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Burnaby guitarist recalls his musical journey ahead of concert in Vancouver

Juno-nominated artist Bill Coon and Trilogy will be appearing alongside Mads Tolling at the final performance of Vancouver Jazz concert series 2023.
Bill Coon (right) will be performing with Miles Black (left) and Jodi Proznick (middle) alongside Mads Tolling in final 2023 Jaz’N’the’Violin concert on Sunday, May 7.

At his Burnaby home ahead of the final performance of the 2023 Jaz’N’the’Violin concert series in Vancouver, one of Canada’s most beloved jazz guitarists, Bill Coon, looks back on his musical career — from “stealing” his brother’s guitar to being named Guitarist of the Year in 2009.

Coon was young when he was first introduced to music through classical piano.

Growing increasingly frustrated playing the piano, a young Coon stumbled upon his brother strumming on his guitar.

In a conversation with the NOW, he recalled thinking, “How hard could it be?” Hoping to test his luck with the stringed instrument, he picked up the guitar, instantly fell in love and never looked back — an act he would partly describe as “stealing the guitar from his brother.”

“I just took to guitar like a fish to water," he said. "I just instantly loved the guitar and had an affinity with it."

It wasn't long before he realized he wanted to make music a career. “I was playing a gig with my friend, and I remember playing at a Mexican restaurant ... we made $30,” he said.

“And I thought I would be doing this at home for free, [now] they’re going to pay me to do this. I just couldn’t believe that someone was going to pay me for doing something that I loved. So that was the light bulb moment.”

Coon’s journey as a guitarist began with him playing blues before switching to jazz. He was introduced to the latter genre in Montreal through a friend whose father was a jazz musician. One day in the fall of 1995, following a show about Nat King Cole called Unforgettable with vocalist Denzal Sinclaire, Coon said he wound up loving Vancouver, and he settled on the West Coast.

The guitarist, who has been a recipient of the country’s many accolades in music — including Juno nominations and awards from the BC Arts Council and Canada Council Arts — has studied with musical legends like the late jazz musician Jim Hall, Neil Chotem and Rick Wilkins, and has collaborated with many significant jazz artists including Jimmy Heath and Eddie Daniels.

Playing the guitar gave Coon the freedom to improvise, express himself and pay tribute to the jazz legends before him, he said. “I love this music so much that I want to share it with people and that keeps me performing,” he said.

Coon can be found collaborating with many artists around the world, including local musicians like Burnaby-based Laura Crema, the Cory Weeds Quartet and Triology, with Miles Black and Jodi Proznick, who will appear together alongside Mads Tolling in the final Jaz’N’the’Violin concert series.

It's Triology and Coon's first collaboration with Tolling. Coon is ecstatic to be performing with the Grammy-winning artist.

“Triology is an interesting band,” he said. “Although we play a little bit of original music, when the three of us play together. we surprise each other … we don’t talk about what we’re going to play. For example, Miles will start playing a song on the piano.… He doesn’t tell us what song or what key is going to play it in. Then Jody and I add ourselves to that song. We all take turns doing that. So that’s kind of an interesting idea of the band. And it’s going to be interesting to see how that concept of Triology works with Mads and what he wants to have happen in the music.”

Aside from performing and composing, Coon also teaches music at Capilano University. The final performance of the Jaz’N’theViolin concert series will be held on Sunday, May 7, at Pyatt Hall in downtown Vancouver.

Single concert tickets are priced at $35 for students/seniors and $40 for general admission. For more information, visit