©Brett Delmage, 2019
The Wellington Secondary School Grade 11 Combo received a Gold award for their performance. Tenor saxophonist Isabella Cooper (right) received an honour award. On piano: Petra Dobek; drums: Jesse Scott Bradley; bass: Devin Uslu.   ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Updated May 29 to include further information
In Nanaimo, B.C. there is a long lineage of jazz, and specifically women jazz musicians. Last week, 25 students from a Nanaimo school worked to live up to that example in their performances at MusicFest Canada Nationals in Ottawa.

In the 1980s, pianist Diana Krall, saxophonist Christine Jensen, and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen took their first steps in jazz as high school students in the Vancouver Island city, participating in earlier MusicFests, before going on to global stardom for Krall, and highly-respected and award-winning international careers as composers and bandleaders for the Jensen sisters.

This year, the Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo was one of the most active at MusicFest Canada, with nine ensembles ranging from trios to jazz bands. Women were prominent in many of these groups, more than in many other groups OttawaJazzScene.ca heard performing at MusicFest.

Wellington band director Carmella Luvisotto said women became interested in participating because of Nanaimo's legacy of female jazz musicians.

“Christine and Ingrid Jensen are two of the great jazz musicians in Canada, as well as Diana Krall. So they have a lot of role models to look up to. And I just think of myself being a female [band] director – I think it [makes them] comfortable in a situation that males and females can both do this job, and they see me doing that job and being successful!”

The students have contributed to this, she said, with older female students mentoring younger students, which “has happened naturally in our band class setting”.

The band also performs in the elementary schools which feed Wellington SS, showing younger students that “both women and men can be part of the program by showcasing our groups that feature both.”

In band classes, Luvisotto said, she promotes listening – which was reflected in several of the Wellington band's less-common choices in the pieces they played at MusicFest.

“We listen to different eras of jazz from the 1920s, really the start of jazz, down through bebop, cool jazz, and modern stuff. I let the students pick what they want to perform from listening, and they themselves choose a wide variety of material, I find.”

She's brought Wellington students to the MusicFest Canada Nationals every year for the last 24 years, she said.

“They get a lot of great constructive feedback that helps them in their future and towards music as a pursuit. Whether or not they pursue it, they get a lot of great ideas and communication from the wonderful adjudicators here, that they can take back home all the way to B.C. and apply it to the music back in the classroom.”

“Being able to work with professional musicians that are out there in the workforce, getting feedback from them, I think is very, very helpful. As a teacher, it's great to have another voice and and another opinion, and that's what they provide here at MusicFest.”

©Brett Delmage, 2019
Wellington band director Carmella Luvisotto (right) brought Wellington students to the MusicFest Canada Nationals every year for the last 24 years ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Two of her students were also in this year's Conn-Selmer Centerstage Jazz Band, she said, giving them a chance to interact with students across Canada.

“I think they're highly motivated after attending this festival, and it gives then something to work towards in their future and the next school years, if they haven't graduated.”

Her students have gone on to study at respected schools like the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the New School of Music in NYC, McGill University in Montreal, the University of Toronto, and Humber College, as well as studying at home at the Vancouver Island University.

Two of Luvisotto's students won individual awards at MusicFest Canada this year: drummer Daniel Mottahedeh was named the Dream Cymbals Big Band Drummer of the Year, and baritone saxophonist Peter Kang won a scholarship to the Douglas College Summer Jazz Intensive camp. Five Wellington ensembles were given Gold (top) recognition, and four Silver for their performances.

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