When the music students from Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts travel down to New Orleans for the French Quarter Jazz Festival, they get noticed.
The jazz ensemble, Abby Flats, has taken part in the festival twice and will be heading there again in April, along with thousands of musicians and music lovers. Teacher and program directer Paul Luongo says the group is excited to make a return to the annual fete.
Last time they were there, before the pandemic, they were stopped on the street with people saying: “Hey, aren’t you that group from Abbotsford?”
“They get recognized everywhere,” he said, gaining new fans every time they hit the stage there. “We take great pride in representing our community.”
But, he added, they are equally proud of the work they do right here in Abbotsford. They gig around town as often as possible, bringing their passion for jazz to all manners of venues and events such as the Crime is Toast event, and Run for Water. They’ve recently been invited to perform for the Abbotsford Hospice Gala in April, just days before their trip to New Orleans.
And they’re already gearing up to host the 7th Annual Jazz Gala on March 11, which is the school’s main fundraiser for its music programs.
“It’s a program fundraiser that ultimately raises money to put instruments in kids’ hands,” Luongo said. “It allows us to make upgrades, buy better equipment and ultimately allows the kids to play something a little nicer than they would have had access to.”
“We want to give them the best tools and resources and instruments to help them thrive,” he said.
The gala is always a sold-out affair, and it’s grown from being in the school’s gym to being held at the Community Arts Addition, at the Abbotsford Arts Centre. It involves an evening of musical performances by the school’s groups, along with a silent auction and a selection of treats from various food trucks, as well as a coffee bar.
Over the years, the money raised from the gala has gone directly into the music program to benefit all the students at the school.
“Last year, we actually upgraded the stuff we bought from the first gala,” he said. “Everything on display at the gala has been raised through previous galas, so when you come to the gala you are actually seeing the money being used, and put to good use. Nothing is sitting in a closet going unused.”
As careful as they are with the equipment, they do travel a lot and put their instruments, microphones, sound equipment and more through the paces. During a lunchtime interview, Luongo pointed out, a pair of students were jamming on a drum kit.
Even the kids who aren’t involved in music benefit from the gear, as some of it is used in school events and productions.
Tickets will be available for the gala soon, on the school’s website and an Eventbrite page, at $60 each.
“It’s a lot of fun, and the audience says it keeps getting better,” Luongo said. “It’s a special performance. It’s a chance to celebrate them as learners and musicians.”
Having a strong music program has set the students up for success in their post-secondary lives and careers. Studying music offers a chance to hone in on work ethic, character, dedication, performance experience, and teamwork.
They also graduate with some great stories to tell. Last year, Abby Flats was able to record with Michael Bublé’s recording engineer, in Brian Adams’ studio, The Warehouse. You can see that video in the link above.