I see dig! magazine as an ongoing chronicle of every jazz event that has occurred on my radar since 2004, the year after I arrived in Winnipeg. It’s a staggering amount! I’m amazed when I think about the number of people who’ve come here to play, to teach, to share music with us, and when I think about the number of people here—young musicians, established pros, audience members, supporters—who’ve embraced this music with such spirit and enthusiasm.
When Anna-Lisa and I came to Winnipeg in 2003, we looked around immediately for a publication that would tell us where to go hear jazz in this city. I’d already met several serious jazz musicians, people like Ron Paley, Larry Roy, and Ron Halldorson, so I knew there was jazz here. In New York, there was a little magazine that lists who’s playing where. We didn’t have such a service here in Winnipeg. Since I was interested in creating a more connected jazz community, I decided to undertake a publication on my own steam.
It took us a few issues to get our feet under us. Many people, from students and musicians to jazz listeners, contributed articles or suggestions. I even created a couple of crossword puzzles! John Funk, then still a student, joined the effort early, sharing his great eye and design imagination. Charlene Diehl showed up a few issues in to offer some writing expertise. Starbucks got excited and let us place the magazine in the public eye. The University of Manitoba gave us their blessing, and Jazz Winnipeg came on board.
When dig! magazine got started, the Hang had been going strong for a year, so Winnipeggers were getting curious about this art form. More jazz artists began coming to Winnipeg, through the University of Manitoba, Jazz Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, and the Asper Jazz Performances Series. We wrote about as many as we could, and had some living legends on our covers, people like Kenny Barron, Wynton Marsalis, Hank Jones, Mulgrew Miller, and Chick Corea. We’ve spread the word about some of the young lions in this field, artists like Stefon Harris, Nicholas Payton, and Robert Glasper. Our covers welcomed high-level musicians like Jimmy Greene, Alvin Atkinson, Terreon Gully, George Colligan, Quincy Davis, Craig Bailey, and Derrick Gardner, artists who have helped shape the local jazz culture here. We’ve kept local artists like Larry Roy and Ron Halldorson and supporters like Babs Asper and Neil Coligan in the public eye, and celebrated talented young players like Will Bonness and Curtis Nowosad as they entered the circle of serious jazz musicians.
From the beginning, the magazine’s mandate has been to track the growth and vitality of Winnipeg’s jazz scene, and to remind people that they can hear really creative musicians growing and performing and thinking here in the city. I want to put jazz on everybody’s mind. Even if you just see a copy left on the table in Starbucks, you think, “Oh yeah, there’s that jazz magazine”—and jazz is on your mind.
Our secondary goal has been to help musicians and presenters and venues navigate and time performances so we can have more of them and people who love jazz can coordinate what they want to see. A lot of people genuinely love this music, and once they have the bug, they are eager to hear more.
Finally, I see dig! as a primer on how to listen to jazz. I want to give people an opportunity to see why jazz artists do what they do and to understand what goes into those performances—why the artists are improvising in a certain way and what they get out of it. This music isn’t Cheez Whiz, pre-made and ready to consume without thought. You have to bring something to this music!
I have spoken often about the commitment and discipline required to reach a level of excellence as a jazz musician. Jazz in an art form that requires independent thought and quick wit and real sincerity from an artist. I believe it calls out those same qualities in its listeners too. Whereas pop music invites you to lose yourself (though may pop artists and listeners are mindful), and rock invites you to join the rebel camp (though many rock artists and listeners are just out for a good time), jazz audiences are gonna think twice about many things, including that second drink, because the music is introspective in nature. Jazz musicians and listeners are more likely to be nerds—like me. Then again, nerds get to experience more of life through lucid eyes.
Truthfully, I didn’t set out to be a journalist or an editor. When I got to Winnipeg, I saw a need in this community and I wanted to fill it. In the early days, I wasn’t doing a great job, but if you overlooked the writing and saw the dates and numbers, you knew something was going on!
Over the years, I’ve had to reflect intensely and often about everything I say—who I say it to, how I say it, and why I’m saying it. Even the timing has come under scrutiny. I’ve grown in my perspective and I’ve matured as a person through editing this magazine. I’ve had to care for it when I didn’t want to care for anything—all I wanted to do was play the bass! I’ve found a good teacher and partner in Charlene Diehl as I learned how to do this thing. As I look back, I’ve gotta say that this has been one of the most profoundly edifying experiences in my entire life.
I hope you will join us to celebrate a full decade of dig! at our annual Rent Party fundraiser on November 16. We’re rolling out the red carpet for all of you jazz lovers in this city. Come and pose for the paparazzi, enter to win the massive signed “Great Day in Winnipeg 2014” print, hang out with friends, then hear some terrific jazz from the Jazz Studies faculty and students. I’m so proud of this next generation of musicians, and always thrilled to play with my fellow faculty members.
I’d love to see you there. I’m looking forward to talking with you in person and through the pages of this magazine in the months ahead too. Together we’re making Winnipeg the Jazz Capital of Canada!
Here’s to at least another ten…