12/31/2014 03:22 EST | Updated 03/02/2015 05:59 EST

Alex Goodman, Toronto jazz star, makes mark on world stage

Alex Goodman has taken the jazz world by storm.

Born and raised in Toronto, the 26-year-old Goodman has in a few short years attained a level of success and fame within the insular jazz community that few other Canadian guitarists can match. 

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In July, Goodman took top prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival's international guitar competition in Switzerland, beating out a host of established players well known on the scene. He is the first Canadian to earn the honour.

"It was really great to be around so many amazing guitar players who came from different places in the world," he says.

He has also released four albums — the third of which, Bridges, was nominated for a Juno Award in 2013. 

CBC Toronto caught up with Goodman during a recent stint in town for our 5 to Watch series. He had just returned from a tour that took him to jazz clubs across Europe. He credits the city with playing an integral role in shaping his play.

"I feel very fortunate to have been born in Toronto and to have learned here. I think there's a really strong and vibrant jazz community and I'm fortunate to have been able to link in with a lot of really world class musicians," he says. 

Interestingly, his career as a jazz musician almost never happened. He was pursuing a political science degree at Montreal's McGill University until he rediscovered his love for an instrument he first learned to play in high school. 

"I think I was really intrigued by the ability to improvise and to interact with band members in the moment and to create something different every time," Goodman says. "I think that really stuck with me and was something that I really wanted to develop."

He would eventually return to his home city and obtain a music degree from the University of Toronto before completing a master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. 

Goodman now calls the Big Apple home — a city known for its jazz clubs.

"There's just so many people playing at a high level that you're immersed in jazz in a way that's almost impossible in any other city," he says. 

Despite his rise in the jazz world and growing list of accolades, Goodman has no plans to stop playing, writing and composing the music he loves.

"I'm really just trying to be focused on reaching the highest level of musical expression that I can, and that's never going to end. That's always going to be there."