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Jazz Yukon enriches music scene

The Jennifer Scott Quintet from B.C. performs at the St. Elias Convention Centre on November 23 and November 24 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

By Amy Kenny

You’ve got to be kidding—that’s the first thing Duncan Sinclair thought when he found out he was the recipient of the Kevin Walters Industry Builders Award this year during Breakout West, held in Whitehorse.

The award is given by the Western Canada Music Awards to someone who has made a significant impact on the music industry through his or her mentorship, training and/or leadership. And even though Sinclair has been working in the arts, by his own admission, “since the Earth’s crust was formed,” he never would have guessed the honour would come to him in 2019.

“There are lots of people in the Yukon doing lots of stuff and I’m just one of them,” he says over the phone, in the middle of a hectic week. “It’s really a testimony to the strength and depth of our arts community and not only to the people involved as artists, but to the people producing things, to the people financing things, to the people marketing things.”

Maybe part of the reason for the accolade is that Sinclair has done all of these things himself at one time or another.

In addition to being a musician, he has worked for and with a number of arts organizations over the years, including Instrument of Change, Music Yukon, Jazz Society of Yukon, Heart of Riverdale youth arts/community initiative, the Yukon Arts Centre, Yukon Heritage and Museums Association, and the Yukon ArtsNet Society.

Currently the head of Jazz Yukon, he has been instrumental (pun intended) in organizing the series’ concerts and establishing partnerships. Over the years, Jazz Yukon has grown from an organization that produces five or six events annually, to one that puts on between 35 and 45 events in as many as five Yukon communities.

“We have touched a lot of artists,” Sinclair says. “Visiting artists, but also Yukon performers and so we are helping to generate some pay for people who do this or want to do this for their living.”

Sinclair says Jazz Yukon has such a reputation, it doesn’t even have time to go scouting for musicians it might want to present. Oftentimes, musicians come to Jazz Yukon, asking for an opportunity to travel North and play here.

“We get hit up all the time by artists out of New York, which is a mecca for jazz. They love the crowds, the audiences here are a complete delight.”

Most often, the visiting artists play Jazz on the Wing, a cabaret-style presentation that seats audiences onstage with performers at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse, as well as venues in communities such as Haines Junction and Dawson City.

Jazz in the Hall, which takes place at the Old Fire Hall, typically features locals in its kind of three-act structure—first, audiences are treated to an educational jazz vignette, then a performance by a local jazz group, then an open jazz jam.

Increasingly, Sinclair says Jazz Yukon is partnering with other organizations. He says this is interesting, not only because it introduces new listeners to jazz, but because of the collaborations that come out of it.

Performance opportunities at the Globe Theatre in Atlin and working with the Available Light Film Festival have led to more composing, more arranging.

“People are always writing new material and there is more original work being created too. A whole range, from funk to great swing to transforming fiddle.”

Going forward, he says the goal is to develop more opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. We have a vibrant scene here in the Yukon, he says, he wants to see the talent flow in the opposite direction. He wants to see local musicians going out and growing elsewhere too.

The next upcoming event takes place in Haines Junction on Nov. 23, when the Jennifer Scott Quintet from B.C. performs at the St. Elias Convention Centre alongside Seattle trumpeter Tom Marriott. The show then plays at the Yukon Arts Centre at on November 24. Get your tickets at