraction where I played 5 sets of music 5 days a week. After 3 years of performing, touring, and teaching privately I decided that it would be nice to invest a bit of time in myself and pursue a graduate degree,” he says.
In 2018, Prescott was accepted into the New Artist Collective in Kelowna, and the musicians he met there encouraged his aspirations to further his education.
“The opportunity to share a studio space with so many talented and creative people has forever changed the way I view art and music composition,” says Prescott.
“They supported and helped me with my application process to the University of Manitoba,” he adds.
“After researching a lot of different music faculties I decided that the University of Manitoba was where I wanted to study, and I am very thankful that I got to join the program,” he says.
Now, two years later, he has earned his Master of Music in jazz guitar performance!
In the faculty
After arriving at the University of Manitoba, Prescott adapted to his new surroundings by throwing himself into collaboration within the music community, honing his performance skills and impressive composition abilities. He also found an especially joyful reason to be thankful for his graduate studies home.
“I met my wife Janika when [fellow 2020 Master of Music graduate] Jan Michael Bourgeois asked me to help him by playing acoustic guitar for the Wind Ensemble!” he says of a proud, if previously unexpected occurrence in his time in the DFOM.
Prescott, a Kelowna, who hails from Kelowna, British Columbia, has been especially impressed by the music scene in Winnipeg and the DFOM.
“I really loved all the performance opportunities I had at U of M,” he says.
“I loved attending the Wednesday night Hang sessions the Jazz Faculty hosts,” he says of the unique, low-pressure, and improvisational jazz sessions that the Jazz Studies professors run weekly at Nicolino’s Restaurant throughout the year.
Prescott also performed in multiple DFOM jazz ensembles, including those led by DFOM assistant professor of jazz studies Fabio Ragnelli, and associate professor of jazz studies Will Bonness, and also in DFOM associate professor Derrick Gardner’s University of Manitoba Jazz Orchestra.
“I loved every piece I got to perform at U of M,” he says of his ensemble work.
“I loved really diving into the American Songbook and really studying the jazz tradition. My ensembles also featured a lot of original music, which was a lot of fun. One piece that will always stick out to me is a composition by [fellow 2020 DFOM graduate] Tetyana Haraschuk called To Feel Yearning,” he says.
“The Jazz faculty at U of M does an amazing job of mentoring their students,” says Prescott.
“They always had time to meet with me outside of class, and the Hang was great because I got to get on stage and play with them,” he says.
“My advisor and guitar teacher Larry Roy was the reason I applied to U of M, and I can’t speak highly enough of his mentorship,” says Prescott of his major practical study instructor in jazz guitar.
“He was very accommodating in meeting with me, and very straightforward with the areas I needed to improve. The best part is over the course of my degree I felt like he treated me like a guitarist and artist. Whenever we worked on my original music in our lessons he was always very supportive and gave clear criticisms that forced me to be really intentional about my artistic choices,” says Prescott.
Roy is impressed by the amount of growth that Prescott has experienced in the past few years.
“James would take home the “most improved” award as he made great strides in the areas of rhythm and harmony, especially in the last 12 months,” says Roy.
“He is a dedicated, determined young person who will achieve great things. He has a wonderful personality and was always a pleasure to be around,” adds Roy.
“Will Bonness and Derrick Gardner were the other two members on my panel, and their input and support throughout my degree was very appreciated,” Prescott adds.
“James was an open-minded and committed musician, and a compelling composer,” says Bonness.
“He was an absolute pleasure to work with and grew substantially as a musician in his time here. I only wish he could have been a member of our community longer!” adds Bonness.
“I had the honour of taking Jon Gordon’s Composition course, and I can honestly say that my composing has become way more refined because of it,” says Prescott.
“He always made time to answer my questions outside of class time, and even met with me occasionally on the weekends. After those meetings I always felt more inspired and excited to create music,” adds Prescott.
“James has been a great addition to our program!” exclaims Jon Gordon, associate professor of jazz.
“He’s a great student, a terrific player and composer, and his music grew and developed in an amazing way during his time with us. He’s also a really caring and supportive person who added a lot to the classes and ensembles he was in, and made great contributions to a number of his peers’ recitals. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him and his music,” says Gordon.
Out of all of his performances, Prescott was happiest when he was knitting himself more tightly into the Winnipeg music community.
“I think my proudest moments would be performing on my peers’ recitals. I loved getting to perform their original music and arrangements, and watching them start to transition from music student into a music artist,” he says.
Likewise, he was looking forward to performing with his peers on his own credit recital.
Due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, the Desautels Faculty of Music had to cancel all of its remaining events for the 2019-2020 season. In addition to final ensemble performances, about 40 student credit recitals were cancelled, including those of graduating students, whose final credit recitals serve as a sort of capstone project showcasing what they have learned throughout their studies. Unfortunately, Prescott’s was among the cancelled.
“My final recital was centred around Rhythm,” Prescott says.
“Rhythm, Groove, and Time-feel was a major focus area in my practice sessions and I wanted to showcase the improvements I made in those areas,” he says.
Included in his final credit recital were pieces that would be debuted for the first time.
“I wrote three original compositions and each of them featuring a different use of polymeter,” he says.
Though the recital went unperformed, Prescott is thankful for the collaboration he had with his fellow DFOM students in preparing for the milestone.
“A big ‘thank you’ goes to my peers in the jazz faculty, especially Tetyana Haraschuk [drums], Ilya Osachuk [bass], Tristan Martinuson [saxophone], Dhiego Costa [piano], Garrett Malenko [trumpet], and Zachary Rushing [voice],” he says.
“You all agreed to be on my recital that didn’t end up happening, but thank you for being willing to make my music come alive rather than just remain on paper,” he says.
In addition to his thanks to his recital collaborators mentioned above, Prescott would like to offer the following acknowledgements to those who supported him during his graduate studies.
“A huge thank you goes to the Music Faculty at U of M. Also a major shoutout to my office mates, Scott Reimer, Karen Santos, Jan Michael Bourgeois, Avonlea Armstrong-Green, and Rob Workman. You all tolerated my endless questions, terrible drawings and non-stop coffee/tea drinking. I want to extend a huge thank you to Larry Roy, Will Bonness, Derrick Gardner and Jon Gordon for your investing time and sharing your knowledge with me,” he says.
While the pandemic has put many people’s plans on hold, Prescott’s life has been catapulted forward by leaps and bounds. He and Janika on April 8, 2020, and then, two weeks later, moved to British Columbia, where Prescott will begin the University of British Columbia’s education program in the fall.
“I’m excited to finally become a music teacher,” he says.
“I also plan to keep composing and performing music, as well as do lots of camping and fishing, once it is safe to do so!” he says.
“After the COVID restrictions lift, I am very excited to work on some mixed media performances with some of the peers I met in the New Artist Collective,” he says.
“I really want invest more time in bridging gaps between different art forms. I don’t fully know what that looks like yet but there are a few ideas simmering right now. Hopefully someday soon they’ll materialize,” he says.
We are equally as excited to hear what James Prescott has been creating during his busy lockdown period! Whatever his future holds, we know that his unique and gifted takes on jazz composition will be a massive hit, and his future students will be as lucky to have him as we have been!