The Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra offered up classic and modern/contemporary arrangements of holiday classics to help “swing” audiences into the holiday spirit at the Dekker Centre just before Christmas. The audience response was enthusiastic and included members of the North Battleford Comprehensive High School Jazz Band, who had a chance to perform as well.
The Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra is committed to presenting the highest caliber professional large jazz ensemble music through its programming and through the featuring of local and nationally/internationally celebrated jazz talent. Artistic Director Dean McNeill told the Dekker Centre audience another thing SJO is committed to is encouragement and support of the upcoming generation of musicians in Saskatchewan.
When the group goes on the road, he explained, they often ask local youth musicians to perform, just as they asked the NBCHS Jazz Band to play at their Dekker Centre performance. He described the NBCHS ensemble as a wonderful group of musicians.
He also had words of praise for band teacher Jackie Kroczinski.
McNeill, who is married to a band teacher, said, “I have an enormous amount of admiration and respect for all teachers, but music teachers, fine arts teachers … they are very special. They put on public display what they do in the classroom, which generally doesn’t happen to someone teaching geography or math.”
He added, “They generally don’t enjoy something called ‘lunch’ because at lunchtime they are doing this!”
Music teachers are special people who make a big difference in the community, said McNeill.
“It’s a gigantic, audacious job, and I’ve seen Jackie working so hard with these students – she’s always bringing them to Saskatoon to be at music festivals – she’s carrying on a long tradition of other people I admire so much like Gene Aulinger.
He said, “You have really great teachers in your community, and Jackie is one of them, so be nice to them.”
McNeill also addressed Canadians’ tendency toward self-deprecation.
“There’s a misconception in cities large and small that people who are doing their thing in the community are ‘local’ talent. ‘How good could it be? It’s here, right?’ And Canadians are particularly bad at thinking that way,” said McNeill.
He pointed to the NBCHS Jazz Band as an example. He also pointed to the Dekker Centre as an example of things the Battlefords should be proud of.
“You have something in this community we don’t have in Saskatoon and we are very envious – this beautiful, beautiful building.”
He complimented the staff as being great to work with and the venue as a world class facility.
“It’s such a pleasure to play here,” said McNeill. “Thank you for that.”
The SJO brought the Christmas classic The Nutcracker Suite to life in the style of famous jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, and featured Saskatoon vocalist Jessica Robinson over three-city tour that started with North Battleford Dec. 13 and going on to Moose Jaw and Saskatoon.