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VIU music instructors presenting online jazz concert series

Musicians getting ‘back in shape’ performing American Songbook standards
VIU music instructors Hans Verhoeven, Ben Henriques and Ken Lister (from left) are presenting a weekly jazz performance series with pianist James Darling (not pictured). (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

Three VIU music instructors and a graduate of the school’s jazz program are going back to basics as they get back in performance shape.

Drummer Hans Verhoeven, bassist Ken Lister, saxophonist Ben Henriques and pianist James Darling have started a weekly virtual concert series broadcast live from an empty lecture hall in the VIU music building. The shows take place each Friday at noon on the VIU music YouTube channel and Verhoeven said they hope to continue the series through the end of June.

“We just wanted to perform for ourselves, for the students, to try and give them a chance to just listen and watch live music, and hopefully uplift people’s spirits a little bit,” Verhoeven said.

Verhoeven, Lister and Henriques all teach in the jazz program, and Verhoeven calls Darling “one of the best musicians to have come out of that program who has stayed here in Nanaimo.”

The group is starting the series with renditions of American Songbook standards, which Verhoeven said is a good body of work for them to explore as they get used to performing again. Verhoeven said he had been playing for small audiences at Hermann’s Jazz Club in Victoria before restrictions on gatherings were implemented.

“This pandemic has just eviscerated our performance careers and performing is a skill like all the other skills that are needed to be a high-level professional musician,” he said. “So when you’re not doing it, you’re not practising that skill and of course it gets a bit rusty.”

Verhoeven said jazz students usually start playing standards before advancing chronologically through jazz history to “the more complex, demanding, modern stuff” and he expects the quartet will follow a similar trajectory as they get “back in shape.”

“The beautiful thing about the tunes from the American Songbook is that it’s a fantastic framework on which to improvise and there are so many amazing things that can happen on that framework,” he said. “So it’s not a limiting thing at all, it just kind of takes the pressure off because it’s music that we’re all so familiar with.”

In the future Verhoeven said the group is open to play “anything and everything” and they’ll also be receptive to requests from viewers.

“We are hoping to have these sessions organically grow into an interactive thing where people can put forward questions or we can have discussions and dialogues about all things music. I think that would be nice as well,” he said. “Not to just have them be a passive audience, but have them be participating in it.”

Last week’s concert can be viewed here.

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