A Window Into The Youth Jazz Scene in Vancouver

Dedicated to Noah Gotfrit

It’s Saturday night, around 9pm, on the northwest corner of Commercial and Venables. Teenagers wearing jean jackets emblazoned with Eastside patches, cutoffs, and other badass attire make their way single file through the doorway of the Prophouse Café. The Café’s name is derived from the ornamental and endlessly fascinating old movie props that are littered wildly throughout the establishment- and tonight, in the back left corner, a band sets up their instruments. Adults and derelict teens smelling of smoke crowd into the intimate space, and the conversations are brought down to a whisper as the frontman raises his horn. The band begins with the old standard “All Of Me,” followed by Nat Adderley’s “Work Song”, played with as much swagger and excitement as one might expect of a rock and roll or punk band.

The jazz quintet performing calls itself the Carlo Rossi Gang (named after the wine), and consists  of a double bassist, a drummer, a pianist, a saxophonist and a trumpet player/singer who leads the band. They play a brand of music they like to call grease jazz, which can be only marginally defined as straight jazz played with a strong emphasis on the blues, performance appeal, and rowdy energy. All the members have attended the Vancouver Community College jazz program, although they would all say that they only got into it for a stupid certificate. However, the relationships they developed with some teachers there encouraged their growth as musicians. So it makes one wonder: who taught them, why did they pursue jazz instead of other, perhaps more accessible genres of music, and who inspires them?

From attending and participating in many of their shows, it is clear that the band has a deep appreciation for the displays of emotion, inventiveness, facility, and soul that are characteristic of a good jazz performance. This recalls the beatnik era, where artists like Jack Kerouac saw jazz as a medium of pure expression and raw energy. In terms of listening to jazz, some of the sounds and the structure of the songs may be confusing or thought provoking. Listeners become curious about the dynamics of the song and the solos and the distinct sound, which is one of the aspects that distinguishes jazz from the mindless pop music we are bombarded with on the daily. Learning about the history of jazz gives one insight into the evolution of African American culture and into the development of an art form which for many years was affiliated with social division between blacks and whites and was rejected by many. Most of the famous old jazz musicians had an addiction of some kind, and the lifestyle was clearly a struggle. Jazz used to be party music, played in nightclubs, and many jazz musicians wish for this to be the case again. All these qualities, such as the historical context and the room for improvisation and originality, make jazz appealing to the young musicians– but who got them into it?

Each member of the quintet and many other young jazz musicians I have met, in the classic jazz tradition, have mentors whom they emulate and who give them the run down on technique, style, and a refined sensibility when it comes to playing with other people and listening to jazz. These mentors constitute a portion of the adult jazz scene in Vancouver and include Alan Matheson, David Branter, and Jesse Cahill, to name a few. Locals such as Jodie Prosnick, Craig Scott and Mike Allen also impress and inspire many young musicians and are surely worth seeing.

Bands such as the Carlo Rossi gang (led by Sky Lambourne), the Barefoot Bandits (a local gypsy jazz band) and the Entrio (led by up and coming pianist Noah Franche Nolan) to name a few, have a long list of inspirations that goes far beyond the local artists. Carlo Rossi Gang sees Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Booker Little as inspirations, the Bandits admire Django Reinhardt, and the Entrio look up to Brad Meldau, The Bad Plus and Thelonius Monk. Musicians like Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane are also favorites for the young jazz musicians in town.

Venues such as El Barrio’s, the Cellar, 1067, Cosmic Zoo, Goldie’s, and the Libra Room allow for jazz musicians young and old, amateur and professional, to play sets and jam. Some local musicians including Andrew Miller and Evan Arntzen host a weekly jam at Goldie’s pizza place (Pender and Seymour) and the Carlo Rossi Gang are beginning to do monthly jams at the Prophouse Café. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s often interesting shows to be seen at 1067 (Glen Dr. just off of Hastings) for a $5 cover. Unfortunately, because of Vancouver’s noise bylaws and no-fun-city culture, there is a lack of all age’s venues where amateurs can play.

Even though the good venues may be sparse, get out there and see live music! Whether it’s jazz or any other genre, musicians need all the support they can get in terms of a good audience. Though some jazz may not be the most accessible music, it is always interesting to listen outside of the genres you are comfortable with and to experiment with  a dynamic range of music. The best way to get into jazz is not listen to it at home, but to go out to see the excitement of candid improvisation first hand.

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