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Young jazz musicians from Surrey and Nanaimo meet as concert collaborators

North Vancouver show this Friday features Semiahmoo and Wellington Secondaries
The Semiahmoo Secondary Grade 12 Jazz Band seen in action at the recent Surrey Schools Jazz Festival. Contributed photo

At festivals they’ve met as competitors.

But in truth, Semiahmoo Secondary band program director Dagan Lowe said, the young musicians of the school’s jazz bands, and their counterparts at their ‘sister school from the Island’, Nanaimo’s Wellington Secondary, have found they’re more like kindred spirits.

That’s why they are very excited about their upcoming joint concert Together Again For The First Time this Friday (May 6) at 7 p.m. at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre (2300 Lonsdale).

The Semiahmoo Grade 11 and Grade 12 jazz bands and the Wellington Secondary Senior Jazz Band will be focal points of the concert along with guest appearances by distinguished faculty members of the Capilano University Jazz Program: trumpeter/bandleader Brad Turner, saxophonist Steve Kaldestad, trombonist Dennis Esson and drummer Kofi Gbolonyo.

It might seem like a long trek for Peninsula audiences – but sure to be a rewarding one for fans of the energy and technical capability that award-winning young musicians can bring to the big band repertoire.

At the recent Surrey Schools Jazz Festival, Semiahmoo ‘s Grade 12 band won the titles for ‘outstanding performance by a senior jazz band’, and ‘best rhythm section’, as well as individual outstanding performance awards for Grade 11 lead trumpeter Matea Pfortmueller and Grade 12s Brubeck Hudson (saxophone), Riley Haertl (trombone), and Michael Lin (piano).

Outstanding performance awards also went to Wellington students, too, including senior jazz band members Kotaro Shinya (guitar), Jonathann Pearce (bass), Cole Tomkins (drummer) and Sarah Stevenson (all-round excellence).

The North Vancouver location came together partly because the two schools’ musicians are participating this week in band workshops and clinics at Capilano University, Lowe explained.

“We don’t have a venue of the right size available down here,” he said, adding that since arrangements have already been made for the students participating in the workshops to stay at a North Vancouver hotel, it made sense to have the concert there, too.

“And the Semiahmoo PAC (Parents Advisory Committee) very generously contributed $2,000 to cover the cost of the rental,” he added.

While the contributions of Turner, Kaldestad and Esson to jazz education are well-known, Lowe is also interested in the potential influence of Gbolonyo on his students.

“He’s from Ghana, and he’s skilled in both western music and African music,” he explained. “Apparently he’s been an absolute inspiration at Capilano.

“Any concerts he does while he’s living here, he sends the money back to the Nunya Music Academy in Ghana, so we’re hoping to help him out there, with some of the money we raise.”

Wellington is fortunate to have a band director of the calibre of Carmela Lovisotto, Lowe said.

“She’s a teacher with a penchant for jazz in this tiny little secondary school,” he noted, adding that Lovisotto grew up in band programs led by famed music educator and adjudicator Bryan Stovall – who has also been cited as a key influence on her Nanaimo contemporaries, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonist Christine Jensen and pianist/vocalist Diana Krall.

By the same token, Lowe counts himself lucky to have been a student under another legendary music educator, former Semiahmoo Secondary band director Dave Proznick.

“Every music educators’ conference we’re both at, Carmela and I make a point of lunching together and comparing notes about students and what we want to do with our programs,” he said.

“Even before they met at festivals, our students were aware of the Wellington kids and what they were doing musically through social media,” he said, noting that this week’s concert is not the first time students from the two schools have collaborated.

“At the last Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival we participated in prior to COVID, we had a couple of combined combos featuring our students and Wellington students,” he said.

And the students will clearly be on their mettle to shine in the upcoming workshops and concert, he said.

“These high school bands are playing at a pretty high performance level, considering all the challenges they’ve faced in the last two years,” he said.

“It should be a fabulous night of music.”

Tickets ($15) are available through the Centennial Theatre box office at or 604-984-4484.