While the typical jazz music venue in most cities is either a hotel lounge or nightclub, in Salmon Arm jazz lovers flock to the Nexus at the First United Church that has become a well-appreciated, 325-seat music venue for the community. We can all thank the Salmon Arm Jazz Club for their dedication to hosting talented players from the community as well as from throughout Canada.
There has long been a vibrant music scene in the Shuswap, but it was not until three young local musicians, Jacob Verburg, Darrin Herting and Leon Power began holding weekly jams on Thursdays at the Salmon Arm Arts Centre Public Art Gallery in 2009 that jazz began to become part of the scene. In the first year, there were a variety of musical themes and players, always with an energetic amount of improvisation.
In 2010, when Jacob decided to take a break from organizing the shows, high school music teachers Sandy Cameron and Brian Pratt-Johnson, both well-appreciated and highly skilled players, took charge and the focus shifted to jazz. To ease the burden, the schedule was changed to twice a month and gradually more musicians came from Vernon, Kamloops and Kelowna to participate in the programs.
As the Jazz Club formed, decisions were made to ensure that admissions would be by donation and to avoid the bureaucracy of a registered society by keeping the club administration ad hoc.
At the same time, they decided to ensure that all performers were paid fairly according to how far they travelled. Their organizational structure worked so well that within two years there was no longer enough room at the art gallery for the size of the audience, and the venue shifted to the former Shuswap Chefs restaurant for two years until it closed.
One cannot help but feel a sense of joyful pride when CBC’s Hot Air jazz program host Margaret Gallagher lists the cities where a featured band is playing on their tour and Salmon Arm is included. As Sandy Cameron explained, it was touring band members who found out about our jazz club and made the request to play here, which makes sense given that Salmon Arm is about halfway between Calgary and Vancouver.
In 2016, First United Church, which had in the past been the scene of concerts and music festivals, decided to create a unique venue for the community called “The Nexus at First” as a way to create an additional revenue stream as well as increase utilization of their facility. It was a perfect fit for the Jazz Club and as long time volunteer Stan Zobac explained, the church “bends over backwards” to provide warm and generous support.
When Sandy left the community to live in Victoria for a few years, skilled guitarist Jordan Dick took over as director and continues in this role today. Audience sizes are typically in the range of 75 to 125, but often the crowds are greater when the club is hosting a band that is on tour. Some of the favourite musicians include bassist Bernie Addington from Kelowna and from Vancouver, guitarist Bill Coon and saxophonist Cory Weeds, who also ran the famous Jazz Cellar.
There are an estimated 50 jazz players in the Shuswap according to Sandy, and many shows feature a group of them in a quartet or more. Typically, the group only needs only one rehearsal to go over the selections and the arrangements. What makes jazz so enjoyable for aficionados is the improvisation, which usually occurs during the solos for each of the players.
One of the highlights of the season is the annual Christmas show and this year was no exception with a sold-out crowd filling the auditorium. For most of the program, one only had a sense that it was holiday music during the first few minutes of each song, as the arrangements were fluid and creative, with many of the solos and the vocals by Andrea Roberts and her son Jonas provoking a sense of joy that fit the season.
The lineup for January is impressive. On Jan. 10, the show featured a sextet led by Revelstoke trombonist Bob Rogers and, on Jan. 24, the program will feature “Soul Station – The Music of Hank Mobley” with an Okanagan quartet that includes Bernie Addington (learn more at jazzsalmonarm.com). Be there or be square!