Nanaimo Musicians Association Big Band celebrates 50th anniversary

Big band hosts anniversary concert in Nanaimo Sunday (March 12).

Nanaimo Musician Association Big Band members are celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary with a concert Sunday (March 12).

Nanaimo’s big band is celebrating its golden anniversary.

The Nanaimo Musicians Association Big Band first formed in 1967 in Bryan Stovell’s basement. Stovell is the director of the band, a position he’s held on and off over the years. While he pursued musical studies at Berklee College of Music, Steve Jones and Norm Porter both served as directors.

Stovell wanted to create a group that would give musicians of all levels the opportunity to play music together. The band included professional musicians, high school, college and university students, school band directors and others.

“It was kind of the melting pot for all the jazz musicians in town,” said Stovell.

Past members include Diana Krall, Phil Dwyer, Ingrid Jensen, Christine Jensen and others. Nanaimo was a hub for big band swing music from the ’30s to the ’50s when the Pygmy Ballroom was still operating, said the director. Once it closed, Nanaimo musician Al Campbell worked with several musicians to create a dance band that performed at Nanaimo legions.

Stovell collaborated with Campbell to create the Nanaimo Musicians Association Big Band. One of the things he likes about the band is the opportunity for young musicians to grow as artists.

“The students get a chance to improvise and express themselves beyond the written page,” he said.

The big band is performing during an anniversary concert Sunday (March 12) from 2-4 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall, Branch 256, located at 1630 E. Wellington Rd.

Admission is by donation with proceeds going to the big band’s scholarship fund.

Stovell said the scholarship fund is important to ensure people have the opportunity to pursue music education, whether they go on to be musicians or music educators.

Throughout the years big band members have performed during numerous community functions including the annual Bathtub races, school band fundraising dances and others. The Nanaimo Musicians Association Big Band also performed at the West Coast Jazz Festival for more than 25 years and from 2004 to 2014 partnered with the Daybreak Rotary Club and Vancouver Island University music department during the annual fundraising dance Swing into Spring.

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