Whether on stage, in the studio or travelling throughout Ontario, Zoe performed alongside talented musicians who brought her song poems to life, giving each performance their unique spin.

Here, they share some thoughts and memories about their experiences.

Whether on stage, in the studio or travelling throughout Ontario, Zoe performed alongside talented musicians who brought her song poems to life, giving each performance their unique spin. Here, they share some thoughts and memories about their experiences.

Gord Russell, Guitar

I spent five of my happiest musical years playing and recording Zoe’s originals and performing a mixed bag of jazz, blues and R&B with some of Toronto’s best players. Loved Zoe, her amazing spirit and she inspired me to “let my underwear show”.

John Deehan, Sax

Zoe Chilco was without doubt the most fascinating, talented person I’ve ever known. Her talents covered many areas: she was a French Language Teacher, Registered Massage Therapist, Radio Show Host, Linguist, Expert Skater, Swimmer, Singer, Songwriter, Pianist, and Women’s Rights Activist.

However it is her musical talent I would like to focus on. I first met Zoe some twenty years ago when she came into a club I was playing in and the bandleader invited her up to sing. She sang one of her own songs which was quite good and she became a regular guest there. We became good friends and she hired me to play on a CD that she was producing consisting of all her own compositions.

I became one of her steady musicians and was fortunate enough to be on several of the CDs that she produced. She started booking her own engagements around Toronto and later in Cottage country. She was a good piano player and her songs covered a wide range from Folk, Country, Blues and Jazz; and with her linguistic skills she sang in fluent French and Italian, in fact, one of her  steady gigs for a number of years was in a French restaurant in Whitby (Nice-Bistro) where she often performed the entire evening in French to the delight of the owner and the audience.

As a self-promoter she managed to obtain engagements in some of Toronto’s best  music venues such as Hugh’s Room and the prestigious Home Smith Jazz Bar in the Old Mill where she still holds the record for the most appearances there as a visiting artist. She also received an invitation to spend a week at the  World Famous Banff Arts Center in Alberta.

Zoe became somewhat of an international star appearing annually at the San Pancho Music Festival in Mexico and other music events in Paris and Italy. She even sang at the Jazz Festival in my hometown of Derry Northern Ireland and the prestigious Cork Jazz Festival where she was invited to return in 2020.

Playing in Zoe’s band was always challenging and interesting but always fun. The musicians and audiences loved her.

Zoe was a longtime supporter and volunteer Fundraiser for the Toronto Blues  Society and Toronto’s JAZZ 91 FM Radio Station. Her passing has left a huge void in the Toronto music scene which she loved so much and was such a part of. To say that she will be missed is a gross understatement.

Recently becoming an octogenarian and because of this pandemic crippling the music scene, I fear that my performing days have also drawn to a close; however, I am so very happy that my final years and indeed my very last gig was with Zoe. I will always think of her ”In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” one of her favorite songs.

Mike Allen, Guitar

I certainly miss Zoe and all the fun times, gigs and rehearsals we did over several years.

Zoe, John Deehan, Ron Johnston and myself used to play in Gate 403 three or four times a year. We also played on a couple of Zoe’s CDs.

Earlier this year, Zoe had told me she was having a “porch concert” and that she was going to play with her keyboard. I suggested that I come down to accompany her. It was a real fun concert; one of the songs Zoe chose to sing was “Here’s To Life“ , and she sang it so beautifully.

Not long after that concert, John and I suggested Zoe, John, Ron and myself do another one with Zoe which we did in July.

Rest In Peace Zoe

John Sheard, Pianist

I have known Zoe for many years though I can’t claim an ongoing close professional relationship with her. Zoe seemed to appear and disappear without warning though each time we re-connected, she made it seem like only a few hours had passed.

Early on I remember she called me up, asking me to play piano for her on a gig in Haliburton which was her second home. I hardly knew her and we hadn’t worked together so I had no idea what to expect. I asked what music she would be singing and she said.:  “Oh…just standards- you’ll know them all…”

I agreed to do the gig without rehearsal and when I arrived and looked at her setlist, I knew not one of the songs. Hadn’t even heard of them…I had a moment or two of terror, but we managed. The evening was a success, due mostly to Zoe’s self-confidence, natural humour and her willingness to take chances.

I was a believer.

That evening of ’standards’ was Zoe in a nutshell. There was nothing ‘standard’ about her. She didn’t run with the pack or settle into the comfortable pew of performance. She was a true original, never doubting herself and always winning the audiences’ hearts and minds, if not always the big payoffs.

My experience recording some songs on her last CD was classic Zoe – songs that inspired even though they made me sweat a bit, between which she entertained with stories of her DIY Haliburton cottage repairs and resultant minor injuries.

I left that session feeling I had been part of something special though not exactly knowing why, except that I knew I’d remember that day for a long time.

We’ll all miss Zoe’s humour, her hutzpah and her humanity.


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