Over the past couple of months, Steve Kirby’s Jazz on Wheels band entertained throngs of summer learning kids at the Sinclair Park Community Centre, and families soaking up the sun at a block party at Jacob Penner Park.
For almost a decade now, Jazz on Wheels has been providing the sound track for summer in Winnipeg neighbourhoods where live music doesn’t always happen. Gradually the dream of integrating kids from those neighbourhoods into the band is coming true. People at this summer’s performances have seen talented young musicians sitting confidently amidst their mentors, delivering enthusiastic renderings of pop favourites like “Happy” and “Uptown Funk.” In mid-July, these eight kids—Wesley, Malaihka, Ethan, Yanmife, Cooper, Makeer, and Kiana (plus Steve’s son Solomon)—were invited to the Jazz on Wheels Academy to help prepare them for their stage appearances. Several of them have gone on to attend Jazz Camp.
Though the repertoire is popular top 40 tunes, the Academy itself draws on the principles of jazz instruction: one-on-one mentorship, ear-based learning, and a focus on rhythm and the right feel over the right notes. The young musicians develop quickly because they’re fully supported and because the tunes are already in their ears. When they hit the stage, they know they’ve got pros to lean on if they have a little attack of nerves—which, interestingly enough, they don’t. These kids are having the time of their lives!
Jazz on Wheels has two more shows to wrap up the season: they’re at the Across Cultures Fall Carnival at Rossbrook House on September 4 and the Sherbrook Street Festival on September 12. Everybody is welcome, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll leave happier than you came. Then as we move into the fall, CanU Jazz at the University of Manitoba and the Bridge Program at Hugh John Macdonald School gear up, and a new batch of musical kids gets a chance to discover their voices. These are the feeder programs for the Jazz on Wheels Academy, but more importantly they’re supporting emerging musicians who are revealing the sound of our own city. Exciting times in the Jazz Capital!