December 30, 2020

Closing thoughts on 2020 from the SJO's Artistic Director Dean McNeill

Hello friends,

As we close out this most unusual 2020 year, a year that was profoundly impacted by the global pandemic, we wanted to give our SJO patrons a brief update on the health and well-being of the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra and the Saskatoon Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Like many Canadian arts organizations we were caught completely off guard when COVID-19 emerged in Canada in the spring of 2020. We quickly shut down our spring rehearsal and concert operations including the July SJO concert that was to be presented within the 2020 SaskTel SK Jazz Festival. We put all our fall 2020 plans on hold as well until it became clear to us how we might re-engage in presenting live concerts within our community in a way that can keep everyone safe.

We had great things planned for the spring and fall of 2020 which included presenting multiple concerts at Saskatoon’s wonderful Broadway Theatre. We even had a small SJO tour of SK planned in venues like Moose Jaw’s Mae Wilson Arts Centre.

None of that happened, for all the right reasons, which were to keep everyone in the audience, on the stage, and, working behind the scenes, safe.

On the positive side we took the pandemic as an opportunity to commission a series of new works composed and arranged by local professional musicians. This was also done in an effort to keep a few professional musicians in our community employed during some pretty rough times last spring.

There is no denying that the cultural capital of our city and province has been significantly impacted over the past 10 months due to global pandemic. While some terrific fine arts organizations in our province were able to keep their doors open or even ‘virtually’ open in impressive, impactful and important ways, the SJO had no choice but to shut down our activities completely during most of 2020. This was necessary in large part because the SJO has no paid staff.

We do have a lot of expenses related to each of our concerts, from paying our local, regional and headliner professional musicians, to paying for music purchase and rental, renting venues, buying guest artist flights & hotels, paying for publicity and so on… a lot goes into making each and every one of our concerts come together. However every one of our concerts is produced on a project-by-project basis making it extremely difficult to ‘convert’ what we had planned into something else down the road during COVID.

Once it becomes clear how we can safely proceed we will start releasing our upcoming concert plans again. This may include streaming of concerts as well.

For now, I am certain I speak for all involved in the SJO when I say that we are very excited about becoming musically active once again in our community. We look forward to the day when the SJO can safely return to showcasing some of our community’s own professional jazz talent alongside regional, national and international guest artists.

We can’t wait as well for the day that when the SYJO, under the direction of the one and only Nick Fanner, can start actively performing in our community again.

We appreciated all the positive well-wishes that we have received over the past 10 months and we know that our SJO & SYJO activities combined have been valued by our community & patrons. I can assure you that the musicians on stage at all our concerts have gained a lot through performing music for you, our patrons, and we want to take this opportunity to say that we miss you and we hope to see you all again, very soon.

With news of the various vaccine becoming available some people have begun asking us, “when will the SJO return to presenting live concerts?”

The short answer is we don’t know yet. It is too soon to tell. For now please keep checking out web site at for updates on our spring and fall 2021 list of proposed activities.

For those of you who want to help us move forward as an organization the best we can say right now is this:

First, when the time comes time our start offering live SJO &/or SYJO concert events again, please consider attending and bring a friend.

And second, please note that when supporting a music organization like ours keep in mind that purchasing tickets in advance, as opposed to buying tickets at the door of the concert, can profoundly impact our organization’s ability to remain active on an ongoing basis. At the best of times the SJO runs each of our concert projects on a very tight budget with a significant amount of expenses covered by direct ticket sales.

Moving forward, we have a lot of great things planned within the SJO & SYJO and we are excited about sharing these plans with you once we have concert dates finalized. Here's a sneak preview:

  • A December 2021 Holiday concert/video recording, performing the Regina Jazz Society’s Saskatchewan Suite (composed guest conducted by Fred Stride).
  • We will also be exploring interdisciplinary special events like the premiering of new works composed specifically to shine a light on connections between music and synesthesia (with graphic artist Allyson Glenn).
  • We will be rescheduling our Steve Wonder tribute concert and Dee Daniels concerts.
  • We will be performing a tribute to Kenny Wheeler with a very special guest artist.
  • We will again be performing school concerts featuring music composed by U of S music students
  • We hope to perform an all-Saskatchewan composer’s concert (performing piece that the SJO commissioned during COVID-19).

Saskatoon is a vibrant, inspiring and creative place to live and work. To end this most unusual year off on a positive note, here is a link to our most recent SJO retrospective video which shines a light on some of our collective accomplishments as an organization to date.

We look forward to sharing our music with you again sometime very soon and until then stay safe and happy new year!

Dean McNeill
Artistic Director
Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra

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