Jack Lee was born on December 6, 1957 in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. His parents moved to British Columbia when he was two years old and he grew up in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver. He has a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of British Columbia and is a Certified Management Accountant. He is self-employed, spending 50% of his time teaching piping in North America and 50% as an Accountant. He is married and has three sons: Andrew , Colin, and John, all pipers. When he finds the time, Jack enjoys carpentry, landscaping, golfing, and fishing.
“My parents were never pipers or drummers,” Jack reports. “My family’s interest in piping came from my great grandfather, John Ironside. He was born in Glasgow and later moved to Seattle, Washington. While in the U.K, he served in the British Army. He was taught piping by Sandy Cameron and John MacDougall Gillies. I have a brother (Terry) and 2 sisters (Maureen and Moira), and all 4 of us are pipers. Terry is very active and has been the pipe major of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band for 20 years.”
Jack began learning to play the bagpipes at age five, when he was given a half-size chanter by his uncle, Jack Ironside, M.B.E., of Seattle. “My uncle was also a piper, and had been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen for his efforts in continuing Scottish traditions outside the British Empire. He gave me a large volume of pipe music composed by my great grandfather in 1887. The tunes are beautifully handwritten and the collection is a real keepsake.”
Jack also studied piano for a period of some three years, covering technique and theory that would help him in his piping. With his brother Terry, he studied Highland dancing, but apparently felt he had two left feet, and didn’t do as well in this endeavour as he did with his piping. At the age of nine, Jack and his brother Terry travelled to Scotland. He took his pipes along, carrying them proudly, and playing whenever he was given the opportunity.
His first band experience was with a group called The Highland Laddies under the leadership of Malcolm Nicholson. He then played with the Abbotsford Legion under Pipe Major Ian MacDougall and later with the Seaforth Highlanders’ Cadet Pipe Band. “There was a period of time during high school when piping dropped down on my priority list,” Jack admits, “but that didn’t last too long, maybe six months or so. I have never seriously thought about quitting, as I love playing. Though we are a long way from Scotland, we are fortunate that British Columbia has a vibrant piping community. As a youngster I always felt I was able to hear good piping around the Games. Also, top Scottish pipers regularly travel to B.C.”
Continuing to garner success in his individual piping, Jack soon joined the Canadian Pacific Air Pipe Band and later became its pipe major. In 1976, under Jack’s leadership, the CPA band won the Grade 2 Cowal Pipe Band Championship.
From the CPA Pipe Band, Jack moved on to the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band. “I have been the pipe sergeant of SFU for 20 years,” Jack says. “We have competed at the World Championships every year since 1985. Our significant accomplishments have included four World Pipe Band Championships; many concerts including performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House, eight recordings, and two videos.” As a result of the band’s efforts and Jack’s own successes as a soloist on the world stage, he and his brother Terry were in 1999 awarded Meritorious Service Medals by the Governor General of Canada for distinguished service to the country.
Jack’s piping career had been under the guidance of Pipe Major James MacMillan of Vancouver since he was a young boy. “Jimmy was my primary teacher for 30 years,” Jack says. “He was born in Campbelton, Scotland, and received instruction from the Blind Piper, Archibald MacNeill, as well as taking part in two sessions in the pipe majors’ course with Willie Ross. I have also had help from Angus J. MacLellan, Murray Henderson, and Jimmy McIntosh. I consider myself to be a dedicated Donald MacLeod fan and listen to his piobaireachd tapes for guidance.”
In 1981, Jack made a major impression on the world piping scene by winning the Gold Medal for piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting, Inverness, Scotland. The tune he played was “Black Donald’s March”. He also won the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Silver Star in the Former Winners MSR with a breathtaking performance of “Bonnie Ann”, “Cameronian Rant”, and “The Little Cascade.” In honour of these accomplishments, he was awarded a Life Membership in the BC Pipers Association.
There were years in the 1980s when Jack was unable to return to Scotland for the solos due to band and family commitments. But in 1989 he was back, placing third in the Clasp, an event open only to former winners of the Gold Medal, and placing fourth in the Silver Star. In May, 1993 he played “Lament for the Earl of Antrim” to win the piobaireachd at the Dan Reid Memorial Solo Piping Competition in San Francisco, California, and has gone on to win the overall title at the D.R.M. on three occasions. At the Northern Meeting that September, he placed third in the Clasp, finally winning the prestigious event in 1994 playing the daunting “Lament for the Laird of Annapool”. On that occasion, he also placed second in the Silver Star.
He went to London for the Bratach Gorm three times, winning it in 1994 and 2006. In February 1996, Jack placed third in the piobaireachd event at the G.S. MacLennan Invitational Solo Piping Competition in San Diego, California, and went on to place fifth in the MSR at the Bicentenary International Solo Piping Competition held in the Barony Hall, in Glasgow. That year he placed second in the Gold Medal, fifth in the March, and fifth in the S/R at Oban.
For the next three seasons, Jack found it impossible to take part in the major solo events in Scotland. The SFU band was busier than ever, recording a CD at Carnegie Hall, and driving hard to win the World Championship back. At the suggestion of a young Antigonish piper, Andrea Boyd, I asked Jack if being an active band piper all his life has helped or hindered his solo playing. “It has done both,” Jack replied. “The band has kept me busy and hard at it during periods that I otherwise wouldn’t have been playing much. It has hindered me, though, because band playing does not clean up or strengthen your fingering. A piper must listen to his or her own playing in private to do that. Also, band playing discourages some added musical expression that a soloist puts into marches, strathspeys, and reels. The net result, though, is that I think it has helped me.
“Finding time to practice has always been a challenge,” Jack continues. “Practice time got a lot scarcer when my wife and I had children. Now I practice whenever the mood hits me and the time is available. Sometimes that’s early in the morning or late at night. I like to listen to recordings of top players playing the tunes I’m learning, but I’m a real Donald MacLeod fan and listen to his tapes regularly.”
In May 1999, Jack came ‘out of retirement’ to take part once again in the Dan Reid Memorial Invitational placing second in the Piobaireachd event and first in the MSR. In 2001, he achieved an ‘historic double’ by winning two major titles at the Argyllshire Gathering. Playing “Lament for Captain Donald MacKenzie”, he won the Gold Medal and later, playing “Craigellachie”, he won the Grant’s Senior Piobaireachd. He also placed fourth in the Former Winners March. In October, he returned to Scotland to compete in the Glenfiddich Invitational Solo Piping Championship at Blair Castle, taking first place in the Piobaireachd event playing “Lament For The Earl of Antrim” and third in the March, Strathspey, and Reel.
Jack spends much of his time teaching at numerous piping schools and workshops throughout North America. “I teach many long-distance students by video tape,” he says. “I teach at the Mastery of Scottish Arts School near Seattle, the Balmoral School in Oakland, and the Invermark Schools in Massachusetts and Vermont, and I also co-run our own school which is the largest of its kind – Piping Hot Summer Drummer. It has been going now for nine years. Our school is different from all the others that I have seen. Most schools are geared towards the adult learner and do a good job, but we are geared towards youth with a large, young student body. We usually have upwards of 150 students of which 75% are under twenty years old. The school is lots of fun, and teaches all the elements of a band – pipes, snare drum, tenor drum, and bass.”
With so much time devoted to learning, playing, and teaching, Jack finds little time to do his own composing. “I’ve composed a few tunes,” he admits, “most of which have been published or played on CDs. ‘Andrew and Colin Lee’ is a four-parted hornpipe which has appeared in one of Bob Worrall’s books. ‘C.P. Air Pipe Band’ is a two-parted reel that can be found in Bruce Gandy’s latest book. ‘Andrew and Colin Lee’ and ‘Piping Hot Summer Drummer’, which is a four-parted jig, were both recorded by SFU at Carnegie Hall.”
In February,2002 Lismor Recordings released ‘Volume 15’ of it’s renowned World’s ‘Greatest Pipers Series’ featuring Jack Lee.
At the time of this writing, Jack had recently won the Glenfiddich Piping Championship and the Bratach Gorm in London for the second time.
-by Scott Williams, www.bagpipepublishing.com/
-courtesy of ‘Celtic Heritage’ magazine