Vernon raised musician/educator Steve Jones is pictured playing his sax in a photo that will now hang in Nanaimo’s Port Theatre after he won the city’s Excellence in Culture Award.

Vernon raised musician/educator Steve Jones is pictured playing his sax in a photo that will now hang in Nanaimo’s Port Theatre after he won the city’s Excellence in Culture Award.

Former Vernonite reaches musical milestone

Steve Jones makes his dad proud winning prestigious culture award in Nanaimo

Paul Jones still remembers when neighbourhood kids, carrying all kinds of musical instruments, would ring the doorbell at his Vernon home.

There to see Jones’ then teenage son, Steve, the kids would quickly head down to the basement  –– otherwise known as jam-central station –– where all kinds of sounds were emitted.

The elder Jones tolerated the noise –– even the occasional squeaky clarinet didn’t phase him ––  and looking back now, he’s glad he had a part in what has become a lucrative career for his son.

As a fan and supporter of music and the performing arts, Paul has sat through many shows at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, which he helped found. However, the recently retired 20-year member of the PAC’s board of directors recently found himself in a different venue –– Nanaimo’s Port Theatre.

He was there sitting amongst some of that city’s most recognized dignitaries, to watch his son receive Nanaimo’s Excellence in Culture Award.

“I was very proud,” said Paul. “He’s been so instrumental in helping an awful lot of people in music.”

Born in Nakusp, and raised in Vernon from the age of five, Steve Jones is now one of the most recognized music educators in the Hub City –– just ask any music student at Vancouver Island University (formerly Malaspina University College), where he has taught for 30 years.

A talented sax player in his own right, Steve is also a founding member of Nanaimo’s jazz society and travels the province as a festival adjudicator.

Paul saw his son’s musical prowess and proclivity from a young age.

“He definitely got it from his mother,” said the former graphic artist and published novelist.

Paul moved his family, including daughter Sydney, now married to former Kamloops mayor Mel Rothenburger, to Vernon from Needles in 1958, where Steve attended Harwood and Beairsto elementary schools.

He sang in the choir before going to W.L. Seaton Secondary School, where he studied music with the late Walter Karen.

He was part of the first class that went into the new Vernon Secondary School when it opened, and soon started playing in the school’s band with then teacher Vern Bryant.

“I knew music was something special,” Steve said in a recent interview with The Nanaimo News Bulletin. “It was really all I did in high school – I was a band-room rat.”

“He was playing classical mostly, but then he heard a jazz sax player and that was it,” added Paul. “Music was always the only thing he showed interest in. I tried to make him a hockey player, and he was also a good skier, but he loved music. He was always playing in a group. Music was always something he wanted to do.”

After going on to study at Okanagan College, then located in the Vernon Army Camp, Steve and his childhood friend, Dave Paulson, a pianist, attended Central Washington University in Ellensberg.

There he learned the long-standing American tradition of marching band when he was handed a uniform early one morning.

“Then we were out in the field practising the marching and the drills,” said Steve.

Returning to Canada with his music degree, the younger Jones taught for four years in Port Alberni before taking a job in the music department at Malaspina. With only 15 students, he also taught music to elementary school students in south Nanaimo.

“It was essentially part time. The program at Malaspina was very small,” he said. “It was just getting started. The first couple of years were a little crazy.”

Malaspina’s –– now VIU –– music department has since become one of the most successful in the province, and is primarily known for its jazz program. It has produced a slew of successful musicians, including jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her saxophone playing sister Christine Jensen.

Internationally known jazz artist Diana Krall, although not a post-secondary student of Jones, played in the college’s concert band.

“We purposely scheduled band practices for after school so the high school students could participate,” he said. “Diana was one of those.”

Steve has also had a big part in developing  educator-pupil relationships.

Healthy music programs have turned inner-city schools into vibrant learning centres and research supports the need for arts programs in education, he said.

“This is something special within the structure of the school. It’s not a frill… outside the three-R kind of thinking.”

A father of two grown children, Steve is still teaching and is currently heading  music studies at a Nanaimo high school while the regular teacher is on maternity leave.

He visits his dad in Vernon several times a year, and is also adjudicating jazz festivals, and will be a part of  MusicFest Canada in Richmond later this month.

–– With files from Melissa Fryer at The Nanaimo News Bulletin.