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‘A match made in heaven’

The Four Jays play April 7 in Whistler, specializing in an eclectic combination of classical and jazz music
Members of the Four Jays, left to right: Jane Hayes, Joan Blackman, Julia Nolan and Jodi Proznick.

Get ready for musical worlds to collide when the Four Jays swing by to close out the Whistler Chamber Music Society’s (WCMS) spring concert season. 

Pianist Jane Hayes, violinist Joan Blackman, saxophone player Julia Nolan and bassist Jodi Proznick are not your typical chamber music group, to say the least. According to Hayes, however, they’re “a match made in heaven.”

“Our quartet is very much into this eclectic mix of repertoire commissioning, trying to find repertoire for us that we’ll all feel comfortable with—classical meets jazz,” she says. 

The former Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) music department chair has a long-standing friendship with Nolan, and met Blackman playing a Berg chamber concerto she describes as “monumental.” They first performed together in 2017 with Vetta Chamber Music in Vancouver, for which Blackman serves as artistic director. 

Though that initial collaboration required the right sales pitch—violins and saxophones don’t normally go together—the trio enjoyed their experience. 

Shortly after the onset of COVID-19, one of Blackman’s Vetta associates reached out to her about a virtual concert series to be professionally recorded and distributed. Blackman floated the idea of adding jazz to the mix, and that’s how a certain bassist entered the picture. 

Locals might remember Proznick from last December, when she and Dawn Pemberton played at the Maury Young Arts Centre as O Come All Ye Soulful. She’s a three-time Juno Award nominee and an expert in her field… but less so when it comes to classical music. Her presence in the Four Jays has led to a unique cross-pollination between genres. 

“I’m rigidly classically trained,” admits Hayes. “What’s amazing with the jazz world is that it allowed [Nolan, Blackman and I] to be free of the concept that every note has to be exactly right and at the right time. Jodi was telling us: ‘just keep the beat and go.’ 

“For Jodi … she wasn’t used to changing metres, so we kind of challenged her in terms of playing what’s written, when it’s written. It’s been really interesting: freeing up the classical and imposing discipline onto the jazz end of things.” 

‘Great tunes, great rhythm’

Hayes is acquainted with Whistler, given she has sons who love to ski, bike and ride their snowmobiles. Yet she’s never performed in the Sea to Sky, and looks forward to doing so alongside her peers in “an absolutely spectacular part of the world.” 

Their program will include three tracks from Proznick’s Sun Songs. The album is of particular personal significance to the Vancouverite, themed with the metaphor of life as a sunrise and sunset. It was inspired by two sets of emotionally-charged news: the joy of Proznick’s entry into motherhood and the devastating knowledge that her own mother was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. 

“Jodi had imagined this wonderful connection that her son would have with her mother, and of course, it just wasn’t meant to be, so the songs are beautiful,” Hayes says. “She arranged them as instrumentals for us … but because the originals had voice, we had to take over all of the vocal lines. 

“There would have been drums, so the piano part tends to be more of the rhythmic background, and the violin is this new voice. Joan is just a monster when it comes to being free—she’s had so much fun improvising.” 

Rounding out the jazz end of the repertoire is work by University of British Columbia composer Dave Dagta, whom Hayes praises for featuring an infectious rhythm and gorgeous melodies. 

The Four Jays also plan to bring some tango to the table, namely that of Argentine national Astor Piazzolla. Throughout his nearly six-decade career, Piazzolla ushered in “nuevo tango” by introducing elements of jazz and classical music into the genre. Critics have referred to him as one of the world’s leading tango composers. 

“That’s the main thing when you’re marrying jazz and classical: you end up with great tunes, and you end up with great rhythm,” remarks Hayes. “Those are the two benchmarks of our program.” 

The Four Jays grace the Maury Young Arts Centre on April 7 at 5 p.m. Tickets and more information are available at