Only a few short years ago, Steve Kirby was dreaming (correction, predicting) in these pages that he would find a way to gather instruments and create a viable option to deliver jazz-oriented music instruction to kids from underserved neighbourhoods. Jazz on Wheels, his mobile jazz-history party band, had already been rolling into street fairs and community centres in those neighbourhoods—the first tenuous bridges were taking shape.
Fast forward to today, and the face of our jazz community is changing. This winter, another twenty middle school kids soaked up the jazz approach in the second round of the CanU Jazz Academy, delivered at the U of M by Steve and his pedagogy students—aka the Jazz Buddies. Those kids performed their hearts out for hundreds of people at the CanU wrap-up party in March, and the ones who are moving on to junior high are figuring out how to stay connected with music.
Over at Hugh John Macdonald School, the Bridge program is going strong. Neil Watson and Simon Christie are watching an extraordinarily diverse group of junior high kids buckle down and master their instruments. With almost twenty languages in the band room at any given moment, the instructors have to keep their wits about them—and maintain a sense of humour—but they’re both struck by how an ear-based approach to music overcomes not only the challenges of adolescence, but also the dislocations that figure so powerfully in these young musicians’ lives. Music is a universal language, and these kids are connecting with one another, then sharing their music with their peers and with their community.
Plans are taking shape for another Jazz on Wheels Academy to offer extra mentoring to a handful of the keenest of the young musicians from both programs, then they’ll be folded into the Jazz on Wheels band as it ventures into our city’s underserved neighbourhoods.
Because that’s the ultimate goal: to populate the Jazz on Wheels band with kids coming out of those neighbourhoods, so that we all have a chance to hear the unique sound of Winnipeg’s diverse musical character.