Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2015: Regina Carter

Diane Schuur: Inspiring the Next Generation

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Diane Schuur is one of my favourite jazz vocalists, and she is coming to Brandon in March, spending a week as an artist-in-residence at the Brandon University School of Music and as the headline artist for the Brandon Jazz Festival.

Michael Cain, professor of Jazz Piano at BU, is excited about the opportunities for his students in Brandon through her residency. “Diane will be working with students who are interested in vocal jazz, as well as working with rhythm section players and ensembles. And, of course, guesting with the Brandon University Big Band,” he said.

The Brandon Jazz Festival has a long history of jazz education in this province—it began in 1983 and has grown steadily since. It brings in artists, groups, and clinicians from all across North America and beyond. Its primary purpose is to give jazz ensembles from high schools across Canada a place to perform and receive immediate feedback on their performances from professional jazz educators and musicians. The three-day festival is jam-packed with jazz bands, vocal jazz, and small ensembles, and offers workshops and clinics for specific instruments, learning improvisation, and for directors looking to develop their jazz programs.

The highlight of the festival is the evening concerts, and throughout the years many world-renowned guest musicians have blown away audiences packed with hundreds of eager students (and jazz lovers from the general public too). Possibly the most inspiring aspect of these concerts is that the headline artist is often accompanied by the Brandon University Big Band, and the audiences see the very real possibilities that can be realized by a diligent and passionate student musician in a few short years.

As director of the BU Big Band, Professor Cain is now rehearsing his band for the upcoming concerts with Diane Schuur. Most of the songs are from the 1987 Grammy award-winning album Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra. Frank Foster, the then-leader and tenor sax player of the legendary big band founded in 1935, arranged the album’s swing standards from Johnny Mercer, Dave Brubeck, Freddie Green and Aretha Franklin. Two of my favourite songs from the album, “Deedles’ Blues” and “You Can Have It,” are original compositions from Morgan Ames who was a protégé of Quincy Jones, who also cut his teeth arranging for the Count Basie Orchestra in the 50s and 60s.

I’m going to spend the full three days immersed in the festival, soaking up the atmosphere and watching students performing and getting inspired, and catching as many of Diane’s performances and Q&A sessions as I can. I’m taking my daughter Anni with me.

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