Surrey-based Mighty Fraser Big Band is featured during the WestCoast Big Band Festival, at Northwood United Church on Oct. 13 and 14. (Photo: mightyfraserbigband.com)

‘Shared passion’: WestCoast Big Band Festival sounds off in Surrey for second time

10 swingin’ bands at Fleetwood church for two days in October

SURREY — The swingin’ sounds of big-band jazz will fill a Fleetwood-area church during a festival held there for a second time.

The third edition of WestCoast Big Band Festival will take place at Northwood United Church on Oct. 13 and 14, featuring free concerts performed by several local bands.

The inaugural fest happened at a venue in downtown Vancouver before it was moved to Surrey last year.

“It worked really well at Northwood, so we’re repeating there this year,” said Christian Morrison, a planner of the festival.

“The size of the performance venue, the church itself, is good for us,” she added, “and it holds about 350 people, which is just about right. They have a really nice foyer space for networking, because part of the reason for the event is for musicians to be able to meet and talk to each other about this shared passion of ours, the music.”

Also, the church has classrooms for the festival’s educational clinics led by pro musicians, and enough storage space for all those instruments.

“It’s a lot of musicians, because there are around 17 to 20 per band, and we have 10 bands, so that’s a lot of players coming and going during the weekend,” explained Morrison, who lives in North Vancouver.

Morrison directs two of the bands: North Van-based Jazz Connexion and also Mighty Fraser Big Band, which rehearses at Fraser Heights Secondary in Surrey on Wednesday evenings.

The Mighty Fraser band is the “opening act” for the festival’s opening-night concert (Friday, Oct. 13, featuring Eli Bennett, sax player and film composer), followed by Vancouver Groove Orchestra, with trombonist Ian McDougall and Juno-winning multi-instrumentalist Brad Turner. Admission is free.

The free concerts continue the following day (Saturday, Oct. 14, from 11 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.) with performances by The Other Big Band (based in White Rock), Deep Cove Big Band, New Westminster & District Jazz Band, Inlet Jazz Band, FAT Jazz, Jazz Connexion, 45th Avenue Jazz Band and Urbana Big Band.

That’s night’s “festival finale,” an 8 p.m. start, will feature Jill Townsend Jazz Orchestra, with tickets priced at $20 each, both at the door and online at westcoastbigbandfestival.com.

“The bands in the festival, most of them are purely voluntary and it’s people who have a passion for this kind of music,” Morrison explained. “They came out once a week to rehearse and, generally, most of the bands will have some kind of forum for performance, and there’s a whole range of places these bands perform.”

For closing night, a decision was made to bring in a pro band of note.

“We did that as part of our mission to keep this kind of music alive,” Morrison added. “We have all of these community bands for that, of course, but in Vancouver we also have a very professional big band, Jill Townsend Jazz Orchestra, and we want to spread awareness about that, too. It’s a super hot band, and anybody who loves big-band music should not miss hearing this band. So through the generous support of Coastal Jazz, we were able to bring them in this year.”

The Mighty Fraser band, like most of the others, involves some musicians who played an instrument when they were young, then dropped the hobby as an adult.

“When young people finish high school, they’ve played in the band, maybe, and have enjoyed that,” Morrison explained. “And some of them – very few of them – go on to do music as a career, but most don’t, and there’s a real lack of awareness that after high school, you can join a community group, like one of these performing at the festival, and you can keep enjoying playing this music right through your lifetime. We want to make sure people are aware of that.”

Asked whether Mighty Fraser Big Band is in need of any musicians at the moment, Morrison didn’t hesitate.

“Right now we’re actually looking for one trumpet player,” she said about the ensemble, which performs approximately 10 times a year at places like the Elks hall in White Rock, Legion halls and, most frequently, at Northwood church’s fortnightly Jazz Vespers series of concerts.

Mighty Fraser (online at mightyfraserbigband.com) will return there on Dec. 3 with Steve Maddock and Amanda Wood. Other performers in the series this fall include Anita Eccleston (Sunday, Sept. 24), Laura Crema Quartet (Oct. 8), Karin Plato with Natasha D’Agostino (Oct. 22), 3 Generations of Arntzens (Nov. 5), L.J. Montgomery and Van Django (Nov. 12), Marcus Mosely Chorale (Nov. 19) and Jen Hodge with Company B (Dec. 10). The by-donation concerts start at 4 p.m. at Northwood United Church, located at 8855 156th St., Surrey.



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