Armstrong, Biederbeck, Bechet and Bolden. Ellington, Basie, Hawkins and Coltrane. Parker, Monk, Mingus and Davis. Holiday, Fitzgerald, Baker and Connick Jr. Argatoff, Buck, Ertel and Griffin…
I’m groovin’ with the greats today, baby. That’s right, the jazz greats. America’s finest contribution to world culture is that musical art form that manages to swing and moan, jive and groan, scat and jam its way into our better selves.
I’m talkin' Jazz, daddio. Dig it, or die.
I love jazz. Always have. I love pretty much all music, when it tells the truth.
But jazz is something innovative and ever-evolving, and essential to me in a way that my favourite writers are. Without these in my life, I cannot imagine enduring the world’s unbearable ennui, or the energy-sucking, vampiric entities that I find myself amidst when I am out of my musical and literary elements.
And this week in Kelowna? Well, it’s one of my favourite weeks of the year because it’s the occasion of the annual B.C. Interior Jazz Festival.
All week long I will be preparing to take in some fine performances by some of the province’s brightest and most musically-talented students — each and every one of them passionate about their art and possessing the competitive drive that will surely mark some of them as stars of tomorrow.
No doubt many of you will be familiar with the first sixteen names listed at the start of today’s rumination on jazz. All of them have contributed code to the collective cultural
DNA that defines us here in the wayward western world.
How much less brilliant would our musical-inheritance be without the great early 40s Dorsey band backing up teen heart-throb Frank Sinatra crooning moistly into the ears of a generation “East of the Sun (And west of the Moon)”? What leaden soul would we be left with if we had never heard hurtin’ Billie Holiday’s damaged witness to the lynchings of the American South in her era-defining song, “Strange Fruit”? And how much less technicoloured would the dying of the summer seem without the seasonal return to Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley and the rest of that fabulous band’s performance of “Autumn Leaves”?
Well, thank your lucky stars that the aforementioned greats came before us, to provide a marvellous soundtrack leading up to our own remarkable point at the end of Time’s
arrow. And that’s where the last four names on my list come in: Argatoff, Buck, Ertel and Griffin.
Unless you’re a lounger amongst the onlookers at the Rotary Centre for the Arts on a Thursday afternoon where they and other student musicians show off their stuff at the weekly Jazz Jam, they’re just names.
But if you’re wanting in on something great happening beneath the tired patina of respectability that calls itself the Kelowna Cultural District, you will want to attend any of
the three days of performances this week from Thursday through Saturday at the Rotary Centre and the Kelowna Community Theatre. If you’re lucky enough to attend, the likes
of Argatoff, Buck, Ertel and Griffin (along with the rest of the fine young musicians) will likely blow your socks off!
Over a thousand students from all over the Pacific Northwest will be competing in ensembles, large jazz bands and choirs, and showing off what months of preparations
in their respective schools can produce.
Most of these young jazz-cats started their musical sojourn at the start of their middle school years, when they struggled to produce squeals and shrieking let alone clear and distinct musical notes on their rented clarinets, saxophones, trumpets and flutes.
Their guitar licks were lacking and their timing sucked back then. But they were all opening themselves to the gentle prodding and genteel pedagogy of dedicated school
music directors who managed to convince them that, lying within each of them, nascent as the flowering of their very personae, were feelings and ideas that could be expressed
in song, in communion with their peers packed into rows in the foul and fetid classrooms of their educational journey.
And what a journey they have been on, these kids. By the time they hit the stages at the 38th annual BC Interior Jazz Festival, they will be polished and eager to show off to the
appreciative audiences that decide to check them out.
The community at large needs to know what these kids can do, and the trend that they are bucking.
After all, so many of us, our school careers long behind us, look at the current cohort of students as coddled, arrogantly self-obsessed and entitled in a way that is not too
It’s not their fault, of course. Helicopter parents, and a school system obsessed with spurious and transitory trends, seem too often more concerned with the young souls’ self-images than their potential meritocratic achievements.
The annual jazz festival reminds us that students can achieve something larger than themselves when they are led by teachers that endlessly encourage them to aspire to
levels beyond the commonplace.
Because when a kid gets enough practice on those old rented horns, and they have listened closely to the history of the art form, jazz, that they are studying, they become heroes to themselves and one another. They can honestly point to performances that they have sweated through with pride and the formative knowledge that they are agents capable of expressing something truly great and wonderful.
It is my hope that the current Jazz Festival, so rich in its history, and guided by the loving and tireless direction of Mount Boucherie Secondary’s band director, Craig
Thomson, will continue for years to come.
But it will only continue to be an annual highlight in the community if we, the rest of us, reiterate time and again to school districts and the Ministry of Education, that musical education is not only a good thing for a kid to check out, but an essential element in curating a cultural inheritance that would surely fade if its supporters were to abandon it.
So c’mon downtown, one and all, and get your groove on. You will be amazed at what is in store for you when you take the time to listen to these intense young artists. See you
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night.