Brandon University Jazz Festival History

The first Brandon Jazz Festival took place in 1982 – a small and very informal festival – one that would flourish over the years, nurtured by a group of passionate educators, diligent students and a public that would continue to show up each year! In 1983, the Brandon Jazz Festival chose the Evans Theatre, B.U. Campus and the Victoria Inn as their main musical venues. From there, the Festival took place at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium and the Evans Theatre, B.U. Campus presented by B.U. School of Music and the Brandon School Division No. 40 in conjunction with The Canadian Stage Band Festival 1984. As the Brandon Jazz Festival continued to grow and expand, the main venues for performance have been the B.U. School of Music including the Lorne Watson Recital Hall along with the Evans Theatre and various classrooms within the Faculty of Education. The showcase concerts continue to be held at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium.

The predominant vision, early on, was that this would be a festival focusing on a casual, easy-going and non-competitive environment. Participants would not be competing against one another, but rather looking to reach the national standard or perform above the bar of that standard in an environment that is relaxed and friendly. A format was set to encourage learning – by students, directors, and the general public. Through observation and professional expertise of adjudicators, the hope was that all participants would gain valuable insight into ways one listens to jazz, rehearses as a jazz group, interprets different styles, plays musical instruments and ultimately defines their own experience with Jazz. 

Over 37 years leading up to the 10th, 20th, 30th Anniversary Festivals, the list of performance artists in attendance is ferocious! The likes of Greg Gisbert, Peter Apfelbaum, Luis Bonilla, and New York Voices, to name a few, graced the various stages as performance artists, clinicians, and adjudicators.

With humble beginnings of 12 groups and 2 adjudicators in the early 1980’s, by 2010 the Brandon Jazz Festival had increased its size to a 3-day event with over 160 groups and 16 adjudicators. With 37 Jazz Festivals under its belt, the Brandon Jazz Festival, under the direction of Mr. Brent Campbell, has proven that Jazz is and continues to be popular amongst students, teachers and the general public.

The 10th Anniversary Brandon Jazz Festival highlighted two highly talented indiciduals – Don Shelton, a versatile vocalist and instrumentalist who began his musical career in 1967 recording with The Singers Unlimited, a group comprised of Shelton, Gene Puerling, Len Dresslar and Bonnie Hermann. A headline concert featured Gene Bertoncini, guitarist extraordinaire with roots going back to his early years in the Bronx. His eloquence and mastery of the guitar combined his own spontaneous and tasteful improvisations while bridgning jazz, classical, pop and bossa nova styles.

By 2002, at the 20th Annual Brandon Jazz Festival, the interest from within the City of Brandon became even more apparent with a variety of advertisements from many of the retails in and around Brandon. The featured concerts included the John McNiel Quartet, a quartet that performed regularly in New York City and surrounding area; the Jake Langley B3 Trio featuring B-3 Organ in classic 60’s style along with Take Note Vocal Jazz Choir as well as the B.U. Jazz Ensemble.

The 30th Annual Brandon Jazz Festival, hosted by the B.U. School of Music and the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium was welcomed by Greg Gatien, our current Dean of Music. Greg notes that both Eric Platz, drums, and Michael Cain, jazz piano, had become members of the B.U. Jazz Faculty – both phenomenal musicians and educators. Greg notes the importance of volunteerism and, in particular, the School of Music students – an amazing group of people – for their work as both performers and volunteers.

The year of 2019 marked the last “in-person” Brandon Jazz Festival, prior to the Pandemic. It was in this year that Chuchito Valdes, Cuban pianist, was featured with Alexis Baro, trumpet; Al Kay, trombone; Phil Dwyer, saxophone; Mark Kelso, drums, and Robert Occhipinti, bass, along with the B.U. Big Band under the direction of Michael Cain featuring guest bassist, Rich Brown – a versatile player with recordings ranging from Jazz to Funk to traditional Arabic and Asian music. 

The vision of Brent Campbell, director of the Brandon Jazz Festival,  and his willingness to devote countless hours in organizing a remarkable event have allowed for all who attend, participate, volunteer, watch and listen to hear and see the evidence of jazz as inspiration.

Leading up to the 40th Annual Brandon Jazz Festival, scheduled for 2023, there is no doubt that all of the various presenters, adjudicators, volunteers and musicians have formed a foundation of jazz that can only continue to prepare and inspire those who attend this well accomplished event. Mark your calendars for March 16, 17 and 18, 2023! We look forward to seeing you there!

Copyright © 2022 Brandon University Jazz Festival

Photography © Matt Duboff