Music students from the Island and mainland are performing at the West Coast Jazz Festival at VIU on April 30 and May 1. Pictured here are the Alberni District Secondary Junior Combo, Brentwood College Junior Rock Band, West Coast Jazz Festival Grade 12 All-Star Combo and Timberline Howlin’ Wolves R&B Band (clockwise from top left). (Photos submitted)

Jazz, R&B and rock music students descend on VIU for West Coast Jazz Festival

Selected students will advance to Musicfest Canada Finals in Ottawa in May

Around 1,200 jazz, rock, and rhythm and blues students from 17 public and private high schools and middle schools from across Vancouver Island and one from the mainland, are coming to Nanaimo for the annual West Coast Jazz Festival.

The adjudicated event, which takes place at Vancouver Island University on April 30 and May 1, will determine which students get to advance to Musicfest Canada Finals next month in Ottawa. Awards and scholarships are also on the line. Nanaimo schools include Nanaimo District Secondary School, Wellington Secondary School, and Hammond Bay Elementary School.

Sarah Falls has been the festival chair since 1997. She said she expects a strong showing from the Island musicians.

“Nanaimo has terrific band programs,” she said. “They’re all exceptional. Nanaimo, Qualicum, Port Alberni, Campbell River, Comox, Victoria – there’s a lot of really great music happening.”

Performances are open to the public and take place all day long with the bands in Malaspina Theatre and the combos in the VIU choral room. There are also four feature concerts at Malaspina Theatre: The VIU Big Band on April 30 at 11:45 a.m. and a Grade 12 all-star combo on May 1 at 11:45 a.m. On both days the adjudicator’s combo plays at 12:30 p.m.

The adjudicators for this year from Nanaimo are Nanaimo Musicians’ Association Big Band director Bryan Stovell, saxophonist Christine Jensen and bassist Ken Lister, Victoria-based saxophonist Ryan Oliver and drummer Kelby MacNayr and Edmonton trombonist Craig Brenan.

Although the festival used to be exclusively jazz, Falls said they brought in R&B 12 years ago and this is the fourth year rock groups are included. She said some schools have rock band programs and festival gives those students a chance to perform in a festival setting.

“There might be students that are in jazz programs at the university level and the reality is many of those students from jazz programs end up playing in R&B bands and rock bands and it’s great for the kids to see that they can do all those things,” Falls said.

Falls said participating in festivals benefits the students by giving them a level of quality for which to strive, which she said makes everyone improve.

“If you have a basketball team, you practise all the time but it’s really rewarding to be able to go to games,” she said. “Of course with jazz bands you’re rehearsing all the time and you have concerts for parents, but it is really rewarding for them to have something to work towards and also a standard to work towards.”

WHAT’S ON … West Coast Jazz Festival comes to Malaspina Theatre and the VIU choral room on April 30 starting at 8:50 a.m. and May 1 starting at 8 a.m. Admission free to all events. Click here for more information.

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