Briefly Bram
Written by Bram Eisenthal -
Originally printed Oct. 8, 2003 in "The Chronicle" - a weekly paper in Montreal's West End.

NDG musician May’s talent is downright spiritual

The best part about living on Patricia Avenue a decade ago was having musician Jeff May as a neighbour. From his duplex directly across the street, with my balcony door open during the summer months, I would hear the wistful strains of all manner of instruments and lots of jazz notes, my favorite of all. May played the various instruments himself, but he was usually teaching the students who turned up for lessons. I miss those days sometimes, but I have followed May’s career now and then and it’s quite apparent that now, at 51, he has never been more comfortable doing what he does best.

May, who meditates daily and is beholden to his spiritual leanings, began his musical odyssey at age 5, when he was given piano lessons. "I have always considered music a higher form of communication," May pointed out in the "Music Room" of the home he shares with wife of 30 years, Joanne, and where they raised two daughters currently in their late twenties. There’s a Montreal-manufactured Willis piano here, hailing from the 1930s, a Roland keyboard, a 1954 vintage Gibson jazz guitar, conga drums, flutes and more. The musician plays them all, as a teacher, soloist, and also as part of a duet, trio or eight-piece band, whatever is required for a large or intimate gathering.

While each instrument is beloved, perceived as having its own personality, guitar is the instrument May now feels most comfortable with. Of all the musical pairings experienced by May these days, it’s the one with him on guitar and Francois Boucher on violin that is the most fruitful. "Guitar allows me to be me in any musical environment," May states. "And it’s a nice surprise to learn, in later life, that I can play one instrument in an ensemble and just stay there."

Although it was a real pleasure discovering that May is becoming the penultimate musician, the icing on the cake this day was learning who his muse actually is. When I was a teen, I would hang out at this Parc Avenue nightclub called Café Mojo, where smoking was forbidden, you could order herbal tea or juice, but no alcohol, the honey-laden cornbread was sweet and the live jazz was even sweeter. It was owned by the resident musician, a hulking African American named Sayyd Abdul Al-Khabyyr, formerly Russell Lynwood Thomas, whose huge hands were rivaled only by Charlie Biddle’s. Well, it turns out that Sayyd, who still resides in Montreal, was May’s mentor… and still is. "I would play there 3-5 times a week, up front with Sayyd, and do pure improv on flute," May recalls. "I’m still in touch with him and I really love this man."

For any occasion lending itself to some acoustic ambiance, this true man of music can be reached at 486-5753 or via e-mail at

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