Jazz evening shows just how vital arts are to a community

Jazz is kind of like a different language and the people who play jazz are a different breed, maybe even a different species altogether.

On Thursday night, a mix of more than 50 of them (and their closest friends, family members and extraterrestrial visitors) gathered at the patio of Petra’s Arts Kafe and listened to the music, whether they were fluent or not.

They sat outside by the palm trees with their sun umbrellas, lawn chairs and smoothies for a two-hour open jam jazz session put on by a mix of amateur and professional musicians — a night that has now become tradition at the seventh annual South Delta Jazz Festival.

The atmosphere was a little otherworldly, with the sun and the saxophones and the music carrying across 12th Avenue, and to an outsider it was definitely an out-of-this-world experience.

In July 2004, the Delta Community Music School, along with instructors Jared Burrows and Stephen Robb, planted the seeds for this night when they founded the first annual jazz festival. Since then, it has grown to become a staple of the summer months like the Sun Festival, the Tour de Delta and skimboarding at Centennial Beach.

For one week, music students of all ages take part in workshops that teach them the subtle nuances of improvisational jazz, and the culmination is that one night, out in the sun, when 12-year-old bass players jam alongside 50-year-old saxophonists.

The positive benefits that each student and teacher, along with the community, gain from the South Delta Jazz Festival cannot be measured in any tangible form, but they also cannot be denied.

What’s unfortunate, then, is that like countless other arts programs in our province, the Delta Community Music School and the jazz festival lost significant financial support from the government of B.C. when it cut gaming grants.

They’ve secured private sponsors, sure, and they cut costs where they can, but harbouring the talents of young musicians doesn’t come cheap. (Through it all, they even manage to offer scholarships so students who can’t afford the cost of the workshops can still attend.)

I asked one of the more experienced performers why he was at Petra’s playing jazz on a Thursday night and he suggested that maybe it was because he was dropped on his head as a baby. Or maybe it was the drugs. (I learned that night that jazz players also know the subtle nuances of self-deprecation.)

Arts grants are just a slice of the province’s budget, yet they contribute to an important part of Canada’s social fabric. Sometimes, you need a jazz jam session out on the streets to remind people of that.
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