All that jazz: catching up with legendary pianist and composer Joe Sealy

Jazz pianist Joe Sealy tells what he’s been up to in the 25 years since winning a Juno for “Africville Suite”

Toronto Star

See article here.

By Jessica Dee HumphreysSpecial to the Star

Sun., April 24, 2022timer2 min. read

Toronto is home to many great musicians, but few so venerable as jazz composer and pianist Joe Sealy. Pictured here in April 1997,Sealy had recently won the Juno for best contemporary jazz album, “Africville Suite.”

Named for the Halifax community of Black Canadians formed in the early 1800s and razed out of existence in the 1960s, “Africville Suite” is dedicated to Sealy’s father, Joseph Maurice Sealy, who was born there. “He moved to Montreal with my paternal grandparents when he was nine,” Sealy says, “but he was there (in Africville) during the Halifax explosion in 1917.

“He got a hunk of shrapnel in his head and made his way to the nearest hospital,” Sealy adds. “He was wandering through the hallways trying to get some medical attention, when he noticed that people were lined up missing limbs. So, he decided perhaps the better course of action was to just go home and get it tended to by his mom.”

Sealy says his father always hoped to return to Africville to live: “Throughout his working life he’d say, ‘One day, I want to go back and buy a house and retire there because there’s such good folks.’ But of course, by the time he retired, the community of Africville no longer existed.”

Africville is a story critically important to Canada’s history — as a place of refuge for newly freed slaves from America and as a reminder of a government’s broken promises. “During the 1950s, the city of Halifax committed to putting in paved streets and running water and proper sewer systems,” Sealy says, “but they reneged on it. A lot of the residents had installed indoor plumbing ready to be hooked to the city’s system, but it never materialized.”

Joe Sealy’s contributions to Canadian music earned him, among other distinguished awards and accolades, an investiture into the Order of Canada in 2010. “That was quite special,” he says modestly, “I must admit.”

And at 82, Sealy is still keeping up a busy performance and production schedule, despite the pandemic. “I ended up busier than I thought I’d be,” he says of the past two years, during which he participated in a documentary on pianist and composer Oscar Peterson and appeared over Zoom at both the Kensington Market Jazz Festival and the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival.

Now that venues are opening up, Sealy is once again performing for live audiences, including regular gigs with crooner Colin Hunter at Jazz Bistro on Victoria Street. “It’s lovely to be back,” he says.

Africville Stories, 2021