Semiahmoo jazz band directors Kevin Lee and Dagan Lowe take a break from rehearsing with some of the Grade 11 and 12 musicians who will participate in the Christmas at the Coast big band extravaganza.

Semi swings it

Students and professionals join forces for a White Rock big-band Christmas bash

If you love the sound of a crooner swaying the crowd in front of a full-sized swinging big band, look no further than the Coast Capital Playhouse for two nights of concerts next week guaranteed to have feet tapping and fingers popping.

Semiahmoo Secondary band program director Dagan Lowe wants Christmas at the Coast (Dec. 8 and 9) to raise the bar for local music events – and establish a solid reputation as “White Rock’s premier Christmas event.”

And he’s got three bands’ worth of musicians ready to come on like gangbusters to prove the point – and show the public all the excitement an 18-piece jazz ensemble, rather than electronica and a stack of speakers, can generate.

Presented by the Semiahmoo Music Society, with all proceeds benefiting the Semiahmoo Secondary music program, the show will feature dynamic vocalist Phil Vanderveen and the Vancouver Groove Orchestra (in which Lowe plays trombone) and members of Semiahmoo’s award-winning Grade 11 and 12 jazz bands.

Expect a bubbling, jazzy celebration of Michael Bublé, Harry Connick and Frank Sinatra-inspired crooner swing, with a dash of seasonal flair – upbeat versions of some Christmas classics (including some original Glenn Miller arrangements from the 1940s).

“I think it’s going to be one of the biggest shows for a long time,” Lowe said.

He noted that – even with “20 years of fabulous bands” at Semi dating back to the regime of legendary band director Dave (Proz) Proznick – only a certain segment of the public have been exposed to the drive, dedication and talent of the school’s young musicians.

“I don’t think many people really know how amazing these young people are,” he said.

As a Semi alumnus – and one of Proz’s former students – himself, Lowe is proud that he can bring a top-flight group of professional Vancouver jazz musicians to the hometown crowd.

“White Rock is so far away from Vancouver, a lot of people don’t have an opportunity to hear live music because of all the hassles of driving and parking as well as paying for tickets,” he said. “There seems to be a real hunger for live music here.”

The Vancouver Groove Orchestra, led by Darrell Penner and fronted by Vanderveen, is technically a new band, but it brings together musicians who already work well together, Lowe said.

“I’ve been playing with many of these musicians for probably 20 years or more,” he said. “We’ve been together (as this band) about three years and we’re just getting into the promotional side of things.”

The instrumentation is classic big band, he said – five saxes, five trombones, four to five trumpets, plus a full rhythm section.

To give an idea of the calibre of musicianship on display, he added, the lead alto sax for the concert will be Juno award-winner Campbell Ryga.

But Vanderveen’s own swinging sensibility and personality will also be to the fore, Lowe noted.

“The reason we chose him for the band is that  he is a natural musical talent – and he can sound like anyone.”

But the student musicians will definitely rise to the occasion, Lowe predicted.

“The vision at Semi for our bands is that we don’t have A or B bands – that may work for some schools, giving kids something to strive for, but we like to have strong players in all our ensembles,” he said.

“Music isn’t supposed to be about competition.”

Lowe said the fact that he and fellow Semi band director Kevin Lee have managed to have “consistent top-notch bands every year” speaks a lot to “the type of parents, the type of community and the role of tradition.”

Producer for the concert, Peter Young – also a parent – is a principal in Alive Drive Studios, he said.

“He’s been very involved in helping to bring the professional aspect into the students’ experience,” he said.

He also noted the unflagging support of White Rock’s school trustee, Laurae McNally – and her understanding of the importance of the band program in team-building and shaping citizens, whether or not musicians continue to play professionally.

“She’s said many times ‘you don’t take math to be a mathematician’,” he said.

“The students do music because it’s part of the soul of humanity. We’e not training them to be sidemen, but thinking members of society who are well–rounded.”

Doors are 7:30 p.m. each night.

Tickets ($35) are available online from www.musicfromthecoast.com or from the Coast Capital Playhouse box office, 1532 Johnston Rd. (604-536-7535, 1-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday).

 

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