May 24, 2023

Wrapping up & looking forward: reflecting on last season and what's coming up next with Dean McNeill

What an incredible year the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra has had within our 2022-2023 season, In The Company Of Swing! By a few measures this was our most ambitious and most successful season yet. We survived the many challenges of COVID and we could not be more grateful to be making live music again in our community! 

We began our season with a special interdisciplinary collaboration involving 6 poets entitled Poetics of Jazz. For this concert we teamed up composers Colin Grant, Silas Friesen, Spencer Krips, myself, and Amanda Tosoff with poets Michael Bradford, Glenda Fu, SK Student Poet Laureate Lauren Klassen, and past Poet Laureate Glenn Sorestad. Through these collaborations we premiered a special suite of poetry-inspired original music scored for large jazz orchestra. We also gave the western Canadian premier of Andrew Rathbun’s Atwood Suites which is a series of spectacular original compositions inspired by the poetry of Margaret Atwood. 

Our December 2023 concert Swing Comfort and Joy! featured acclaimed Canadian Francophone artist Alexis Normand. Within this concert we also premiered new songs by Alexis and we performed some amazing (and challenging!) orchestrations of holiday classics by the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra.

Alexis Normand with the SJO for Swing, Comfort and Joy on Dec. 10, 2022. Photo by Louis Christ. View full photo gallery here.

We added a special evening into our annual roster partnering with TCU Place to present A Night To Remember on Dec 31, 2022.

This night of gourmet food was ‘keyed’ to special musical selections (or was it the other way around?) featuring the vocal stylings of BJ Harris, Jessica Robinson and Tatrina Tai. After the 5-course meal the SJO played an entire evening of dance music à la big band! This event was so successful the SJO and TCU Place will be presenting A Night To Remember 2.0 on December 31, 2023 with special guests TBA! As was the case with many of our SJO concerts this season the Saskatoon Youth Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Nick Fanner joined in the fun on December 31, 2022. The SYJO will also back on Dec 31, 2023 as well!

Each of our 2022-2023 live concerts employed over 20 professional musicians. We commissioned over 25 arrangements and/or compositors providing a lot for work for established and aspiring composers.

The SJO spearheaded a new concert project in town gathering 4 local big bands for a one night only big band celebration within the Broadway Theatre’s longstanding Winterruption festival. It was great for the SJO to share the stage with the U of S Jazz Ensemble, the Stone Frigate Big Band and the Footnotes Big Band in this 4-band extravaganza within this Big Band Theory project. That too was so much fun that we are doing Big Band Theory 2.0 next year on Sunday January 28, 2024 at the Broadway Theatre.

In March the SJO performed to sold out thunderous applause presenting Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue featuring Saskatoon’s own Michelle Aalders (solo piano) and award winning international trumpet sensation Jens Lindemann. March 2023 marked the 99th anniversary of this iconic Rhapsody In Blue piece. Presenting it in this reimagined way (orchestrated for solo trumpet, solo piano and big band) was truly a privilege and pleasure.

Michelle Aalders & Jens Lindemann with the SJO for Rhapsody in Blue on Mar. 11, 2023. Photos by George Charpentier. View full photo gallery here.

Speaking of reimagining, in April of 2023 the SJO presented our Tribute to Stevie Wonder in Yorkton (Yorkton Arts Council) and at the end of April we ended our Broadway Theatre SJO season by presenting Pictures At An Exhibition: Reimagined through the musical ‘lens’ of the one and only Fred Stride. The Yorkton experience reminded us of the importance of getting ‘out there’ (to share our music with the entire community in Saskatchewan) and the Stride/Pictures concert reminded us of the importance of challenging ourselves to play ‘out there’ (as we all stretched musically to reimagine this iconic Pictures At An Exhibition repertoire through a contemporary 21st century jazz ‘lens’).

Fred Stride with the SJO on Apr. 29, 2023 for Pictures at an Exhibition: Reimagined. Photo by George Charpentier. View full photo gallery here.

We ended our live streaming activity about 1/2 way through our 2022-2023 concert season because we simply could not afford the considerable streaming expense compared to our streaming revenue. That said we are so very grateful to the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) for faithfully supporting the SJO throughout COVID, and allowing us to use their wonderful Concert Stream platform to broadcast our SJO live streamed concerts. Thank you so much SSO for being such great ongoing community partners.

The decision to suspend our live streaming was a difficult one, however the SJO can’t afford to do both and we must remain committed to offering high quality in person music as our top priority. We continue to do our best to offer our concerts at an affordable ticket price and we’ve worked hard at maintaining our charitable status meaning we can supply tax receipts for online donations.

The upside of the decision to end our live streaming activities was the Broadway Theatre was almost full to capacity for our SJO concerts this season!

We will continue to adapt to the changing 21st musical landscape meaning the possibility of doing studio recordings and/or releasing pre-recorded SJO concerts is not out of the realm of possibility.

Each of our 2022-2023 live concerts employed over 20 professional musicians. We commissioned over 25 arrangements and/or compositors providing  a lot for work for established and aspiring composers. We were honored to again work with national level guests like Dave Lainge, Mo Lefever, Michelle Aalders and international guest artists like Andrew Rathbun and Jens Lindemann. We created many wonderful performance opportunities for the Saskatoon Youth Jazz Orchestra and we are so appreciative of the Saskatoon Concert Band’s support allowing the SYJO to rehearse weekly in their beautiful rehearsal space.

The Broadway Theatre continues to welcome the SJO into their terrific place & space and we are so very thankful to be back in ‘full swing’ presenting so many live shows in our community and beyond.

What’s up next you may ask? We are delighted to be performing at the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival’s Friendship Park outdoor stage on July 5, 2023 featuring many special guests including Mark DeJong (sax), Shirantha Beddege (sax), Mo Lefever (guitar), Chris Wallace (drums), Ross Ulmer (trombone), Alexis Normand (vocals), Stacey Mortenson-Spokes (guest conductor) and more!

Our SJO 2023-2024 season release date is July 1, 2023 so please visit our website again then for more details.

Thank you for supporting the SJO over this and so many past seasons. 

A special thank you to the dedicated musicians in our community who have been performing within the SJO. You have been so very giving of your time and many talents. I could not be more proud to be part of the cultural fabric that is Saskatoon Saskatchewan that includes, first and foremost, our incredible locally-based artists.

Best wishes,
Dean McNeill

Subscribe to the SJO Newsletter

Our newsletter is the best way to stay up to date with the SJO.
Don't miss out on anything!
Subscribe Now

to the SJO

The SJO is kept alive by the support of jazz lovers and the members of our small but tightly-knit community here in Saskatoon.

A direct donation to the SJO goes a long way to help support our operations as well as the artists we work with to stage concerts, events, and other programming.
Donate Online
crossmenu linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram