When his school work started to suffer, John Lee’s parents suggested he buckle down and work harder.
The then 13-year-old took his parents’ advice and now, several years later, studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston, one of the most prestigious music schools in North America.
“I can’t believe, to this day, that it happened,” he said.
Lee transferred to Wellington Secondary School in his Grade 11 year, which was also when he was introduced to jazz by band teacher Carmella Luvisotto.
“When I fell in love with jazz was when I went there,” Lee said. “It was about creativity – I loved that you could be so free.”
In addition to drums, Lee also plays piano, guitar and upright bass. After graduating, he feared he wouldn’t be able to attend Berklee because of the high cost of tuition.
He was selected for the Slaight Family scholarship, given annually to a Canadian student with financial need to allow them to study at Berklee.
It gave him the opportunity to play “American music with Americans.”
“They have the most natural feel for the music,” Lee said.
But at least one Canadian is also making sure Lee succeeds – fellow former Nanaimoite Ingrid Jensen. She and her sister, Christine, will perform at A Jazz Affair, an annual fundraiser for music education in Nanaimo.
The event is a way for Lee, and other musicians who are part of the Wellington alumni band, to repay the opportunities they had as students.
Alumni player Sean Blackmore went to work after graduation but it didn’t take long for his knowledge of alto sax to return.
“It’s kinda like riding a bike,” he said.
His younger sister is also playing.
A Jazz Affair raises money to provide music clinics, instrument purchases, scholarships and band camp bursaries to local music students.
In addition to the Jensens and the alumni, the Nanaimo Musicians Association Big Band and the Wellington jazz bands will also perform. A silent auction and meals by Mrs. Riches will also be available for purchase.
For Lee, he simply looks forward to playing in Nanaimo and sharing his stories from Berklee through his music.
“Playing in Nanaimo is one of my favourite things to do,” Lee said.
A Jazz Affair is set for Friday (May 25) at Beban Park social centre. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets $25 at Fascinating Rhythm, Seadrift Fish Market, Dr. Paul Geneau Eye Care, Guava or by calling 250-751-3696.
For more information, please visit www.friendsofnanaimojazz.com.