Calgary: A Big Band Haven?

Calgary Jazz Orchestra 

For awhile now, I’ve known about Calgary’s Prime Time Big Band that performs regularly at the Ironwood in Inglewood. However, over the holidays, I was invited by friends to join them at a performance of Johnny Summers and the Calgary Jazz Orchestra’s “A Perfectly Frank Christmas.” While at the concert, I began to wonder, “how many big bands are there in Calgary?” 

Serendipitously, one of the other guests in our concert fivesome was John Towell, who is a trombonist and part of Calgary’s Big Band community.  When asked about Calgary’s Big Band music scene, he quickly exclaimed, “I don’t know if Calgary is a unique haven for big bands. It’s possible something similar happens in many cities. But it’s certainly ‘under the radar’ – people are often surprised to discover the level of activity here. And the big bands are just part of the picture. Add in concert bands, orchestras, choirs and numerous smaller groups and you realize there are a huge number of Calgarians actively involved in our music scene.” 

Trombone section. Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

We continued our conversation about Calgary’s “big band” music scene after the concert at The Nash’s Sunday Dinner (probably the best meal I had in 2015; the $39 family style meal was as my two-year old friend would say, “DELICIOUS”). I wasn’t home more than an hour and I received an email from John saying, “here is a reasonably complete big band list for Calgary – there could be more.”

 

 

Calgary's Big Bands

 Source: “Anthony’s Community Music Pages” (Anthony Reimer: jazzace.ca/music)

Big Bands 101

During our discussion, I asked John what is the definition of a “Big Band” and he quickly said they usually have about 20 musicians and singers. The standard line-up is five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, 3 to 4 rhythm instruments (piano, bass, guitar and drum) and one or more singers.

He went on to explain that not all “Big Bands” are called Big Bands. They may also be called Jazz Orchestras, Jazz Bands or Swing Bands (the latter 2 terms can also refer to smaller groups). Bands that get together primarily for fun (vs. money) may also be referred to as rehearsal bands, reading bands, hobby bands, weekend warriors or ‘kicks’ bands. Who knew?

Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

Calgary’s Big Band Community

In Calgary, Big Band musicians come from all walks of life, from high school students to 80+-year-old seniors; from enthusiastic amateurs to talented professionals as good as you would find anywhere. It is a true community.

Some of Calgary’s Big Bands focus on dance music of the big band ‘swing’ era, while others are more into the jazz repertoire of the 1940’s to present. Most bands perform commercially available arrangements (charts), although a few feature compositions and arrangements by local musicians (i.e. Johnny Summers/Calgary Jazz Orchestra, Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble).

You will find Calgary’s big bands performing in all kinds of venues – nightclubs, churches, Legions, community centres, schools and senior citizens’ centres are the most common.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra’s two sold-out “A Perfectly Frank Christmas” performances, for example were held at the River Park Church in Marda Loop. The made me wonder, “how many churches in Calgary double up as concert halls?” A quick check of their website and it looks like RPC is the home of CJO’s! (Perhaps Churches as Concert Halls could be the subject of a future blog)

I digress. Arguably the best spot to experience Calgary’s Big Band on a regular basis is the Saturday brunch with Prime Time Big Band at the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Inglewood (now in its 13th season and likely the only regular event of this kind in Canada). Every two weeks, the 20-piece Prime Time plays a new program to packed houses. All ages and backgrounds come to hear music ranging from Duke Ellington classics to The Big Phat Band’s exuberant contemporary tunes. Founded 20 years ago by bandleader Dave Jones, Prime Time’s membership is made up of almost all of the city’s most veteran jazz musicians, including Eric Friedenberg (on saxophones and woodwinds), Al Muirhead (on trumpet and flugelhorn), Brian Walley (on trombone), Kai Poscente (on bass) and John de Waal (on drums), playing alongside more recently established local pros and invited international guests. Hint: Order your tickets early, as it is almost always a sell-out.

If you are interested in a specific band’s performances they are usually publicized via each band’s own mailing list, website and Facebook page. Another good source of public performances is the JazzYYC website (jazzyyc.com).

Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

Last Words

Given what must be hundreds, if not thousands of big band musicians calling Calgary home and many thousands more attending their concerts, it puzzles me that Calgary has struggled over the past 25 years to create a vibrant and viable Jazz Festival or a jazz club (like the now closed Beat Niq). 

Up close and personal....

Towell disagrees, “The rumours of demise of jazz in Calgary is highly exaggerated.  The JazzYYC Society has revived Calgary’s Summer Jazz Festival after superstitiously avoiding the “F” word for a couple of prior years’ events. And a scan of events on the JazzYYC website, or in Calgary Herald’s Swerve magazine, reveals Calgarians can get out and hear live local jazz musicians almost any day of the week. Go listen!"

If you like this blog, you might like:

Tim Williams: Calgary's Adopted Bluesman

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City? 

Little Blues Joints on the Prairies

Dublin vs Calgary / Apples vs Oranges

Dublin is a city steeped in history, dating back over 1,000 years when the Vikings first settled the area in 841 AD. However, while there are many buildings or ruins dating back to the Middle Ages, such as Dublin Castle founded in 1204 AD, most historical buildings are from the 18th century Georgian period and later. In the 18th century, for a short period of time, Dublin was the second largest city of the British Empire and fifth largest in Europe with a population of 130,000.  Today, Dublin has a population of 527,612 with an urban population of 1,110,627, which is very similar to Calgary’s. But that is where the similarity ends.

By comparison, while First Nation peoples have visited the Calgary area for centuries, it was just a little over 100 years when a permanent settlement was established. And, it is only the in past decade or so that Calgary has really become a global city. 

In 2012, while Dublin was ranked (based on global connectivity in the areas of accounting, advertising, banking, finance and law) as an “Alpha–“ city (Alpha++ being the highest ranking), Calgary is rated a “Beta-“city (Beta being the second highest ranking).

Anyone who visits Dublin can’t help but see that this city definitely puts the PLAY into the axiom “live, work, play.” The sidewalks, shops, restaurants and especially the pubs are full of locals.

Anyone visiting Calgary on the other hand, would think we are a bunch of workaholics as with our downtown sidewalks are empty except at lunch hour.  Calgary’s urban streets are dominated by the hoarding of the construction sites not people.

Pub Culture vs Café Culture

One of the biggest differences between Dublin and Calgary is that Dubliners hang at pubs while Calgarians love their cafes.  Dublin’s pub culture is one where people of all ages hang out, chat, listen to local musicians or watch sports – pubs are like a community living rooms. Hurling is my new favourite sport - an action-packed game that combines elements of lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, soccer and football. There is no hunching over the laptop while nursing a vegan soy peanut butter latte all day in Dublin!

There is literally a pub on every block, even in residential areas.  What is also great about pubs is that they don’t close at 9 pm like most cafes.  In fact, that is about the time things are just getting started with live music.  One of our most memorable experiences was listening to a Saturday jam session of string players from our front row bar seats in a little pub on the edge of a plaza in Smithville district with people from 5 to 85.  

There is a neighbourhood pub on almost every block and they have live music everyday of the week. 

Pedestrian Malls

Dublin has not one, but two pedestrian malls (one on each side of the river), both being magnets for locals and tourists looking to shop or people watch.  These streets are filled with one of the quintessential sounds of Dublin - the clickity clack of luggage wheels being pulled along their streets (the other quintessential sound is that metal Guiness kegs clanging as they are rolled down the sidewalk to a pub).  And it was not just one or two people; often dozens of suitcase-dragging tourists could be found along the Dublin malls.  I can’t remember the last time I saw someone pulling luggage down Stephen Avenue. 

Dublin had some of the best buskers I have ever seen. 

On the south side of the Liffey River is the Grafton Street Mall that links St. Stephen’s Green with Trinity College and is home to an eclectic mix of local, national and international shops.  On the north side of the river is the Henry Street Mall, dominated by department stores.  Both malls had literally thousands of people on them any time of the day. 

The fact that no tall office towers surround Dublin’s pedestrian malls could well be the key to their pedestrian vitality. 

Indeed, most of the people are in downtown Dublin to play. Those who are there to work are serving those who are playing.

It was very common to see tourist dragging their suitcases down the street.  This photo was taken at about 3 pm on a Wednesday. 

Parks / Public Spaces / Rivers

Though Dublin’s two urban parks - St. Stephen’s and Merrion Square are very nice, they are no match for Calgary’s Prince’s Island, Memorial Park, Shaw Millennium Park, Fort Calgary, Riley Park and the new St. Patrick’s Island.

Similarly, Dublin’s canal-like River Liffey, River Dodder, Royal Canal and Grand Canal, can’t compete with the natural beauty of the tree-lined shores and glacier water of the Bow and Elbow Rivers with their active pedestrian and cycling pathways.

Dublin's rivers and canals were very attractive as you moved away from the City Centre. This is at high tide, at low tide they can be more like mud pits.

Phoenix Park, at the northwest edge of Dublin’s city centre is a huge 1,762 acre park (for reference, Nose Hill is 2,780 acres) that includes the residence of the President of Ireland, the Victorian People’s Flower Garden, Dublin Zoo and a herd of free-roaming Fallow deer.  Calgary’s equivalent would be the combination of the Calgary Zoo, TELUS Spark, Tom Campbell’s Hill Natural Park, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Wildlands Park and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the eastern edge of our City Centre.

Bridges

Ha'penny Bridge was probably the busiest pedestrian bridge I have ever seen. It functioned well to connect to pedestrian areas on either side of the river. It was experiential. 

I was most impressed with the 16 bridges that span the River Liffey along a 4 km stretch of Dublin’s City Centre.  I loved that many of the bridges were named after key figures from Dublin’s rich history– James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey, and O’Connell.  

The most popular bridge was the white cast iron Ha’penny pedestrian bridge, built in 1816 to replace the ferry service. Having had various names over the years, its current one reflects the ha’penny toll charged for first 103 years.

Today, over 30,000 people cross the bridge each day.  Perhaps in a century or two, Calgary’s Peace and St. Patrick’s Island pedestrian bridges will have the same traffic.

Calatrava has designed two bridges in Dublin. This is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, the other is the Jams Joyce Bridge further upstream. The bridge cost 60 million Euros or about $86 million Canadian.

Character Districts

The sidewalks of the International Financial District were mostly void of people. 

Dublin’s city centre is comprised of several character districts, each easily worth a half-day of exploration.  Although the International Financial Services Centre is a 12–block area of mostly new office buildings with a striking contemporary Convention Centre and new arena, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s 40-block downtown office core when it comes to daytime vitality. At night, both are relatively quiet, sterile places.

Calgary has nothing to match Dublin’s Viking/Medieval Area and Cathedral District with its St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library Galleries.

Temple Bar (originally St. Andrews Parish and a suburb of the medieval area back in about 1300AD) is home to hundreds of bars and ten of thousands of nightly party people (including many “stag parties” and “hen nights”) and spectators. The closest Calgary comes to having something like the Temple Bar nightlife was in the ‘80s when 11th Avenue SW was known as Electric Avenue.

This Trinity College sign says "Keep Off." Seems strange to have a piece of public art out in the open like this and not encourage people to have a closer look. 

Trinity College is considered by many to be the heart of Dublin with its famous Book of Kells (an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book in Latin, created in 800AD). And though Calgary’s downtown Bow Valley College is no match for Trinity College, the SAIT campus is.  While SAIT can’t match Trinity College’s centuries of history, SAIT’s Heritage Hall, which opened in 1916, is as monumental as anything I saw on the Trinity College campus.  This along with SAIT’s striking uber-contemporary Trades and Technology Complex, the Art Smith Aero Centre, Brawn Fieldhouse and parking garage and the spectacular view of downtown and Bow River Valley makes SAIT a more inspiring campus than Trinity College.     

The Liberties, Dublin’s charming working class neighbourhood noted for its antique/vintage shops and street market, is no match for Calgary’s Inglewood community with its diversity of art galleries, shops, restaurants and music venues.

The Smithfield Plaza with its grocery store, hotel, condos and Jamieson Brewery was empty most of the time.  We did see a guy with walking a horse one day, but that was the most animation.   

In addition, Dublin has nothing to match Calgary’s ambitious East Village urban renewal project.  The closest comparison would be Smithfield with the renowned Jamieson Distillery as its anchor.  It has a few new condos and a hotel, but most of the retail at street level is vacant, except for an urban grocery store. It would be great if East Village could attract a cinema complex like the funky Light House Cinema with its eclectic mix of arthouse and Hollywood movies, as well as special events.  

Dublin’s trendy shopping streets like Camden, Rathmaines and Capel with their vibrancy day and night beat out Calgary’s 17th Avenue, 4th and 10th Streets and Kensington Road.

Last Word

Comparing Calgary and Dublin is like comparing apple and oranges. Dublin flourished hundreds of years before Calgary, meaning it had to adapt to a completely different history of innovations in technology, revisions in urban planning theory, as well as economic and political changes.  Like apples and oranges, I like both Dublin and Calgary. 

For comparison images of Calgary's urban culture check out these blogs:

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Calgary's got its mojo working?

Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Calgary's Rail Trail 

By Richard White, March 1 2015

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture. Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist 

This blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "Let's Compare Calgary and Dublin" on February 28, 2015.

Inglewood Drum Circle

The number of different tribes there are in our city never ceases to amaze me.  Over the years I have been able to experience only a fraction of them. When I was with the Muttart Art Gallery in the ‘80s it was the bingo and casino tribes that we depended on so much for program funding. While I never became a big bingo/casino player, I respected their culture.

Everyone is  welcomed by these two tribe members. 

Ten years ago I discovered the yoga community and this time I did participate, and it did change my life (but that’s another story). Suffice to say, The Bodhi Tree is one of my happy places. 

Earlier this year I had a chance to check out the paint ball fanatics with my teenage nephew; that was a real eye opener.  I also attended the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and developed a better appreciation for the blues culture of the Mississippi Delta. 

This past week, a friend introduced me to Judy Atkinson’s Circles of Rhythm that happens every Friday night at the Inglewood Community Centre at 7pm.  My 87-year-old buddy and I arrived early and already the tribe members were beating their drums.

 The sound was immediately intoxicating! 

There are lots of drums for everyone. 

Drum Circle 101

There is no experience necessary and drums are provided – not just one drum type but several. There are hundreds of them, which is a good thing as there can be anywhere from 100 to 200+ participants on any given night.

Everyone, young and old, is very attentive to the rhythms of the tribe. 

Cost is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors (60+) and $5 for kids, and with your first admission you get a “get in for free card” for your next visit. No reservations needed: just drop by if the mood strikes you. They even have free drinks and cookies; how could I not love this place?

You are welcomed as you walk in by two drummers who drum over your head and body like some baptismal ceremony.  As Judy likes to say, “It is like going to church and a night out on the town at the same time.”

The evening starts with some basic drumming, and even though I have a hard time keeping a beat, it seems easy to just join in and somehow it all works.  Then a young guy, a facilitator jumps into the middle and starts prancing around and encouraging you to try different rhythms – think orchestra leader meets shaman meets Katy Perry.  He is both funny and friendly.

After 45 minutes of continual drumming, many of the participants have reached a tranquil hypnotic state that is infectious. In addition to the drumming, there are didgeridoo players, as well as some tribal chanting and screaming - it is all very primordial.  

The shaman leads the tribe with different rhythms until everyone is almost in a trance. 

Some love to dance.

It is time for cookies!  

Yoga meets drum circle!  The vibration you feel as someone drums and hums over your body is both spiritual and surreal.

The second half involves people taking turns lying on the floor (15 at a time) under a huge drum, while others drum on top of them.  A smaller group lies on the wooden stage, while someone drums over their body like they are driving out the evil spirits, but I am sure that isn’t the case.   It is like something I imagine took place in Africa, the “Outback” of Australia or perhaps even the Blackfoot Nation in the Calgary area 100 years ago. 

Our evening closed with many of the participants grabbing a frame drum and marching around the edge of the circular Inglewood Community Centre, like something from a wedding party.  Finally everyone stands around in a circle, holds hands and quickly says one thing they are grateful for. 

Other receive a more personal drum healing experience. 

Top 10 things heard at the Circles of Rhythm:

#10 The people watching was incredible.

#9   Love the cookies, but where’s the milk?

#8   Don’t these people ever stop smiling?

#7   The pulse drums are like holding your heart in your hand.

#6   It was the most fun I could have with my boots on!

#5   Who is that medicine man?

#4    Is it the ‘60s again or am I just hallucinating?

#3   I have blisters on my fingers.

#2   Can Inglewood get any cooler?

#1   And, Yes, we do all march to the beat of a different drummer.

 

The drum march.

Last Word

If you are looking for a fun way to chill on a Friday night, this would be perfect for anyone, young or old, families, singles or couples.  It could be my new happy place!

What's with the names - Arts Commons & Contemporary Calgary?

Is it just me, or does Calgary now have the most ambiguous names in North America (maybe the world) for its performing arts centre (Arts Commons) and public art galleries (Contemporary Calgary)?  Call me “old school” but isn’t there something to be said for naming public buildings in a public-friendly manner?

Recently, the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts changed its name to Arts Commons.  I expect the change was precipitated by the fact EPCOR’s naming sponsorship had expired so they had to drop the EPCOR name.  But surely they could have come up with a better name, something less vague and misleading.

The new name and logo for the old EPCOR Performing Arts Centre has no link to the City or to the building's architecture. 

One colleague said, “It sounds like a bohemian artists’ co-operative of studios and galleries,maybe even a small performance hall with rehearsal spaces.” Another said “Arts Commons” sounds like a little park or street corner in Eau Claire or maybe on Prince’s Island; maybe a new public space in East Village.  Yet another said the name was meaningless to her, and “certainly doesn’t change my experience of going to the Jack Singer concert hall or one of the theatre spaces.”  An artist I spoke with said it reminded him of the old Art Central that was recently torn down to make way for the new TELUS Sky tower.

It certainly doesn’t convey an image of being one of North America’s major performing arts centre with five performance spaces, with a total of over 3,200 seats in one of North America’s fastest growing cities.  

When the new name was announced last December, Johann Zietsmann, President and CEO of the new Arts Commons said, “This new name reflects the momentum the centre has been gaining over the last few years, and best communicates where we want to be as part of Calgary’s cultural landscape.” Henry Sykes, Chair of the Arts Commons Board of Directors explained, “It is about increasing awareness and creating a better experience for both our resident companies and our patrons. It is about being welcoming and open to all.”

Sorry gentlemen, I don’t buy it.  How does a name like Arts Commons make the Centre more welcoming, more open, a better experience for performers, increase public awareness or enhance the facility’s position within Calgary’s cultural landscape?  I hope the new name was properly tested with the Calgary public before it was chosen. Maybe I am just a grumpy old man and the new name works resonates with the younger demographics.  However, I haven’t had a single person - young or old - tell me they like the name over the past month.

Here’s an idea…..why not just revert to the Calgary Performing Arts Centre (or CPAC for short)?  It is simple, descriptive and easy to remember and no need for an explanation – all important criteria for good naming.  It says exactly what it is and what city it is located in.  Certainly one of the purposes of a major civic performing arts centre is to help build the City’s brand/image as a place of culture.  Arts Commons could be in Red Deer or Iqaluit for that matter – it says nothing about “place.” 

Call me stupid, but applying the tried-and-true KISS principle to the naming of arts buildings is always a good idea.

The Performing Art Centre is located on the south side of  Olympic Plaza. The red brick building contains two theatre spaces, the green roof building on the far left an office building and the old eight storey Federal Public Building was renovated to includes offices on top of the  Jack Singer Concert Hall on the ground level. It is part of an arts district with the Glenbow Museum and Calgary Telus Convention Centre on the next block. 

What’s with Contemporary Calgary?

I find it hard to believe anyone thinks the name “Contemporary Calgary” is a good name for a public art organization with two gallery spaces and soon a third.  Sure, I can understand that with the merger of the Art Gallery of Calgary and the old Triangle Gallery (whoops, I mean MOCA i.e. Museum of Contemporary Art) that they would want to avoid any reference to previous names.

For many years the triangular space on the plaza of the Municipal Building was called the Triangle Gallery. In 2011, it was changed to MOCA - Museum of Contemporary Art, before merging with Art Gallery of Calgary and Institute of Modern & Contemporary Art (IMCA) to create Contemporary Calgary. 

I can also understand they wouldn’t want to make any reference to the Institute for Contemporary and Modern Art (IMCA). It was formed many, many years ago but was never able to build a major public gallery in Calgary focusing on contemporary art.  Obviously, they were looking for a fresh start. I totally get it.

“Contemporary Calgary” could easily be confused with a modern furniture store, or maybe a tony fashion boutique. One colleague, who shall remain nameless, as he is key figure in Calgary’s visual arts scene, thought it might be a good name for a consignment clothing store.  Just to add to the confusion, the former Art Gallery of Calgary space on Stephen Avenue is called C and the old Triangle Art Gallery space C2. Yikes!

I bet to the vast majority of the public and many culture vultures, the name Contemporary Calgary conveys nothing about being a visual arts organization or about being a public, not-for-profit organization. In fact, it sounds more like a private enterprise.  One person I emailed to ask what he thought sheepishly emailed me back to say she had to look it up!

Again, I think something simple like Calgary Art Museums or Calgary Contemporary Art Museums would have worked just fine.  The term “museum” works well to convey the idea of a public building that displays artifacts.  And “contemporary art” says that this is not a place full of historic paintings, drawings and sculptures.

The 1967 Centennial Planetarium and Science Centre building is currently empty while Contemporary Calgary determines how best to convert it into a public art gallery/museum space and then raise the money for renovations and operating costs.

Last Word

I realize my sample size is small, but as Malcolm Gladwell divulged in his book “Blink,” at a certain point in your life, you have accumulated enough knowledge and experience in certain areas that you know in the “blink of an eye” if something is right or wrong after which you spend hours, days or months justifying your observation or decision.  After 35 years of being involved in Calgary’s cultural landscape, I know these two new names are meaningless to most Calgarians and tourists, as well as national and international cultural leaders.

In the near future, both Arts Commons and Contemporary Calgary are going to go to the public and corporate community, with multi-million dollar capital campaigns. Arts Commons has ambitious plans to upgrade their ‘80s building into a 21st state-of-the-art facility. Contemporary Calgary has plans to convert the 1967 Centennial Planetarium building into a modern art gallery.

I believe both groups would be better served if they had simple names that reflect their purpose.  As one CFO said to me, “if I got a call from Contemporary Calgary, I would immediately think they were going to try and sell me new office furniture.”

The best way to communicate is by being clear and concise, not convoluted and confounding.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

Calgary Civic Art Gallery: Do we dare to be different?

Does Calgary have an inferiority complex?

Iconic Canadian art hidden in YYC office lobby


National Music Center accepts authenticity challenge

Andrew Mosker, President and CEO of the Calgary's National Music Center responded to a the Everyday Tourist blog about the great music museums of memphis and their authenticity. Specifically, he responded to the following paragraph:  

"In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell."

Mosker writes:

Authenticity is a challenge for all organizations like ours, but I’m confident we will deliver authenticity in culture, space and public programming when the new National Music Centre opens in 2016. 

STAX — along with many other famed music venues and museums — helped to inspire NMC. I find it inspiring that STAX uses its history, influence and the social demographics of the neighbourhood to support education, cultural tourism and economic growth in the area.

A 1560 AD Virginal from the National Music Centre's collection. Virginals are from the harpsichord family and were popular in Europe  the late Renaissance early Baroque period. (photo credit: National Music Centre) 

There’s no question that it is difficult to compare the authenticity of Memphis and the broader social realities of the American south, and their respective impact on the development on American popular music to a Calgary or even Canadian experience.

I would argue however, that when I first socialized the idea of creating a National Music Centre on the site of the King Eddy hotel in East Village, which was before Calgarians believed that executing a master plan was even possible, the response was that it was not a safe place to go. The combination of low-cost housing, homelessness, and criminal activity meant that Calgarians were very skeptical of the idea that the East Village could evolve in a meaningful way.  

My view was that given the King Eddy’s music history and authenticity, that this was the perfect site for NMC given our vision be a catalyst through music and to celebrate the contributions that music has made and continues to make in Canada by offering a wide range of public, artist and education programs. The King Eddy is an artifact that we want to preserve and share, and hopefully the programming inside of it will deliver an authentic experience to audiences.

Yes, the East Village expansive development may reduce some of the original grit and authenticity of the area, but I believe that this can be mitigated by the quality of NMC’s public programming, investment in community building and more awareness and development of our regional music industry.

Thank you for the excellent blog posts and for the chance to offer my two cents.

You can read the entire Everyday Tourist blog at: Music Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge

Rendering of National Music Centre's bold design at night. (photo credit: Allied Works Architecture)

Rendering of the dramatic design of the National Music Centre during the day. (photo credit: Allied Works Architecture)

National Music Centre has one of the largest keyboard instrument collections in the world; this is Elton's John piano. (photo credit: National Music Centre).

 A sample of the diversity of keyboard instruments in the National Music Centre's collection. (photo credit: National Music Centre)

East Village Transformation

East Village's King Eddy Hotel would not have been out of place in Memphis or Clarksdale. Iconic bluesman played at the Eddy for decades until its closure in 2004.  The building's bricks and footprint will be incorporated into the new National Music Centre. 

East Village one of Calgary's oldest communities, is just 14 blocks, many of which were just surface parking lots, before the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) developed a master plan in 2007.  Since then the City of Calgary via CMLC has invested $160M to upgrade the roads, sidewalk, sewers, as well as create new public spaces like Riverwalk, St. Patricks Island pedestrian bridge and island redevelopment.  All levels of government, as well as the public and private sector have contributed to the development of a new iconic Central Library and the National Music Centre both under construction. 

 

The private sector has or is in the process of investing over $5B in new residential, office, retail and hotel that will create a vibrant urban village for Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds.  To appreciate the scope of the East Village transformation from a community dominated by three homeless shelters and several affordable seniors apartments into a mixed-use 21st century urban village click here to view Calgary's RKVisualization video: http://www.evexperience.com/3d-animations/2014-3d-animation

Before the mega makeover of East Village began, the neighbourhood was very seedy with homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes. 

Even the once proud King Eddy Hotel was no longer the Home of the Blues by the 21st century. 

Andrew Mosker

Andrew Mosker is the President and CEO of the National Music Centre (NMC) in Calgary. He has a B.A. in History from Concordia, a Diploma in Contemporary Jazz Performance (piano) from Grant MacEwan College and a Masters of Musicology from the University of Calgary. A native Montrealer, Andrew came to Alberta as an aspiring musician and now as the President and CEO of NMC, he is creating a home for music in Canada through the National Music Centre building project in Calgary’s East Village. Learn more at www.nmc.ca.

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