Last month we wrote about Bria Skonberg, the youthful Big Bang Jazz Band, the enlightened music teachers at the Chilliwack Secondary School in British Columbia, and the involvement of the Vancouver Dixieland Jazz Society. Ron MacQueen tells me that the VDJS, besides producing a successful festival of traditional jazz each year, takes great pride in its youth program which Ron and Marion MacQueen consider to be probably the most important work the society does.
Over the past 15 or so years, the VDJS has spent over $50,000 on this program with funds being raised through their activities as a charitable society. Until they discovered the wonderful music program at Chilliwack Secondary School, Bria's Skonberg's alma mater, the Society was basically spinning its wheels, according to Ron. They would send students to jazz camps in the USA, but nothing much happened when they came home. This was largely because of the lack of support for this kind of jazz in the high school music programs. It appears that Chilliwack Secondary is the only high school in a metropolitan area with a population of over two million with a traditional or Dixieland component in its jazz program. Having hitched the Vancouver Dixieland Jazz Society to that program, they are now achieving results in a big way. Besides the Big Bang Jazz Band, they now have two, and potentially even three, new bands of young musicians serious about playing jazz in the traditional New Orleans style.
The next generation behind the Big Bang Jazz Band calls themselves the Dixie 9 (soon to be renamed) Of the 10 or 12 students who were in the band at various times through high school, four have graduated and remain in the band. Two are currently in the jazz program at Capilano University from which Bria Skonberg graduated. The band is still "a work in progress," but they really can play this music! They were recently invited to the Sun Valley festival for their first major appearance other than the Vancouver DixieFest, and it is expected more will be heard about them in the future.
The leader of the Dixie 9 is Bonnie Northgraves on trumpet, who is potentially another Bria. She is going through the same program Bria took at Capilano University. She is reported to already have a good technical command of her instrument and seems to have an excellent innate sense of the music. Furthermore, she is a good vocalist. Another two or three years of academic training will hopefully only enhance all of this and give her the skills she will need to make her living with her music.
Ron also writes about a third band, still in high school, called the Back Alley Strutters. They are reported to be coming along nicely with a number of serious musicians intent on keeping the band together after graduation.
These bands have a number of things in common. They have all received, and, in the case of the younger bands, continue to receive, the financial support of the Vancouver Dixieland Jazz Society. This past summer the VDJS sent ten members of the Chilliwack Secondary School program to Camp Heebie Jeebies, the fine camp run by Karla West, who recently moved from Montana to the State of Washington.
Funds to pay for this came from the White Rock Traditional Jazz Society, the Jazz in the Olympics Society, and Pat and Ken Hanson from Washington State. A another gentleman from the Vancouver area, Bruce Boxall, ponied up enough money to send one student to camp, and the VDJS paid the balance. Most of these students were members of the Back Alley Strutters, but some were even younger, representing the beginnings of yet another band!
A new CD is coming out very soon which features a Toronto legend, the late Cliff "Kid" Bastien, with George Berry on tenor sax, guesting with Denmark's New Orleans Delight band. Two previous CDs came from the tour that Cliff did with that band, and this third one has some additional material from concerts played during the tour, as well as some solo trumpet from Cliff, playing tunes with just piano accompaniment to let New Orleans Delight know some of the tunes he wanted to do during his tour with them. You can find details about this new CD if you visit the New Orleans Delight website at http://jazzkjeld.typepad.com/neworleansdelight
I was honored to be asked if I would do the liner notes. I had a great time researching the years when Cliff and George started the jazz in Grossman's Tavern with their Camelia band in the 1970s, and I had lots of help from the jazz musicians who were around in those days.
If you have any jazz news of Canadian interest, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org