Michael Jones is being remembered for his quiet but strong leadership, his musical talent and his contributions to the Orillia area.
Jones died Jan. 19 at the age of 79.
He was a man of many talents and, as his wife and business partner, Judy Archer, put it, “You can’t put him in a box.”
Jones was a published author who had degrees in music and psychology as well as adult education. While he was known locally for facilitating workshops and roundtables in the arts, culture and heritage sector, he was also an accomplished pianist.
“His work was very close to the first to lay the groundwork for new age music,” said Archer, his wife of 47 years.
His first album, Pianoscapes, and his subsequent recordings earned him accolades and attention, particularly in the United States. That’s where he did the majority of work for which he was paid.
“The work he did in Canada was mostly what he did at home, for nothing,” Archer said.
That included leading workshops and conferences.
“He had a strong sense of how the arts and leadership connect, so he could facilitate that,” Archer said. “One of his strengths was the process of inquiry, to get a lot of divergent views together and then he would find the overlap of common themes.”
He said little while in those roles, but when he weighed in, it was clear he had been listening.
He often quietly played his music at the beginning of those events to calm the room.
“He could play to the feel of the room,” Archer recalled.
He could play to almost anything. He was known for his improvisational skills on the piano.
As a YMCA camp counsellor, those skills would be on display during stormy weather. As the thunder and lightning approached, “he would play to the storm, like he was engaging with the weather.”
Fellow recording artist, pianist and Orillian Lance Anderson remembers Jones’s musical prowess well.
“He’d get in a certain mood — he might just look at a picture — and then he’d respond to it,” Anderson said. “He responded emotionally when he’d play. His pieces would just evolve like that.”
Anderson recorded synthesizer on Jones’s Echoes of Childhood and said it was a challenge because of the late musician’s sweeping, atmospheric sounds. Jones improvised, but the result was never messy.
“What appears to be simple on first listen, his playing was very sure,” Anderson said. “He didn’t hit wrong notes. He didn’t slip up much.”
Jones started taking piano lessons when he was three years old, but he eventually found his own style.
“He was doing new age long before it became popular, so he got caught up in that wave,” Anderson said.
He didn’t seek the spotlight, though, and wasn’t much for self-promotion.
“He was one of the few people I’ve ever met in the music business that was unconcerned about how well known he was,” Anderson said.
He and Jones shared a love for the Bösendorfer piano. During Jones’s final days, when he was at Mariposa House Hospice, Anderson sent Archer a song to play for her husband. It was a version of Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom, which Anderson had earlier recorded on the late Peterson’s Bösendorfer.
Jones and Archer were the first to hear it.
“I said in a note I just thought he’d want to hear a Bösendorfer again,” Anderson recalled. “I imagine being away from his instrument would be a hard thing for him.”
Krista Storey remembers Jones as a mentor.
When she was the City of Orillia’s manager of cultural development and community programs, she served as the staff liaison to the cultural roundtable.
“I was a little bit nervous going into our first cultural forum in 2006,” she said. “There was this man who was speaking and walking and talking and listening. I witnessed so many amazing moments, and it was really Michael at the front of the room, guiding the dialogue, making sure everyone was heard. Everybody always felt included.”
She affectionately referred to Jones as the “pitchfork tamer,” as he was able to help find common ground amid differing ideas and opinions.
“He taught us to look deeper, beyond ourselves, beyond our own vocation,” Storey said. “He was a wonderful mentor to me and taught me a lot about community consultation.”
Jones had Parkinson’s disease, but it was a viral infection of the larynx that sent him to hospital Dec. 21, 10 days before his birthday. That infection cleared up, but it was then discovered he had emphysema.
On Jan. 4, he went into hospice care.
“He was very anxious about dying and what that would be like,” Archer said.
So, he opted for a medically assisted death.
“It was a huge relief for him and it was a huge relief for me because he got to do it in his own way,” she said.
Before he died, Jones received an outpouring of support and gratitude via Facebook messages, which Archer read to him while he was in hospice.
“It was very challenging but very moving. It was like having a funeral before a funeral because Michael got to hear from everybody,” she said. “It helped Michael leave, in a way, because he was bombarded with love and appreciation.”
A celebration of life will take place Feb. 9 at 1 p.m. It can be viewed here.