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Northern Jazz Group Entertains Elders

Razzamajazz! (l-r): Mike Whiteside (guitar); Carrie Young (vocals & percussion); Christine Wilsdon (keyboard); Miki O’Kane – (vocals & percussion); and Bob Mumford (saxophone).

It was a delightfully crispy evening in the Inuvik Community Greenhouse when the five members of a certain Northern jazz band finally first met. Gardeners, Elders, children, other local residents and a handful of tourists had gathered together for the Greenhouse’s annual fall harvest party dressed in everything from fine evening gowns, and business suits to gum boots. The entertainment was supplied by the original four members of the jazz band who lofted merry melodies across the thriving vegetable plots. The soon-to-be fifth member, a newbie to town, sat alone, eyes shining, listening intently to the songs and wishing fervently she could play along.

Mike Whiteside, a jolly bulk of a man with a quirkily naughty grin, plays a slick guitar to Bob Mumford’s tantalizing sax rifts while an energetic Miki O’Kane and Carrie Young, herself a bundle of contagious good cheer, deliver the band’s luxurious melodies. When approached, the original four members of Razzamajazz! welcomed their new piano player, Christina Wilsdon, with open arms, bringing her wide grin and keyboard tinkering to complete the musical family of five.

Originally founded in 2001 in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, with slightly different members, Razzamajazz! has been travelling and playing across the Western Arctic ever since. Their gigs have included playing at the Premier’s Conference in Inuvik in 2004, several years at Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife, and opening for Rick Mercer at the Inuvik Petroleum Show in 2008.

In 2009, the NWT Art’s Council Support for Northern Performers program gave Razzamajazz! funds assistance to embark on a new kind of touring project. Entitled The Arctic Jazz Outreach Program for Elders in Southern Canada, the ‘touring’ involved playing at a series of Seniors Homes in Alberta. The objective was to play popular jazz standards and create a fun atmosphere. The band repertoire also included original northern tunes such as, “Flight of the Great Snowy Owl,” “Forty Below,” “Meltdown,” “Hot Babes, Northern Lights,” and “Dempster Highway Blues”.

With their instruments, equipment and themselves crammed into a character-riddled VW van, an old Ford pick-up (whose battery sometimes worked), and a classy rented PT Cruiser, the grand adventure kicked-off April 2010 at Cochrane, Alberta, thanks to the generous sponsorship of First Air, The Airline of the North. April snowstorms were braved too, to arrive and play at the Bethany Care Home in Airdrie, the Big Hill Lodge and Bethany Care Home in Cochrane, the Manor Village at Rocky Ridge, and the Bethany Care Home in Calgary.

Razzamajazz!, attired in elegant dresses and zoot suits, gave entertaining yet moving performances to the delight of their audiences; with clapping and foot tapping and even spontaneous dancing breaking out amongst the impressively agile Elders.

Perhaps the most poignant moments came when audiences spontaneously burst into singing along to mellow renditions of Tennessee Waltz and Danny Boy, their voices filling the rooms with a sound and radiance that spoke volumes for the memories being stirred in their souls.

At the end of each performance many Elders came forward to express their gratitude for the unique musical experience, asking questions about the North, and to tell stories about their own lives and experiences.

Given reactions, this inaugural venture proved a huge success, going entirely “above and beyond” all expectations. The band looks forward to arranging new Arctic Jazz Outreach Programs for Elders in other locations in the
near future.

Everyone is invited to visit www.inuvikjazz. com to catch a few numbers, or provide feedback.

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