York music prof takes jazz on the road

Music professor and Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance Ron Westray came to York University in 2009 with a mighty mandate, to carry on the legacy of legendary Canadian jazz artist Oscar Peterson at York and develop a special student outreach program in his name.

A key part of Westray’s outreach is promoting the Oscar Peterson Scholarships that support talented young musicians who otherwise would not have an opportunity to pursue a university education.

westrayMarkhamHSRon Westray (far right) leads the Markham District High School senior jazz band in a clinic

As Oscar Peterson Chair, Westray has forged many new connections to encourage aspiring jazz artists to pursue university studies in the field. His most recent initiative is Jazzmobile, a project that sends York jazz musicians out on the road to visit high schools in the GTA.

Tailored to meet the needs of each school, Jazzmobile offers a combination of performances, talks on jazz history and band clinics. Students get to meet faculty members in York’s renowned jazz studies program and see them in action. Westray, former lead trombonist with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, serves as an engaging front man backed by both student and faculty talent for the performances.

Westray launched Jazzmobile last fall to raise awareness about the jazz studies program and the Oscar Peterson Scholarships at York, deepen relationships with local schools and foster jazz appreciation among a younger audience. Toronto’s East York Collegiate and Bishop Allen Academy, Emily Carr Secondary School in Woodbridge, Markham District High School, and Fletcher’s Meadow Secondary School in Brampton are among the schools that hosted Jazzmobile in its first season. Visits this term will include Maple High School in York Region and Loretto College School in Toronto.

So far, Jazzmobile has been a resounding success. “The response to our crew in the schools has been nothing short of amazing,” Westray said. “It’s been a great experience meeting music teachers and so many students who may become York students in the future.”

Beth Showalter, head of Arts at Fletcher’s Meadow Secondary School, returned the compliment.  “Your presentation was eye-opening for our students,” she said. “They especially liked seeing a real university prof in action. The calibre of music was inspiring, even for those not in the music program.  There was a definite buzz in my classroom after the performance.”

First-year York music student Kairon Haynes, the recipient of the 2012 Oscar Peterson Entrance Scholarship, has backed Westray on drums for several Jazzmobile visits. He remembers experiencing similar clinics when he was a student at Mayfield Secondary School in Brampton.

“It’s really cool to be on the performing side of something like this,” said Haynes. “And to be playing with my profs is amazing!”

This touring performance experience is a side perk to Haynes’ prestigious entrance scholarship, which is a renewable award providing up to $40,000 over the four years of his university career, covering tuition and helping out with other expenses.Karion_Haynes1

York music students Kairon Haynes on drums and Joe Dimech on bass performing for music students at Markham District High School

“When my family and I found out we were just stunned,” said Haynes. “My parents have always been supportive of my music, but they were a little hesitant about me pursuing it as a career. Receiving the scholarship removed the financial pressure and gives me a huge boost in terms of making a name for myself. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The young drummer is enjoying all the time he gets to spend with Westray, his studies with jazz drummer, Professor Barry Elmes, and playing in the rhythm section with the York University Gospel Choir led by Professor Karen Burke.

Westray hopes that the Jazzmobile and Haynes’ performances will help spread the word about the Oscar Peterson Entrance Scholarship and encourage more young jazz players to follow their dreams despite any obstacles that might stand in their way.

The application deadline this year is April 4 for students aiming to enter York’s music program next September. For more information about the scholarship, visit York’s Future Students website.

The Oscar Peterson Entrance Scholarship and several in-course awards for current students, as well as the York University Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, are supported by an endowment from the Government of Ontario.

From left: Mark Caswell (Markham District High School), Professor Ron Westray, Professor Sundar Viswanathan, Kairon Haynes, Richard Whiteman, Joe Dimech and Scott Harrison (MDHS)
From left: Mark Caswell (Markham District High School), Professor Ron Westray, Professor Sundar Viswanathan, Kairon Haynes, Richard Whiteman, Joe Dimech and Scott Harrison (MDHS)