Calgary man fulfills his dream of forming Canada’s first national jazz band

Music has always played a role in Allison Au’s life.

Whether it was flipping through her father’s vinyl collection or listening to music at a birthday party, she began to realize that music brought people together.

But it wasn’t until she saw one of her music teachers playing the saxophone that she considered taking the instrument seriously.

“It really broke the whole stereotype for me,” said Au, an alto saxophone player from Ontario.

“It really provided a very amazing and inspiring role model and figure for me.”

Last week in Calgary, the National Jazz Orchestra of Canada performed for the very first time. The project brought together musicians from across the country to perform Canadian compositions. (National Jazz Orchestra of Canada)

Years later, Au is the role model for the country’s next generation of jazz musicians. She is one of 18 performers selected to be part of the National Jazz Orchestra of Canada, which gave its first performance last month in Calgary at Arts Commons.

The orchestra is a product of the Calgary jazz collective, JazzYYC. All of the orchestra’s music is created by Canadian composers.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity to collaborate with a lot of different musicians I’ve never played with before, all of an incredibly high caliber…and just the common goal of cultivating original Canadian music,” Au said.

The goal is for the orchestra to tour not just across Canada, but internationally, to show the world what Canadian jazz musicians, composers and arrangers have to offer.

Allison Au is a saxophonist from Toronto who is a member of the National Jazz Orchestra of Canada. (James Young/CBC)

“A Huge Moment”

For years, Kodi Hutchinson, artistic director of JazzYCC and executive producer of the National Jazz Orchestra of Canada, tried to put this idea into practice.

“It’s a Canadian orchestra playing Canadian music,” he said before the band’s first show.

“It’s a huge moment for me personally…it’s a dream one of my mentors had that was passed on to me. I can’t even explain how excited I am to see this group in action.”

The ensemble is made up of musicians from across the country, the “best of the best,” Hutchinson said. Each member was selected by an advisory panel after a nationwide search, including Calgary trumpet player André Wickenheiser.

“I can’t even count the number of Junos that are on stage. I know there’s at least one Order of Canada,” Hutchinson said.

Kodi Hutchinson is the orchestra’s executive producer. (James Young/CBC)

The group has also commissioned works from Canadian composers. After 70 applications, five composers were selected to create music for the orchestra.

Hutchinson calls the orchestra a “major achievement for Calgary.”

“I was born and raised in Calgary. I like the Western spirit of “Let’s do it”. And to me, it’s almost like a neutral site where you can say, “Come here and let’s make music,” he said.

In addition to his patriotic mission, he also wants the group to educate and inspire students.

Many young people are introduced to jazz in their high school music halls, Hutchinson said, and a band like this will make it easier for them to imagine their own face on stage.

“Then internationally, we want to have a band that other countries can look up and say, ‘Wow, look at the quality of the music coming out of Canada’ and give more opportunities to musicians and songwriters in Canada. “, did he declare.

Andrew Jackson is a trombonist from Nova Scotia. (James Young/CBC)

Being part of the band is an incredible experience for Andrew Jackson, a trombonist from Nova Scotia.

“With such a level of talent, with the musicians, it’s really a treat,” he said.

“There’s no weak link. So everyone is really trying their best and coming together, and it’s coming together really quickly, but really beautifully. The blending, and the fact that we’re just finding a sound as a as a group, has been such a wonderful experience to have.”

Jackson says he hopes the band will have more opportunities to perform and grow in the years to come.

“The [are] so many fantastic musicians and instrumentalists in the jazz tradition that I think we should celebrate,” he said.

Until then, fans will soon be able to access an album and digital stream of the band’s performance on April 28.

Allison Au performs at one of the National Jazz Orchestra of Canada rehearsals last week. (James Young/CBC)

The band also continues to float the idea of ​​more gigs across the country – an opportunity to share and pass on a passion for jazz to the next music-inclined student, just like Au.

“I don’t lose sight of the importance of representation,” she said. “I hope I can be a role model.”