Currently one of Canada's premiere professional jazz ensembles dedicated entirely to original music written by Montreal-based composer and saxophonist Beth McKenna, Beth McKenna Jazz Orchestra has represented Montreal on the world stage and is recognized by artists and industry professionals alike.
BMJO was founded in 2013 by Beth (23 years old at the time) to address several issues, trends and injustices in the jazz community worldwide. Beth's approach was edgy, independent and outspoken as she took her formal training from the Schulich School of Music (McGill University)'s Jazz program. The ensemble's original membership boasted a strong representation of women, about 50/50 split of Anglophones and Francophones from all over the local community, and Montreal-based artists who are originally from hometowns from across Canada. Most* of the ensemble's regular members are between the ages of 25-40 as well (Only exception: Christopher Smith, Bass Trombone/Tuba).
Beth's unique approach to writing maintained many of the fundamental rules of writing for large jazz ensemble, but also reinvented, manipulated and twisted many of those rules and roles artistically to create her own individual sound as a composer. This was developed under the supervision and mentorship of award-winning composers and bandleaders Christine Jensen, Darcy James Argue, Jim McNeely and John Roney with project funding from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Quebec (CALQ) over two consecutive years. Beth also takes a great deal of influence and inspiration from well-known artists Maria Schneider, Radiohead, Brad Mehldau, Noordpool Orchestra, Snarky Puppy, Keith Jarrett, Guillaume Martineau, Patrick Watson, Christine Jensen, etc.
Beth's approach to writing is unique to the individually selected artists in her ensemble. Hand-picked for their diverse and versatile stylistic abilities, drive to perform new music and for their individual approach to soloist playing as well as ability to play in a large ensemble. She is boldly blending genres, writing with influences of cinematic-rock, indie, soul/R&B, contemporary, world music and modern jazz. Her writing lends space for soloists to take control of the music and add their own interpretation in communication/interaction with the other soloists and rhythm section. Her through-composed writing style gives expansive sections for her musicians to communicate and build together, and for them to make the framework on the score come off the page and alive with their own additions and style.
With the grant funding from the CALQ, BMJO was able to record 2 free-release 4-track studio recordings to the public. Due to the amount of the grant and the cost associated with the project, each of the releases were recorded in a single day (with Beth's solo overdub done on a short solo-session separately). Since the release of "START" (2015) and "Home: Montreal" (2016), BMJO has quickly made a name for themselves on the global jazz airwaves, national media and in the Canadian jazz community as well as Beth developing a rapidly developing presence and network in New York City's jazz community.
BMJO quickly became a well-known ensemble in the Montreal jazz community as professional musician colleagues were invited to sit-in on rehearsals to sub regular members who could not make a rehearsal. Many of Montreal's top jazz musicians have subbed in BMJO for a rehearsal or performance.
Since the ensemble's founding, the public's and jazz community's reception has been overwhelming and unprecedented. A two-time finalist for Révélations (Jazz) CBC/Radio-Canada. The ensemble received many thrilled reviews for "START" and "Home: Montreal". Home: Montreal's premiere and launch at L'Astral was nominated for two Prix Opus (Création de l'année and Concert de l'année: Jazz et musiques du monde), winning in the Concert of the year category--in which Beth's mentors (Christine Jensen and Remi Bolduc) were also nominated.
Following the win at the Prix Opus, BMJO was booked to perform "Home: Montreal" at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on July 2nd, 2017 as part of "Les Gammes TD". The performance had an attendance of around 7,500-10,000 people filling the Quartier des Spectacles for the 60min "high-energy, highlights-version of Home: Montreal".
At the present, Beth is starting on the next project for the band--a brand new work entitled, "Spaces Beyond Here". The notion of the music of SBH is to illustrate global issues that are beyond what we have experienced, through music. With recent global developments, issues, conflict and disasters affecting populations worldwide, Beth is working to create this as a series of settings for modern jazz orchestra.
In SBH, Beth strives towards incorporating additional doubles, extended techniques, electronics and vocalist Sarah Rossy (SHYRE, l'Orchestre Nationale de Jazz de Montreal). Beth creates framework for musical spaces that are vivid to listeners, using expanded timbres, writing techniques and further pushing the envelope as a modern jazz orchestra composer. Inspired by Darcy James Argue's "Real Enemies", Maria Schneider's "The Thompson Fields" and Christine Jensen's "Intersection" as well as rock and indie/cinematic genres, Beth's through-composed musical style and goals of remaining accessible to wider publics by incorporating popular/rock and indie genres in her writing for large jazz ensemble
Beth McKenna Jazz Orchestra: Recordings (Available for free download - 4-track demo recordings and free streaming via Spotify)
"Start" - 2015 - Released January 8th, 2015
"Home: Montreal" - 2016 - Released March 24th, 2016
Band Members (Past & Present)
Saxes: Alexandre Dion, Averil Parker, Genevieve Gauthier, Annie Dominique, Claire Devlin, Paul Carter
Trombones: Taylor Donaldson, Alex Desjardins, Karine Gordon, Jean-Philippe Tremblay, Helene Lemay, Modibo Keita, Chris Smith
Trumpets: Dominic Rossi, Kaz Takasugi, Fréderic Bourgeault, Rachel Therrien, Martine Labbé, Rémi Cormier, Hichem Khalfa, Bill Mahar
Rhythm Section: Guillaume Martineau, Jonathan Turgeon, Simon Pagé, Émile Farley, Samuel Brassard, Peter Colantonio, François Jalbert