The saxophone stylings of band leader Patrick Macgibbon
When Patrick Macgibbon was in grade nine, he and some friends at his Kelowna school decided to form a jazz band. They didn’t think much of it — a bunch of teenagers playing around as professional musicians. After all, their grade eight jazz band won the BC Interior Jazz fest competition.
“Our teacher was really good and he knew a lot about jazz. He educated us right from the get go,” Macgibbon told me. “Looking back it feels like that was pretty early to start playing, but based on the program, it felt pretty natural.”
These days, Macgibbon is the band teacher at Nakusp Secondary School, leading the school’s music program and also performing when he can in town. Next week he will be joining with some Vancouver musicians for shows at the local schools and an evening show on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Macgibbon played a bit of piano as a kid, but it was only upon joining his school’s band in grade eight that he picked up the saxophone. He’s not sure why he chose that instrument, but he remembers he was adamant about playing it.
That year, his teacher gave him two Sonny Rollins CDs. He also began listening to John Coltrane. “It was a few recordings I listened to early on that cemented that (jazz) was awesome,” Macgibbon said.
He took jazz lessons and started his own band in grade nine. He played through high school and then was accepted to the music program at Humber College in Toronto.
In Toronto, he went to jazz clubs and jam sessions. There, he learned the level of talent and commitment needed to become a professional player. He told me about one of the first jam sessions he want to, where he took the stage with two more experienced saxophone players.
When the time came, he was given the nod to play a solo. He thought he did a pretty good job. “After I finished one guy launched into a solo and it was just incredible. I got torn to shreds,” Macgibbon said. “They were encouraging, they weren’t trying to destroy me. Then the second guy played and he was even better. I just sat in the corner and practiced to get better.”
After four years of music school, Macgibbon returned to Kelowna, where he worked in a music store, gave private lessons and played gigs on the side. He gave clinics with school bands and at summer camps and decided to get into teaching.
“I think I just realized it was impactful for students. To see the way it affected the students when they had a positive experience was really meaningful for me,” he said. “And then it was just really fun. It was just amazing to sit down and work on music with younger students and to help them be successful and to learn. It was almost more rewarding than going out to play a gig.”
He married his wife Jaimie and enrolled in teacher’s college. His first job was at Lake Trail Middle School in Courtenay, B.C. He was there from 2010 to 2012 when he was laid off due to seniority. He started looking for a new job, and that brought him to Nakusp.
The move meant a transition for Macgibbon. His student teaching job was at a school with 2,000 students and 300 in the band program, he said. There would be 60 students in a band and multiple players on each instrument. In Nakusp, he’s had to work with much smaller bands, which has presented both challenges and rewards.
“Here, I think we have two bass players in our whole program. Most of our bands don’t have drummers. We have a couple of piano players, but not all our bands have all the instruments we need,” he said. “Every band has different instrumentation. You can’t just take a song and play it. you have figure out what will work for the band.”
That can mean writing new parts for songs, which is extra work. It also gives him more creativity and a closer relationship with the students. “Small numbers means we’re flexible but it also means I can’t fall back on repertoire that’s been prepared by publishers,” he said.
Macgibbon has played a few shows in Nakusp since moving here, sometimes bringing in musicians from out of town to play. At his upcoming show, he’ll be joined by Vancouverites Chris Davis on Trumpet, Andrew Millar on drums, Victor Noriega on piano and Wynston Minckler on bass. He said they’ll be playing songs by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. “I chose them because it’s anything from really gritty blues to really modern jazz,” he said. “You get a total wide range of styles.”
Macgibbon’s saxophone idols are Coltrane and Rollins. A poster of Coltrane adorns the wall of the NSS band room. He said he likes the versatility of the instrument.
“It can be like Clarence Clemmons with Bruce Springsteen or it can be like Stan Getz,” he said. “It has a lot of personality and you can do a lot with your sound.”
Macgibbon talked about how supportive the Nakusp community was to music in this town. He said the support he gets from the school district and the Nakusp Arts Council has been great and has given him lots of opportunities to play. He also thanked the community for supporting the NSS music program because it gives the students a chance to play for people. “They have been really supportive so I want them to know how important that is for the program.”
Catch Patrick Macgibbon and friends at the Bonnington Arts Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door and all proceeds will go to support the NSS music program.