Sound and sight: Irme de Jonge – “Uomo Universale”
If Imre De Jonge were to ever find himself stranded on a desert island other than setting up a survival camp, the first thing he would probably do would be to find a way to make music out of the elements around him.
He exploited the vibrations of the sand passing between his fingers, transformed a palm leaf into a wind instrument or used seashells for cymbals and chimes. Within a week, or maybe a little more now that he’s a bit older, he’d be assembling the instrumentation needed to play with the trees, the ocean, and the winds. He would be happy to make music, his love and true joy.
De Jonge (pronounced de Young), is a top-class multi-instrumentalist – a drummer with a very sophisticated palate, a bassist with tasty and funky chops, perfect to accompany any rhythm section, an exciting electric guitarist, a creator of keyboard style and synth explorations, and an organ player with a monstrous attack.
De Jonge paints, photographs, designs graphics, engineers and produces music for his gifted daughter, Bronwyn Rose, and other local artists; runs a recording studio and, in his spare time, creates and builds entirely handmade electric guitars and basses – from the drawing to the incredible outfit and instrument playing.
To say he is a fully realized Renaissance man would be an understatement. Perhaps the Italian phrase “Uomo Universale” more accurately applies to men with their prodigious talents and boundless curiosity.
For most of his professional career, De Jonge worked as a prop man for Canadian television and film projects. Later, he worked lugging sets for staging, usually on television. He’s worked for CP Rail and played in more bands than he can count. He has accompanied musicians ranging from jazz to country and rock to soul-funk.
When asked how his journey began, De Jonge replies: “Here is the shotgun version: I started on the accordion! There’s only one reason for that, my dad got a job selling accordions, so he had sample accordions in the car. He was also a jazz musician. He was the drummer of the Dutch Swing College Band. In fact, I have an album with him on it. (Dutch Swing College Band with Nelson Williams 1956-Phillips, Netherlands). It’s still going today. It is a very famous jazz group.
“So he (De Jonge’s father), had a deep love of jazz and he collected records and had a pretty cool sound system. He was also a handyman. He tinkered with his audio equipment, his radios and so on. Then my mother decided that everyone should play the violin. So she started my brothers and of course I followed later, being a bit younger,” adds De Jonge.
When he was three or four years old, his mother insisted that he join his brothers in the local St. Catherines Youth Orchestra triangle. He also played cymbals in the high school orchestra. He struggled because he never really mastered sight-reading.
His love of drums started in high school. “My dad started taking us to concerts. It all started with live recordings at CBC. On Friday nights they did a jazz series for the radio and the house band was Phil Nimmons ‘N’ Nine. I was blown away by that and then he also took us to jazz clubs. He took us to see Thelonious Monk (and) Bill Evans. I got really interested in playing drums because of those releases.
In high school, he joined an extracurricular jazz band and began formal drumming practice, charting the basics to learn. “When I was learning the drums and making a racket in the basement with my first drum set which I got when I was about 16, my parents didn’t appreciate it during the quiet evening hours, so I had to turn it off after supper. My two brothers were taking classical guitar lessons so I chose that because I couldn’t play the drums. Instead of doing my homework, I scribble on the guitar.
De Jonge began to seriously practice the guitar and was soon introduced to the piano while his younger sister was taking lessons. Along with the piano, he also discovered the model for writing and composition. The keyboard places all the notes in front of you.
At the same time, De Jonge begins to play the bass guitar. “I’ve always been interested in playing bass because as a drummer, bass is the next thing, my right hand musician, so to speak. I bought my first electric guitar from Hudson Music in Toronto. And they had a two-for-one sale,” laughs De Jonge. “For $450 you could get a Strat (Fender Stratocaster) and a Precision Bass. So yes, I started playing bass. And since then I love it. I love to play bass.
De Jonge actually started playing in bars before he was even old enough to go to one. His first professional job was with Jason Belmer, who then traveled to Newfoundland to start a cover band, and with that began De Jonge’s long history of paid and unpaid jobs, in an endless series groups, with names too numerous to remember.
Eventually he started playing more frequently in the Bracebridge area with Middlebrook and the Okay Time Wasters. De Jonge began living in Bracebridge and operated a music store with a guitar repair shop in the early 1980s.
Things didn’t go as planned in Bracebridge and he returned to Toronto and worked in film and television when he could. He has reduced some of his road work with groups due to health issues. Around 2000, he reunited with his daughter who was living in Bracebridge and she encouraged De Jonge to return to Muskoka.
Together they found a renovated old barn in Huntsville, which they bought and established as the center of their common interest in music and songwriting. “The Barn”, as the studio has become known, offers a wide range of sound production capabilities, from engineering to mastering. It also provides an ideal setting for rehearsals and music lessons.
De Jonge began working on guitar building and repairs quite early in his development. His brother Sergei is a master luthier of acoustic guitars and he taught De Jonge the basics of guitar making, but De Jonge specializes only in electric instruments. For years he collected and dried wood for bodies and necks. He prides himself on using local materials. Its frets differ slightly from commercial brands but are renowned for their style, craftsmanship and beautiful tone and feel.
Despite his many gifts, De Jonge is not well known outside of the local musicians with whom he interacts. Humble in nature, De Jonge is a force of nature and when he performs he thunders and roars like the mighty open sky that hovers above his workshop and recording studio.
The barn workshop
Music Imre de Jonge (Facebook page)
Don’t miss the Doppler!
Register here to receive our digest by email with links to our most recent stories.
Local news delivered to your inbox three times a week!
Click here to support local news