Vernon Jazz Society pays ode to two jazz heroes

Vernon Jazz Society founding father Tom Collins and longtime patron Doug Grant are recognized for the contribution to local jazz scene.

Sax/clarinet player Tom Collins and drummer Doug Grant are being recognized for their contributions to the local jazz community by the Vernon Jazz Society.

Sax/clarinet player Tom Collins and drummer Doug Grant are being recognized for their contributions to the local jazz community by the Vernon Jazz Society.

The Vernon Jazz Society (VJS) is about to pay tribute to two of its founding fathers.

In mid-September, members of the society were shocked to learn that local jazz heroes Tom Collins and Doug Grant had died within five days of one another.

Both men were instrumental in the development of the VJS and the Vernon Jazz Club and in bringing both local and international jazz acts to the Vernon area, said VJS past president Brian McMahon.

In 1999, Collins, along with Curt Latham and Gerry Sholomenko, formulated the framework for what would become the Vernon Jazz Society.

“Tom was interested in finding a spot where we could listen to music that wasn’t too loud, couples could have a dance or two, and local musicians would have a stage,” said McMahon, adding he remembers Collins for his “humble, gentle manner, his incredible wit, and stellar sax/clarinet playing.”

The trio resisted the urge to call the new space “Tom and Gerry’s,” and instead announced a concert by the VJS in the basement of the Sandman Inn.

It was Collins who was instrumental in negotiating to take over the then failing Vernon Club, a former men’s-only club located upstairs in the historical building owned by Nolan’s pharmacy, to establish a new home for the Vernon Jazz Club.

As a volunteer, Collins dedicated most of his time to the maintenance of the furnace and air conditioning in the attic of the building, as well as servicing the refrigerators and plumbing at the club.

“When the club was informed by the fire department that a fire escape was needed, it was Tom who oversaw the construction of the fire escape. Because the club did not have the up-front money for the project, Tom put his own money in until a fundraiser was held to pay for the fire escape,” said McMahon.

In 2009, Collins spearheaded the 31st Street Jazz Jump, which raised more than $7,000 for scholarships and improvements to the club.

An accomplished drummer in big and small bands around B.C., Grant immediately became involved with the Vernon Jazz Society soon after hearing about its formation.

He became a founding patron, as well as newsletter editor, board member, and organized various fund-raisers, including the Jazz Showcase, which local musicians (including Collins) volunteered their services to put on an amazing evening of high quality jazz, said McMahon.

In addition to sponsoring the VJ’s Café jam night, Grant helped improve the club by assisting with construction alterations and maintenance.

He also donated most of the jazz posters and pictures, which still hang on the club’s walls.

In recent years, Grant played frequently at the club, entertaining with his drumming and singing.  He also joined his sons, Doug Jr., Ian and Bob, and daughter, Carolyn, all accomplished musicians, in The Grant Family Band, whose many appearances at the club were a huge hit with patrons.

“Last spring I was honoured to be asked by Doug to be part of a trio of concerts,” said McMahon. “Doug was a class act and a delight to perform with.”

There will be a celebration of life for Grant at the Vernon Jazz Club, Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. Collins will be honoured at the club Nov. 1 from 1 to 3 p.m.

“Jazz musicians are welcome to musically pay their respects to these fine gentlemen by joining in the jam sessions,” said McMahon.