Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Letting the Kids Drive

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Brace yourselves: the 25-&-under club in this city is about to show us all that they know a thing or two about big band jazz!

On Saturday, April 14, four young bands take over the stage at the West End Cultural Centre: Bill Kristjanson’s senior jazz band from Vincent Massey Collegiate, Ken Gold’s senior jazz band from Collège Jeanne-Sauvé, Derrick Gardner’s U of M Youth Jazz Collective, and the University of Manitoba Jazz Orchestra, led by Jimmy Greene. All four groups are preparing furiously, and eager to share their music with one another and with Winnipeg jazz lovers.

Bill Kristjanson has been a powerful figure in the high school jazz zone for a lot of years now—many of the musicians who become strong players and teachers have been shaped by his positive attitude and love for this music. Yet again, his bands are taking on the challenge of ensemble work and jazz improvisation with enthusiasm, and finding joy and satisfaction in the process.

Once again, Bill tips his hat to a very hard-working group of kids—part of the pleasure for them, he says, is having an opportunity to tackle this demanding music with really dedicated peers. Two of his band members echo that sentiment. Emily transferred to Vincent Massey this year and says there’s a sense of community in the Massey band that you just don’t find elsewhere. Her friend Lauren thinks that the strong bond members of the band share—in and out of the rehearsal hall—really helps them excel as musicians.

After twenty years out of the school system, saxophonist Ken Gold has landed in the band room at Collège Jeanne-Sauvé in St Vital—and he’s happy there. The school is small but dynamic, and the band is soaking up Ken’s passion for the music and his stellar professional experience on bandstands across Canada and in Central and South America.

Ken also credits “a great bunch of kids who are really into playing this music—you can’t ask for more than that!” In preparation for the April concert, they’re working on a wide range of material, from Ellington to Mingus to some Afro-Cuban tunes, along with some of Ken’s originals. They’re eager to play in a bigger setting, and to meet some of their peers who are also into this music. As Ken points out, high school will be the last opportunity some of these kids get to play in a band like this. “It’s a great experience for them musically,” he says, “but also in terms of cooperation and learning history and culture.”

Saxophonist Jimmy Greene has been at the helm of the University of Manitoba Jazz Orchestra for the past three years, and the student musicians are working at the top of their game to meet his expectations. In addition to several standout third- and fourth-year students, Jimmy is impressed by several talented first-year students who are making a big contribution to the band—they are hard evidence of the many influential jazz band directors in Manitoba, he says.

UMJO’s repertoire ranges from the lush sounds of swing band standards to edgier stylings of more contemporary writing, all of which challenges and refines the skills of individual players, and underscores for them that big band is not simply a vehicle for exploring the history of this art form, but also a creatively challenging ensemble format with currency and relevance.

Spanning the distance between the high school bands and the UMJO is Winnipeg’s newest jazz group, the U of M Youth Jazz Collective. Derrick Gardner, trumpet chair in the Jazz Studies program, has been meeting every Saturday since December with some of the city’s strongest high school musicians, and he says they’re really beginning to gel as a band. Technically an octet (five horns plus rhythm section), the Collective more often resembles a tentet—but Derrick takes it in stride, adjusting his arrangements, or cycling musicians in and out of the band.

The Youth Jazz Collective is pumped up about finally performing after all these weeks of intense practice. They’ll be showcased at the WSO’s Musicians in the Making series at the Concert Hall on March 18, and they plan to take over The Hang one Wednesday in March. “We’ll be a road-tested band by the time we get to the April concert,” Derrick says. Hard-working and fired up with enthusiasm, members of the Youth Jazz Collective have made a big impression on their leader. “I used to look forward to having my weekends to myself,” Derrick says, “but since doing this band, I look forward to rehearsing with them on Saturday mornings!”

Mark April 14 on your calendars—this is definitely not a parents-only concert!

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