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Babs Asper: We Will Sorely Miss You

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On Saturday, July 30, Babs (Ruth) Asper died suddenly and unexpectedly, and Winnipeg’s jazz community lost a quiet leader. Like her husband Izzy, Babs was a great lover of jazz music, attending and hosting concerts, and offering all kinds of support to many of this city’s artists.

I knew very soon after arriving here in Winnipeg that Babs Asper was a major force in this city’s business and social world, but I never really felt the weight of that—Babs Asper always seemed like Regular People. From the very beginning, I was blown away when she walked through the door at places where I was performing. She had so much on her plate, yet she’d take the time to be there, and then she’d ask questions a mom would ask, that a friend would ask—those thoughtful, personal questions.

At the funeral when I listened to her kids talk about the kindness and caring they’d experienced, I realized that in the short period of time I had known her, Babs had shared all those generous qualities with me. I felt that she looked after me. She cared that I was happy to be here in Winnipeg. She invited me over and talked to me about music and about the city. She introduced me to her friends. She sent me emails every now and then. She challenged me to live up to my potential. I never felt I was outside of her circle.

Babs Asper has been especially crucial to the new Jazz Studies program at the Marcel A Desautels Faculty of Music. Not long after I arrived, she and her friends made it their mission to check out all the things that I was doing here in the city. They went to jam sessions, they went to masterclasses, they went to concerts. She talked to people, and listened to their ideas and even offered some of her own.

Then she invited us to her house to do a concert. Afterward, she said to all of the friends she’d gathered there that she thought we were doing great things and she wanted to support our jazz program. That was her style—she put her muscle behind things she believed in. She empowered us all, from fundraisers to jazz artists to eager students, to begin the work of transforming a huge dream into a very tangible reality.

There’s a poignancy to the fact that we are just now unveiling the Babs Asper Professorship in Jazz Performance. This designation is a clear sign of our respect and appreciation for a lady who laid the cornerstone for our fledgling jazz program. We chose carefully: Derrick Gardner is a musician of great artistry and professionalism, and a man whose love for jazz and for people is inspiring. I’m deeply disappointed not to have the opportunity to introduce this great musical personality to Babs. We believe that he represents the values she instilled in us.

It takes a really special person to be Babs Asper. Because of her example, I know what it means to be good for your community, to care about other people, to be helpful and strive for the best. Because of her generosity, the Jazz Studies program is not only thriving, but creating links between the avid pursuit of excellence and the important work of building community.

Thanks again, Babs, from me and the jazz faculty at the U of M.

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