How jazz helped one laid-off Ottawa tech worker find a new purpose
Visitors to the ByWard Market in Ottawa have probably found themselves enjoying the smooth jazz strains of a guitarist who frequents the area.
But it’s unlikely any of them have guessed at the tumultuous journey that led this particular street musician to his corner.
Ed Rowland is a man enjoying his second lease on life.
The jazz musician has been playing in the market in Ottawa for five years now, and told CTV News Ottawa that every year his music is getting “better and better and better.”
Looking at his smiling face and bright eyes behind red-rimmed glasses, it’s hard to imagine Rowland coming from a place of suffering.
But before he picked up the guitar, Rowland belonged to a very different world. He used to be a software developer, working during Ottawa’s high-tech boom. He had all the markers of success: a house, a regular paycheque, a wife and two kids.
Then the stock market crashed.
“I got laid off at the age of 50 and I could not find another job for about three years,” Rowland said. “And at the end of that period came (the) realization that maybe I was never going to work as a software engineer again.”
His world started to crumble.
“I lost everything,” Rowland said. “Bankrupt. Debt. Evicted.”
He lived in the Salvation Army for a time, with “no idea how to fix” his situation.
That was when music came into his life. Rowland attended a jazz workshop. He calls it “the beginning of this life.
“I wanted to learn. I came back determined to master it, really determined to master it.”
And that love of music lifted him out of his despair, and into the market and community he now thinks of as home.
Rowland’s story might sound like a fall from grace when stripped to the facts — laid off from a salaried job, performing six days a week on the streets to make money — but for Rowland, it feels more like he is a phoenix risen from the ashes.
“I absolutely love what I do,” he said. “I have never been happier in my entire life.”
His rebirth hasn’t come without hardship. Rowland pays for his rent largely in “loonies and toonies,” he said. To supplement the busking, he offers lessons on his website, where he can be hired to provide music at events as well.
But he marvels at the fact that he is “part of 0.03 per cent of all musicians who make their entire living from making music, and that’s a gift.
“In my previous life there were some very happy times,” Rowland concluded, “but there is something extraordinarily beautiful about living this way.”