Vancouver Zeitgeist
Reflections on Vancouver, British Columbia and other topics, related or not

 

Jazz City, pop. 84,000

Does Nanaimo’s teenage talent represent a
local phenomenon or a precocious generation?

September 19, 2016

Tiana Dick, Ethan Olynyk and Kenton Dick

Tiana Dick, Ethan Olynyk and Kenton Dick at
last year’s Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival.
(Photo: MNGJF)

 

Really good jazz musicians can originate anywhere. But concentrations of talent usually come from regions rich in black American musical traditions or big cities thriving with venues and players. How the hell does Nanaimo fit either equation?

It doesn’t. Even so, three local teenagers have been busy bolstering the little burg’s claim to jazz fame. With one exception noted below, I can’t remember hearing anyone that age perform jazz so well, let alone remember three at the same time sounding as good as Kenton Dick on alto, his sister Tiana Dick on bass and Ethan Olynyk on drums.

Success has separated the group, at least temporarily, although two of them reunited for a sax/drums duo performance at last weekend’s Monterey Jazz Festival. In August Kenton Dick won a four-year scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, where he plans to focus on both performance and composition. He follows his sister, who last year won a $30,000 scholarship to the prestigious Boston school. He and Olynyk have already attended Berklee’s summer program on scholarship. Olynyk has also won a $2,500 scholarship for Toronto’s Humber College.

They must be getting used to getting honoured. The three have picked up numerous awards at North American jazz festivals and competitions for high school and university students.

That won’t surprise those who’ve heard them. Olynyk, for example, plays with speed and dexterity accompanied by a light, relaxed touch that would impress (or intimidate) many older jazz drummers and absolutely astonish a hell of a lot of rock drummers. Playing in a trio sans piano and even a duo sans bass, he solos frequently, showing a wide range of expression.

As a duo, he and Kenton Dick won a number of major distinctions at the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival in April. The first Canadian group to be invited, they became the first duo and first non-American group to win any award, not to mention first place, in the high school combo division. Each of them also nabbed an award for outstanding soloist, prior to being asked to close the evening’s final concert.

Written up with justifiable frequency in their hometown media, the three attribute their success to a number of teachers and mentors. But Carmella Luvisotto, director of Wellington Secondary’s Jazz Academy, consistently gets special mention. Luvisotto, for her part, credits an earlier generation of Nanaimo teachers and mentors.

Does that help explain such fortuitous circumstances—two highly talented siblings with an equally talented school chum who’ve benefited from a number of mentors and studied under an inspiring teacher? Just the right circumstances seem to have brought about a minor phenomenon.

Still, Vancouver Island hardly seems the likeliest locale for such luck.

But Nanaimo has done this before. A generation or so ago, the town was home to two other highly talented siblings and a near contemporary: Ingrid Jensen, Christine Jensen and Diana Krall.

Another perspective could come from Nikki Yanofsky’s example. It’s been about a decade since the then-12-year-old burst into prominence with her Air Mail Special tour de force. Could the Montrealer have been the harbinger of a precocious generation that’s just starting to gain recognition?

Regardless, high expectations face this Nanaimo threesome and maybe others from Luvisotto’s Jazz Academy.

 

Their repertoire includes straight-ahead interpretations of standards
as well as adventurous original work that helped Kenton Dick and Ethan Olynyk
win their most recent Monterey awards.

 

Diana Krall Plaza Nanaimo

Should any or all of Kenton Dick, Tiana Dick and Ethan Olynyk become
famous, let’s hope their home town finds a better way to honour them than
this predictable failure of urban planning. Even bums shun Diana Krall Plaza.
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