Vanier Junior Jazz Band. David Cowx on saxophone with Judy Russell and AJ Balajadia on trumpet. PHOTOS: Danny Macdonald.

Yukon Music – Improvisation is Key

David Cowx on saxophone with Judy Russell and AJ Balajadia on trumpet. PHOTOS: Danny Macdonald

The Vanier Junior Jazz Band won first place in the Under 16 category of BYTE’s Battle of the Bands – again

Kim Hart has spent 10 years shaping young Yukoners into polished performers and also building an appreciation for their community. As the music teacher at Vanier Catholic Secondary School, she teaches the Vanier Junior Jazz Band program that enables students to learn to perform on stage and the program is developing some excellent musicians. For the second year in a row, the Junior Jazz Band won first place in the Under 16 category of BYTE’s Battle of the Bands.

The group is a mix of drums, keyboard, guitar and brass instruments and comprised of Grade 8 and 9 students. This year’s winning ensemble featured only two returning members, the rest of the group are new.

Jazz improvisation and execution is a real key to the passion the students show for their music, according to Hart.

“When you first introduce the improv aspect, it’s a leap of faith,” Hart said. “It’s fun to watch. They learn to play their notes, but create their own. Then they love it, because it’s their own music.”

The ensemble performed Tito Puente’s 1963 Latin jazz classic “Oye Como Va”, the Benny Golson composed “Killer Joe”, and “St. James Infirmary”, which was made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928.

When asked what draws them to perform, the students agreed with David Cowx’s assessment that it was the opportunity to get on stage and do something you love. “Every time is fun,” bass guitarist Ferdy Royle said.

“Personally, my family is musical and it’s in my blood,” drummer Jordan Keats added. “I’m a sixth generation drummer. My mom was one, too.”

But the program isn’t all about competing and winning band battles, according to Hart. It’s about developing community minded citizens and helping them learn more about themselves and the Yukon. A significant part of the program are the trips around the Yukon and northern British Columbia to rural communities.

“The communities are always welcoming,” Hart said. “We host a community open mic night, which allows local students and adults to share their talents, too.

“It’s fun for kids because the audience is so gracious and supportive. Young kids have come and our band members cheer them on.”

It also provides an opportunity to learn more about their own territory, its history and it’s people.

“We try to meet with the local First Nations in each community,” Hart explained. “It helps the students learn more about their own territory.”

This year the Vanier Junior Jazz Band have a busy schedule following their win at Battle of the Bands. They will be performing in the Secondaire en spectacle, the Rotary Music Festival, spirit rallies at Vanier, touring Holy Family and Christ the King elementary schools, and traveling as part of the southern communities tour. This year the band will be visiting Atlin, B.C. from May 9 to 11.

The school’s senior jazz band visited Dawson City in the fall and both groups visited Haines Junction, and Teslin last school year. But It has been three years since the band last visited Atlin, B.C. and it will be a first visit as performers for all the students.

The band has a number of performances scheduled, including the open mic night on May 10 at 7 p.m. at the Atlin Community School. For more information on their Atlin events or future performances, contact Kim Hart by email at [email protected].

A Snapshot of Vanier’s Talent


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