For many the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival is a chance to see the big names perform on stage but for many young musicians, it’s a chance to be ON that stage. Education has always been an important component to the festival. It’s a place where students get a chance to learn from actual touring musicians.
In its early days it was called the All-Star Program. The students had to audition to get in and the workshops focused on big-band performance. In 2005, it became the TD Jazz Intensive. “We changed the rules and built off the foundation of the previous program,” says the festival’s artistic director Kevin Tobin. “Rather than requiring students to audition, we wanted the program to be more inclusive. We started to do that by accepting musicians of varying abilities. If there was space, we wanted to give them a chance to play.”
When musician and teacher Mark DeJong took over instruction at the intensive, he wanted to make the week of workshops a little more intimate. “I felt the majority of students’ experience is in large, jazz ensemble settings.” DeJong says, “We give students a chance to learn the art of improvisation and soloing with an actual working band.”
DeJong had just the men in mind when he was looking for instructors. He tapped his own band The Outer Bridge Ensemble for faculty. “We’re bringing more than just the musical instruction. We’re mentoring them in an artistic process.” He explains, “We teach about professionalism, the business and artistic sides of music all combined.”
The intensive is a week-long jazz program for students in high school and university. Along with the members of the Outer Bridge Ensemble (David Freeman & Steve Hudson), many musicians performing at the festival serve as guest clinicians.
For the students, there’s a huge payoff. At the end of the week, they get to show off what they’ve learned at public performances on both the Free Stage and at the Bassment.
The program has been a training ground to new artists in Saskatoon’s jazz scene. Graduates including Soren Nissen (bass) and Rory Lynch (saxophone) have returned to the festival to perform and also to instruct at the intensive.
DeJong says the program also brings a new audience to the world of jazz. “Parents come up to us and thank us for the experience their child has had.” He says,”It gives them a point of connection. When it’s their kid up on stage, they’re going to listen.”
Tobin says this program is engaging students like never before. “After the program has concluded, we have seen participants going out and forming bands, developing compositions and gigging.” He explains, “We are striving to nurture the next generation of musicians for our community.”