Composer, guitarist, and musician in every sense of the word, Michel Cusson is quite literally multitalented. The man behind the music has electrified jazz lovers, touched film goers, thrilled TV viewers and plunged spectators of live shows around the world into the heat of the moment.
From his acclaimed place in the international spotlight as the virtuoso guitarist of the famed jazz-fusion band UZEB to his established position behind the scenes as a talented television and film score composer, Michel's work has garnered dozens of awards, including 14 Félix Awards, 7 SOCAN awards, 6 Gémeaux Awards, and a Gemini. His original score for the hit film Séraphin – Un Homme et son Péché earned him the Jutra Award in 2003 for Best Original Music and has set the record as the best-selling soundtrack in Quebec with more than 75,000 copies sold to date. In November 2003, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television awarded Michel with one of its highest honours, a Prix des Immortels de la télé for his three-time award winning scores for the TV series Omertà.
Merging innovation with versatility, artistry with skill, Michel's compositions attest to his passion for music of all genres. After setting the standard for jazz music with the long-standing success of UZEB and his subsequent album releases with the band Wild Unit, Cusson began rising the bar for film score compositions and quickly became one of the most sought-after composers in Canada. The transition from being the guitarist of one of the best-known jazz bands in history to becoming a film music composer was in fact a very natural step for Michel to take. He began composing at the age of fifteen and in 1976, when he was only 19 years old, he founded the legendary group UZEB that went on to tour 20 countries and release 10 award-winning albums. His immediate success was an extraordinary feat for a man who grew up in Drummondville, a small town in Quebec with very few musicians and no jazz school.
“I basically learned all about jazz by myself,” Michel says of his early years as a musician, though he did go on to study music at both McGill University in Montreal and Berklee College of Music in Boston. What people perhaps overlooked during Michel's years on stage with UZEB was his passion and talent for composition. “I couldn't resist writing,” admits Michel. “Some of my friends practiced playing all the time but me, I couldn't practice more than two hours before I needed to start writing.” When the group broke apart in 1991, Michel knew that film scoring was to be the next phase in his career. Though this meant branching away from jazz, Michel insists that, “From the beginning I never saw the tree, I always looked at the whole forest…Jazz is one tree but music is the whole forest.”
Within a decade, Michel composed music for a staggering variety of projects ranging from theatrical performances such as Cavalia (2003), an equestrian mega-show staged under one of the world's largest touring big tops, to box-office favourites like Michel Boujenah's Père et Fils (2003), Charles Binamé's Séraphin (2002), Jean Beaudin's Le Collectionneur (2002) and the IMAX documentaries Volcanoes of the Deep Sea (2003) and Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag (2004) by Stephen Low. Michel's roster of television scores is admirable and includes the series Napoleon (2002) starring Gérard Depardieu, Isabella Rosselini and John Malkovich, as well as several episodes of the Cirque du Soleil's Solstrom (2003) series and countless episodes of the popular Tag (2002), Bunker (2002), Last Chapter (2002) and Omertà (1996-1999) programs.
Making music soar to new heights has always been one of Michel's primary objectives and one need only look at the scope of his projects to see that he has thoroughly achieved this goal. “My main interest in music from the start was very international,” states Michel whose career has enabled him to collaborate regularly with artists and producers from around the world, including Roy Tokujo who produced the Hawaiian stage production Ulalena (1999).
For this theatrical mega-show Michel expertly wove the traditional music of the Hawaiian Islands with his own signature style, giving life to the show while honouring the culture's history. In much the same way, he used Native American music as the basis for his score of the documentary IMAX film Wolves (1998) and incorporated traditional themes so deftly into the compositions that Michel was awarded both the Native American Music Award and the International Wildlife Film Festival's Merit Award.
Having created the music for 16 films, 6 mega-shows, 13 television series and 26 albums, Michel views these achievements as just the beginning. “I feel that the more I write, the better I write,” the composer says, leaving listeners with high expectations for his upcoming projects such as the TV series Vice caché (February 2005) and the movie Aurore directed by Luc Dionne (July 2005).