Surrey Schools International Jazz Festival returns to in-person public concerts Feb. 24-25 with a special tribute to musician Eleanor Collins, known as “Canada’s First Lady of Jazz,” and a goal of inspiring more girls to become musicians.
Close to 2,100 students from 18 Surrey secondary schools will perform during the two-day event at Sullivan Heights Secondary and Bell Performing Arts Centre (6250 144 St.), with daytime and evening performances.
With pandemic restrictions lifted, the 41st edition of “the longest-running educational jazz festival in Canada” welcomes crowds to the school theatre, and vocal jazz students can again sing together onstage.
Festival admission is free by donation to the Surrey Schools Meal Program.
On Friday (Feb. 24), Vancouver-based Sister Jazz Orchestra, billed as Canada’s only all-female professional jazz orchestra, will perform during the evening tribute to Collins, now 103 years young and featured on a Canada Post stamp in 2022.
A longtime Surrey resident, Collins starred alongside Canada’s top musicians and in myriad TV and radio productions from the 1940s to 1980s. She was among the first Canadian women and Black artists in North America to host a national television series, “The Eleanor Show,” in 1955.
“She is a phenomenal entertainer,” raved Tricia Liversidge, the school district’s Arts Education Helping Teacher.
“We’re just tickled to honour Canadian and iconic jazz musicians, and we’re so happy to have her (Collins) as the first.”
Collins has been invited to the tribute concert, but it’s not known if she will attend.
Because the festival is open to the public, performances will not be live-streamed this year.
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Set to debut in Surrey, Sister Jazz Orchestra showcases 18 of Metro Vancouver’s “most accomplished female jazz artists in a powerhouse ensemble that enriches all lovers of jazz while providing visible role models to inspire the next generation.”
Professional jazz stages still present mostly male musicians, meaning girls with an interest in music “literally can’t see themselves as jazz musicians,” said Christian Morrison, Sister Jazz founder and music director.
“Furthermore, Canadian jazz audiences are not hearing enough of the rich artistic contributions of the female jazz community as performers, composers and arrangers,” she added. “It’s like reading only the literature that’s been written by men – half of humanity’s story is missing.”
As festival headliner at the Bell, Sister Jazz Orchestra will perform three newly-commissioned works for jazz orchestra by emerging writers, including Grade 12 student and multi-instrumentalist Emma Murray and Capilano University alumna and Indo-Jazz artist Shruti Ramani. Also in the set are Big Band standards by George Gershwin, Benny Carter and Peggy Lee, and works by Canadian composers Christine Jensen, Ian McDougall, Jodi Proznick and Chelsea McBride.
Festival sponsors this year are Sister Jazz Orchestra, Long & McQuade, Tom Lee Music, Vancouver Backline Services, Global BC and CKNW.