Jazz hands: Busy season ahead for Jazz Yukon

Jazz fans — and even those who might not know they’re fans just yet — have a chance to hear some of North America’s top talent as part of this season’s Jazz on the Wing.

Jazz fans — and even those who might not know they’re fans just yet — have a chance to hear some of North America’s top talent as part of this season’s Jazz on the Wing.

For 23 years Jazz Yukon has helped build a growing audience for jazz music in the territory.

President Duncan Sinclair is familiar with a common refrain from first-time concertgoers.

“The thing we hear quite often is ‘I didn’t know I loved jazz.’”

Over the years the non-profit organization has helped listeners discover that love for the genre with events ranging from concerts to jam sessions to mentoring musicians and community groups on how to put together a show.

Last year Jazz Yukon produced or supported 35 shows for about 4,700 audience members across five Yukon communities.

Its flagship annual series has always been Jazz on the Wing.

In the beginning, getting together a full season’s worth of musicians to play in the Yukon used to be more of a struggle, Sinclair said.

“The Canadian scene in particular, there wasn’t nearly as much going on and you tended to stay more in your comfort zone of people who knew people in the Vancouver jazz scene.”

But as Whitehorse grew so did the list of musicians who wanted to come and play.

He says the organization is now constantly getting pitches.

“We’ve kind of become known, that if you’re going to come west you want to do the Yukon because they treat you right, people love music and it’s a part of the world you may never see again.”

This year’s season includes shows in Whitehorse, Dawson City and Haines Junction and features musicians with resumes that date back decades, and who have played with some of the genre’s legendary names.

The season kicks off Sept. 25 with the Grant Stewart Trio.

A saxophonist from Toronto, Stewart has called New York, and its jazz scene, home for the last 30 years.

He has performed internationally with Jimmy Cobb, Curtis Fuller, Louis Hayes among a long list of others.

The trio’s most recent release in 2015 spent 11 weeks in the top 50 on the Jazz Week charts.

Working with only three people means each musician has to be on his or her game, Sinclair said.

“Every instrument, every player, is that much more important to the experience. So they’re working harder, they’re playing harder, they’re really into making music swing.”

At the end of October a quintet of musicians led by Willie Jones III will be making their way north.

Jones was a member of Arturo Sandoval’s band and is featured on Sandoval’s Grammy award-winning music. He has played with greats like Horace Silver, Kurt Elling and Wynton Marsalis.

“Literally the top guys,” Sinclair said. “He was recognized and brought in by those leaders. They don’t suffer fools, they don’t play with musicians they don’t want to play with. They basically have the pick of the crop.”

Sinclair said Steve Maddock could be considered one of the Canadian west coast’s “most undiscovered male jazz vocalists.”

He is this season’s only vocalist and will be coming up in November with a quintet of musicians.

He came to the Yukon last year as well, Sinclair said.

“He just knocked everybody on the floor. He was so amazing and fresh. It was just an avalanche of ‘We’ve got to have this guy back.’”

Like he did last year, Maddock will also be putting on vocal jazz workshops during his visit. Details will be released soon, Sinclair said.

Other artists this year can list off the legends they’ve played beside. Pianist Harold Mabern is one of those legends in his own right.

Mabern arrives in the Yukon in January with his quartet.

He has more than 60 years of music to his credit and in 2010 was awarded the Don Redman Heritage Award for his contribution to the genre.

The season will wrap up with Marc Atkinson’s trio playing three shows in March, in Whitehorse, Dawson and Haines Junction.

A guitarist, Atkinson is the kind of musician that has something to offer all tastes, Sinclair said.

“He straddles the folk world, he straddles the bluegrass world, he straddles the hardcore jazz world and he pulls it all off.”

Sinclair said Jazz Yukon always tries to include events in the communities.

“The appetite is developing in those rural communities and there’s no good reason, given the effort and the expense of bringing artists to the Yukon, that extra day isn’t hard to organize.”

Meanwhile the scene is growing back in Whitehorse as well.

About five years ago Jazz Yukon started offering Jazz in the Hall at the Old Fire Hall. The evenings are broken down into three parts starting with a history lesson of sorts on one topic related to jazz.

After that, a Yukon artist, commissioned by Jazz Yukon, debuts a new 45-minute set for the audience.

This year Nick Mah, Olivier de Colombel, Susanne Hingley, Jim Holland and Annie Avery have taken on the challenge.

The performance is followed by a jam session so that any musician who wants to can get in on the fun.

“It’s all about community engagement and audience development and at the same time advancing the art form and creating opportunities for more Yukon musicians to actually play the music and do it together,” Sinclair said.

For a full schedule of Jazz on the Wing and Jazz in the Hall concerts this season visit jazzyukon.ca.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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