This year is Canada’s sesquicentennial. It is also the 100th anniversary of the very first jazz recording, and it is the first year of the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival. Greg Bush, Department of Music, will bring these events together in the first Arts & Humanities Colloquium presentation of the year. His talk is entitled “A Jazz Birthday Party: One Hundred Years on Record”. The presentation will take place on September 29 at 10am, in the Malaspina Theatre.

Canada’s jazz history includes many prominent composers and artists. Most famous is Oscar Peterson, who was an international star in the last half of the twentieth century. Other well-known performers include Lennie Breau, Oliver Jones, Moe Kauffman, Paul Bley and Diana Krall. But there also exists an earlier jazz tradition in Canada. In fact, when a New Orleans group called the Original Dixieland Jass Band travelled to New York City in 1917 to make the first jazz recordings, one of the songs that they chose was written by a Canadian-born composer named Shelton Brooks.

Brooks, of African descent, was born on May 4, 1886 in Amherstburg, Ontario. According to his entry in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Brooks taught himself to play on a pump organ at the church where his father was the preacher. The family moved to the United States in the first years of the twentieth century, and Brooks was soon active in the music and vaudeville scene in the Detroit-Chicago area.

In Chicago, Brooks had his own band. One gig was at an annual ball attended by those involved in prostitution. Inspired by the ball, Brooks wrote “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, a rowdy and popular song that was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917. Brooks went on to have a successful career as a songwriter in the United States.

“My presentation,” says Bush, “will focus on the original recordings and their historical importance, the importance of Canada’s contribution to jazz music in general, and how the preceding has led to the formation of a jazz society in Nanaimo that is putting on the September jazz festival.” The festival is happening September 15-17, and will feature local and international musicians.

Bush will ensure the music plays on after the festival ends; his talk on September 29 will include a VIU student jazz ensemble and a performance of “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball”. Bush also promises a sing-along and, to end the presentation, the ensemble will accompany the audience in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” done in a New Orleans-style.

Bush holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Concordia University and a Master of Music in Jazz Performance from McGill University. Prior to moving to Nanaimo, he was Director of Jazz Studies at Abilene University in Texas. In addition to his broad teaching experience, Bush has enjoyed a career as a busy freelance jazz trumpet player, arranger and composer. He’s had the good fortune of playing in big bands and orchestras that have accompanied many fine jazz artists and, as the leader of his own groups, has performed his original compositions in jazz clubs, concert halls and jazz festivals in Canada and abroad. He has released an album entitled Cause and Effect, which features his original music.

The lively, informative talk is open to all, and students are especially encouraged to join. There will be refreshments.