Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

September/October 2014: Chick Corea

The Jazz on Wheels Academy: Making the Grade

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It’s been a great summer for the Jazz on Wheels band, and their cohort of fiery young musicians from the Jazz on Wheels Academy!

In July, six promising students—a drummer, a guitar player, a pianist, a bass player, and two singers—met with Steve Kirby and a band of talented teachers. The kids were hand-picked from the CanU Jazz Academy, a program that offers enrichment learning for grade 5 and 6 students from Sister MacNamara and Ryerson schools, and from the Bridge, a junior high music program entering its fourth year at Hugh John Macdonald School.

These six young players connected, one-on-one with their mentors, to learn more about the technical demands of their instruments and to work up some lively repertoire to share with audiences. By the end of the month, these six sharp kids took their places with confidence and pride, performing with the Jazz on Wheels band and winning audiences with their skill and energy.

Jazz on Wheels has been taking great music into Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods for almost a decade now, and this year’s band soaked up the spirit of community at the CSI Games Day (imagine roughly a thousand kids at the Waverley Soccer Complex on one of the hottest days of summer!), at the Summer Fest neighbourhood party at the Oriole Community Centre on Burnell, and at the Austin Street Festival just off Main.

For audiences and band alike, having the Jazz Academy kids on stage was a bonus. They performed their tunes with gusto, supported by the full band, but then they stayed shoulder to shoulder with their mentors and clapped or even learned to play some new tunes on the fly.

This is the first flight for the Jazz on Wheels Performance Academy, and the kids, the mentors, and Steve are thrilled with the experience. For Steve, the band is inching closer to its ultimate incarnation: he is developing musicians in those neighborhoods who will perform for their peers and families.

For the mentors—Brooke Van Ryssel, Alec Meen, Gabriela Cardenas, and a student teacher, Gusune Amki—the sessions and the performances that followed were intense, playful, and inspiring. Gusune, an alumna of the Bridge program, underscored her sense of the privilege: “It’s so satisfying to help someone else learn!”

The kids? It won’t be long til you’ll be seeing these names in the big lights: Cooper, Ayo, Salina, Janssen, Hope, and Wesley. What a wild and wonderful group!

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