The WestCoast Big Band Festival is moving out of Surrey for a larger venue in Vancouver.
The autumn event was held at Fleetwood’s Northwood United Church over the past three years, but the 2019 edition will take place at Croatian Cultural Centre, on Commercial Drive, from Nov. 15 to 17.
It’s billed as “the premier performance, networking, and educational event for community big bands in the Vancouver area,” featuring 21 Big Band performances over three days.
Festival organizer Dan Mellor said it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Surrey.
“Northwood was an absolute fantastic place, and the people there were wonderful during our formative years,” he told the Now-Leader. “At the end of the day, it’s time for our festival to go to the next level, to a place that’s bigger than a church.
“We found so many people in the jazz community in the Lower Mainland, many of them were coming from Vancouver,” he added. “Our biggest issue was trying to create an atmosphere and ambiance for people to have dinner and drinks, and we’ll have that now (at Croatian Cultural Centre).”
The inaugural festival was held in Vancouver before event organizers shifted their attention to Surrey’s Northwood for the second year of concerts, in 2016.
Last year, the 350-seat church sanctuary in Fleetwood was filled with 16 bands from around Metro Vancouver, including some that bend and twist the definition of what most people might consider Big Band music.
Details about the fifth-annual festival are at westcoastbigbandfestival.com.
Christian Morrison, a co-founder and former organizer of the festival, has helped create Sister Jazz Orchestra, an all-woman jazz ensemble of 18 musicians. The new orchestra’s first-ever performance will be at WestCoast Big Band Festival, as part of a “festival finale” on Nov. 17.
“We are the first all-women professional jazz orchestra in Canada, and we expect to create quite a buzz,” Morrison said. “This is an amazing group of the most accomplished jazzwomen in Vancouver, with a mission of being visible role models to the next generation.”
Other festival highlights this year include an opening-night Swing Dance party with two bands, a headline concert by Vancouver Groove Orchestra on Saturday, Nov. 16, and a keynote address by New Orleans-based drummer Don Caro, who as a child was badly burned in a gasoline explosion and later became a professional musician.
Morrison, who lives in North Vancouver, recently stepped down as director of Mighty Fraser Big Band, after eight years of working with the Surrey-based ensemble, to focus on developing Sister Jazz Orchestra. She still makes her way to Surrey for meetings of the Coast Capital Savings’ board of directors.
“I’ve been on the Coast board for over 10 years,” she explained. “In fact, my work at Coast Capital was part of the inspiration for creating the Sister Jazz Orchestra.… I chair the Human Resources Committee and we’ve done a lot of work on diversity and inclusion, with a particular focus over the past couple of years on developing women for leadership roles. It was the launch event for a newly-created Coast Capital’s Business Women’s Network (CWBN) about 18 months ago that inspired my ‘Aha!’ moment where I could see my business and musical lives colliding in an all-female professional jazz orchestra with a mission of showcasing, empowering and inspiring women in jazz. To celebrate their inspirational role, the CWBN has organized a group outing to attend the debut of the (Sister Jazz Orchestra) at the festival.”