|Mount Boucherie Secondary School music teacher Craig Thomson, right, takes a solo while veteran musician Stephen Buck sits in on drums at the RCA jazz jam. Buck more often handles saxophone, clarinet and flute, and is most times joined by his sons, Alex on piano and Simon on drums.|
But at a regular Thursday evening Jazz jam at the Rotary Centre for the Arts a little while ago, veteran musician Stephen Buck gave the term a whole new meaning.
Buck is an experienced saxophone, clarinet and flute player who spent considerable time plying his craft in Europe and North America, but this particular week, his drummer son Simon, who is usually on hand along with his brother Alex on piano, was unable to make the Thursday session,.
So Buck jumped in on the skins.
Unfortunately, he didn't have any sticks with him, nor were any to be found, despite calls to the audience and assembled players.
But that wasn't going to stop him, and outfitted with two bundles of wooden pencils held together with elastic bands, Buck didn't miss a beat as he provided the rhythm on several jazz chestnuts.
"And then I switched to paint brushes after that," he joked later.
He also picked up an upright bass for a few numbers, showing a versatility well suited to the situation.
All the effort was for a good cause, however, and the jam went on without a hitch.
Buck helps organize the players who show up for the jams, along with Mount Boucherie Secondary School music teacher Craig Thomson, the two making sure everybody has a chance to play, whether relative musical newcomers or experienced hands
For more than a year now, every Thursday at 5 p.m., jazz musicians of all stripes and ages, have been gathering with some who are just fans of the music, to play through any number of jazz standards.
Most bring along their own instruments, such as electric bass, or various horns - and there are a set of house drums, along with a baby grand piano, a few amplifiers and speakers so everyone can hear.
The idea of holding a jazz jam came about after Buck, who has played in Toronto, London, New York and Vancouver, along with some 20 years in European musical theatre, moved to Kelowna two years ago.
Playing in the Kelowna City Band and the Okanagan Symphony, he met Thomson, who was teaching his two sons music at MBSS. The two decided there was a need for veteran and new musicians who loved to play jazz in a place where they could get together.
And so the jazz jam came to be.
Thomson approached long-time RCA Performing Arts Co-ordinator Shelly Vida, who loved the idea, and things happened from there.
"We borrowed a set of drums from the Kelowna City Band," said Buck. "And we set them up, we started playing and we've been doing it ever since.
"Craig really arranged it and I took it upon myself to be the M.C. to keep it streamlined. That seems to have worked well and we've built up quite a good audience. It's pretty busy in here. Sometimes we have as many as 15 or 20 musicians here."
Buck has plenty of experience behind him, and the ability to jump into whatever the jam throws at him. As do Thomson and some of the other more seasoned players who regularly take to the jazz jam stage in the RCA atrium. But in the true spirit of a jam session, there's plenty of room for others who are relatively new to the music, too.
Natalie Vandenberg, a Grade 8 student at KLO Middle School, has been playing the bass for only two years, but she jumped in anyways to play a few standards on the electric bass, even though she admitted it took a bit of courage.
"It's kind of nerve wracking because I have a bit of stage fright. "
Still, given the welcoming nature of the jazz jam, she acquitted herself well and fit right in with the veterans.
As Buck pointed out, it's made a bit easier with everyone playing out of their own copies of a standard book of jazz classics called the "Real" book, with the melody and chord progressions. There's usually a varied a mix of high school music students and older players, but at this jam, everyone is literally on the same page.
"Even in big cities, even Toronto, New York, whatever, it's hard to find a jam session," said Buck. "It's a great opportunity to come up and play. Some people are professionals and some are just beginning, but everyone can come up and play.
"It's great experience."
And it's not just musicians who show up to the jazz jams, either.
"It's amazing how there's such a variety of ages and all join in," said Jan Armstrong of Kelowna, a singer herself and a jazz fan who was there just to listen. "They can do things on the spur of the moment â€¦ they have such fantastic rhythm."
With a long tradition of improvisation, the contemporary musicians who come out to the RCA, are doing what their counterparts have been doing ever since jazz music came about - getting together to share their love of a good melody and a skillful solo.
"In the old days, in the '20s, '30s or '40s, when jam sessions started, people would just know the standard tunes, Buck pointed out. "The would know Honeysuckle Rose, or Cherokee, or Willow Weep for Me.
"But as long as you can read the chords and the melody, you can come out an play.
I think the youngest here might be 12 or 13."
In that sense, the spirit of jazz music certainly remains alive and well every Thursday at the RCA - jazz fans and players alike can pencil that in to their calendar.