Surrey Slam Jam: interviewing 7 high school jazz students

Ava McDonough, Jayden Bayer, Erin Kim, Harry Wang, David Cross, Atessa Showrai, Saige Adams

Surrey Slam Jam: interviewing 7 high school jazz students
High school students (and Surrey schools alumnus Justin Juan at the keyboard) in the jazz jam on April 6, 2024

Harmeet Kaur Virdee and her friend Atessa Showrai worked with the City of Surrey and several school music programs to present a jazz showcase at Surrey Slam Jam on Saturday, April 6, 2024. Harmeet is a student in Capilano University's Arts and Entertainment Management program, and Atessa is a high school student.

The Slam Jam was a multi-sided city event, featuring hundreds of kids playing pickup basketball; Harmeet and Atessa, for their part, presented a full slate of small groups from Salish, Semiahmoo, and Panorama Ridge secondary schools. Some students came in from other schools too, as keen individuals.

After learning about the event via my podcast episode with Harmeet, I volunteered myself, showing up for whatever I could help with. I ended up making one-minute interview videos with at least one student from each of the combos, after their performances.

Each combo played four tunes, some in a multipurpose room to an audience — a jam session also took place there — and some in a more acoustically challenging lobby setting.

The students are in grade 12 as of publication, except for the first one printed here: she's in grade 10. To watch the videos, follow Surrey Jazz Nights on Instagram or let me know if you want to be added to their email list – Harmeet and Atessa will post them over the coming days.

Here are the edited transcripts of all seven interviews I did, followed by some of my own notes for subscribers.

Ava McDonough

Trumpet, École Salish Secondary

Will: What tune did you just play there at the very end?

Ava: We played “Tom Thumb” by Wayne Shorter.

Will: How'd you pick it?

Ava: I went to a lesson for jazz, I think it was at the VSO Theatre, and we played that song. So I thought it’d be good for our combo to play that song.

Will: Nice. And then you played a bunch of blues [tunes], right?

Ava: Yeah.

Will: Did you pick them? Did everybody in your band – you're all from the same school, right – how'd you decide what else to play?

Ava: I picked them myself. I just thought, we usually do more rock tunes, so I thought it’d be a good change for us.

Will: Yeah. Is this the first time that you've played outside of your school's music program?

Ava: No, we've played a couple of times for Surrey Jazz Nights, we played at [the] Blenz and a couple of other places.

Will: Nice. What's going to happen in June? Are you going into another grade, are you graduating — what‘s going on for you?

Ava: Yeah, we’re going into another grade. All of us are in grade 10 right now.

Will: Going into grade 11! Wow, you're fantastic for grade 10 going into grade 11. I really enjoyed it, thank you.

Jayden Bayer

Saxophone, École Salish Secondary

Will: What grade [are you in]?

Jayden: Grade 12.

Will: Alright, so you're graduating in June.

Jayden: Graduating, yeah.

Will: That's very exciting. Yeah, you sound awesome. You played a really heavy tune: you played “Passion Dance” by McCoy Tyner. How'd you choose that?

Jayden: Well, there's this guy at Capilano [University’s jazz program] named Alfred Abrenica. He's a pretty heavy tenor sax player. I'm inspired to be like him and play some heavy stuff. And I feel like, why not just try something a little more open and have a little bit more freedom with it?

I'm still learning how to play free. Like I wasn't really going out of the changes too much, but I thought to myself, let's try something that's a little more out instead of just playing standards. Because standards are really cool, but there's some limitations with that, I'd say as well.

Will: Yeah. You played in a chordless trio. That's sometimes tough, but it's really cool. How was it?

Jayden: Yeah, I'd say I have to know the melodies really, really well. I have to understand the changes, get really in-tune, and really know my stuff. That's a challenge. It's a test to see if you can play without chords, follow the bass line. That's one thing that I've struggled with, but I'm working on it still.

Will: Well, I heard you and I'd say you passed the test. Great job, Jayden. Thank you.

Erin Kim

Bass, Semiahmoo Secondary

Will: Did you have a good time in New Orleans [on the Semiahmoo band trip]?

Erin: Yes, we had a fantastic time.

Will: What did you hear while you were there?

Erin: We heard a lot of amazing street performers. We also got to go to Preservation Hall, which is legendary, amazing.

Will: Is that where you got your “St. James Infirmary” arrangement from?

Erin: Yeah, actually we played this tune quite a few times before, but we heard it there again, and we're always inspired by things we hear. We wanted to bring a little bit of that influence over here.

Will: Yeah, how'd you pick some of the other tunes? You could say any or all, how’d you pick them?

Erin: “All of Me”, we also heard down there. “After You've Gone”... I love Django Reinhardt, and I've heard him play that. I did hear that in New Orleans actually, on Spotify, but [laughs] yeah, [that’s] how we pick our songs. And “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, of course, inspired by Louis Armstrong.

Will: Nice, nice. And congrats again on [your] Fraser MacPherson Scholarship win. You sounded awesome, thank you.

Harry Wang

Saxophone, Semiahmoo Secondary

Will: You played tenor [and] you played bari today, right?

Harry: Yes, today!

Will: I didn't miss alto or anything. That was it.

Harry: No, no. I don’t play that anymore.

Will: Who's a tenor player or some tenor players who inspire you?

Harry: Sonny Rollins, gotta be. Just an amazing sound, love his sound.

Will: Did you go to New Orleans as well?

Harry: I did, yes.

Will: How'd you find it?

Harry: It was honestly an amazing experience, you know. Our teacher did tell us stories about the place [beforehand], because the school [band program] has gone before, but it just doesn't compare to when you actually experience the place. We got to see Doreen Ketchens just playing on the street, [inaudible].

Will: When did you start playing with [your band] Streetlights?

Harry: Two years ago.

Will: Two years, wow. You've got some history!

Harry: Yeah.

Will: What grade are you in?

Harry: I’m in grade 12.

Will: Nice, so you're graduating this year. You excited? How does that feel for you? Does it feel exciting, scary, what does it feel like?

Harry: Exciting but scary at the same time, yeah, just waiting for high school to end.

Will: All of the above! Well, you sounded awesome, thank you very much.

David Cross

Saxophone & piano, Panorama Ridge Secondary

Will: Now, I also heard you play saxophone at the jam. So you play saxophone and piano.

David: I do play saxophone. Saxophone is my main instrument, actually.

Will: Piano, you chose to play with your group on piano. What's the feeling [behind that choice]?

David: It's harder, but I'm learning something new, and it's fun to do it. It was better with the instrumentation. Because otherwise, it'd be two horns, bass, and drums, and I thought piano would just make the instrumentation a little bit better.

Will: Yeah. You played “Nardis”. Are you influenced by Bill Evans?

David: Oh yeah, he's one of my favourites, yeah. Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Red Garland too. Some of the things I'm trying to play, trying to incorporate into my own playing right now.

Will: Nice, yeah. What about on saxophone, who are you influenced by?

David: Right, now it’d have to be Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, definitely. I first started listening to Chet Baker, and I moved on because he played a lot of Stan Getz, and I got into that a lot. Stan Getz is definitely one of my favourites right now.

Will: Awesome, yeah. What were some of the other tunes you played in that set?

David: Another one we played was “Estate”. That was one recommended by my bandmate, [trumpet player] Karanveer. He showed it to me for the first time and I really liked it. A lot of the influence I had from that was from the Chet Baker version [...] And it was a lot of fun, I liked the vibe, that's all.

Will: Nice, great job, enjoyed hearing you. Have a great one.

Atessa Showrai

Guitar & bass, Panorama Ridge

Will: I just heard you play bass, I also just heard you play guitar at the jam. You're playing electric bass in David's [David Cross’] group. Were you part of the group that started the very first [Surrey Jazz Nights event]?

Atessa: Yes I was, I was playing guitar in that group!

Will: So that was like a year ago.

Atessa: Yeah, it was in May [2023], so like 11 months ago.

Will: Now, because you're a grade 12 student, that's a long time in your musical life. How do you feel different now versus then?

Atessa: I feel a lot more confident learning to solo. I’m still learning, obviously, but I think I just built a lot of confidence. I was afraid to collaborate with people and take risks, so I do a lot more of that [now].

Will: What were one or two of your favourite things that you just played out of the set list, or the jam?

Atessa: Well, for the jam, I really had fun playing “Desafinado”. And for the set, it’s probably “Nardis”. I like the dark sound of it.

Will: “Desafinado”, I can second that, because I played with you on that one!

Atessa: Yeah, [laughs] so much fun, yeah.

Will: Yeah, and thanks for all your work with Surrey Jazz Nights.

Saige Adams

Guitar, Eric Hamber Secondary

Will: You picked the tune “Star Eyes”. Why'd you pick the tune?

Saige: I picked the tune originally because my friends, Lennox, Jay, Luke, and Harold,* they played that song in their VSO combo last year, and it was really cool. So we got to learn it this year, and now I love playing it.

*[drummer Lennox Wong-Chor, guitarist Jay Yoo, trumpet player Luke Young, and bassist Harold Cui]

Will: When did this group happen for the first time?

Saige: Originally, it was Sadie [Koshan, drummer] and me, and a couple other people, and we wanted to jam more often. So I made a little group chat on Instagram, and then a bunch of our friends just started jamming with us, and now we do it every week.

Will: Who are you influenced by on the guitar?

Saige: As of recently, I've been listening to a lot of Emily Remler. She's really cool. And then, of course, she was inspired by Wes Montgomery. Those are the biggest ones, I think.

Will: Right on, yeah. I can feel that from what you played, I enjoyed what you played. Thank you very much.

To empty the notebook, a few more of my personal thoughts on the fun event: