Jean Chatillon (b. 13 September 1937) grew up in a household rich in musical tradition. His great-grandfather, Octave, was a violinist, pianist, organist, composer, and playwright. His grandfather, Édouard, held posts as an organist, educator, and composer. Robert, his father, was a teacher and bandmaster. Nothing could have been more natural, therefore, than for Jean to follow in their footsteps.
Jean was largely self-taught when he began composing in 1951, and later would earn a baccalaureate in pharmacy (1961) in anticipation of a very different career. Studies with organist-composer Conrad Letendre at the University of Montreal proved to be especially auspicious, however, and after several years of teaching science courses at the Institut de Technologie in Trois-Rivières, Jean decided to pursue a baccalaureate in music education (1964–67) at the University of Montreal. In 1969 he founded and directed the Music Department at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, entering a period of intensive research, teaching, and creative activity. After taking several years outside of Academe (1974–77) to conduct additional research, publish two books of short stories, and establish a publishing company—the Éditions de l'Écureuil Noir, Jean resumed his university teaching activities. By 1981, due to the effects of ill health, he was compelled to resign his post, but this turn of events eventually allowed him to compose on a full-time basis.
In 1996, he joined a group of seven prominent Quebec musicians calling themselves "Les Mélodistes indépendants," coauthoring with them a book titled Pour l'amour de la musique (Montreal: Éditions Essentiels, 1996) in which a powerful plea was made for the creation of a contemporary music that achieves maximal communicative effectiveness through emphasis on melody. In 2000, true to his convictions, he composed the piece by which he is probably best known, the captivatingly lyrical Valse pour l'Échappée Belle, which soon thereafter was adopted as its theme music by Radio-Canada.
Jean's oeuvre includes several hundred works in a wide range of genres for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments, voice, and chorus. His music is increasingly well represented on compact disc, and includes the Suite québécoise for orchestra; a saxophone quartet, "Semailles"; the piano suites La Fête, Valses pour Marie Vetsera, and Les saisons du coeur; and the Mélodies, op. 32. "Vision," for Native American Flute and String Orchestra, was composed as part of a five-movement cycle in collaboration with four other Delian Society composers, and is now in preparation for publication. Jean has also contributed movements to the Delian Suites I and II.
The author of numerous theoretical works on tonal and modal composition, Jean has remained steadfast in his advocacy of tonality throughout his long and prolific career:
"For me, tonality is the natural language of music. It allows for direct communication with all music lovers. It also gives access to all the musics of the world. It is more necessary now than ever."