Updated: May 13
by Scott Roos
Pictures by Deanna Roos of Deanna Roos Photography
Last Saturday, March 11th, on the hallowed grounds of the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon, something truly remarkable and marvelous happened. If you’re internet savvy you’ll know that international trumpet sensation Jens Lindemann joined the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra (SJO) for a unique performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. However, as great and phenomenal as Lindemann is, and likely the reason why many were in the crowd for the sold out show, I’m really talking about the hefty amount of local talent that was on display that night, including local to Saskatoon pianist, Michelle Aalders who dazzled those in attendance with her mastery of the famed jazzy/bluesy, classical crossover piece.
Originally from Nova Scotia, Aalders has been residing in Saskatoon for the past 21years. During that time, she’s been the principal pianist with the Saskatoon Children’s Choir (since 2002), she’s served as the music director at Third Avenue United Church, performed with the Saskatoon Symphony, on top of running her own piano studio as a highly sought after piano instructor. Heck she’s a highly sought after collaborative pianist in general, who has played in many corners of the world as her bio so deftly states. Suffice to say, she’s accomplished a lot during a thriving and in demand career at the keyboard which made her definitely up to the challenge of performing with Lindemann and the SJO.
“This is the first time I've actually played (Rhapsody in Blue) and I lost track of (the amount of practicing) hours. I started working on it in the fall and then I was really intensely practicing from January onward I'd say,” Aalders told NSMZ in a brief telephone conversation after the concert.
The piece itself, as arranged for Lindemann, was an interesting hybrid of the many different versions of Rhapsody in Blue that have been attempted over the years. Lindemann, adorned in a bright blue blazer, carrying a matching piccolo trumpet, played many of the famed clarinet solo parts in this particular arrangement. His tone on the picc, as many trumpeters refer to it, was magnificent; his technique virtuosic. The entire performance of the piece was truly a delight to the ears. Aalders, for her part, earned enthusiastic applause from the crowd throughout, something uncommon in classical circles, as she engaged in what she describes as the “keyboard gymnastics” that were required to pull off her parts successfully.
“I think the biggest thrill for me was the audience's reaction,” remarked Aalders, “I just felt such support and it felt really genuine and I've been getting so many comments sent to me on facebook or messenger - just people that were there that knew me. I'm still kinda on a high from the whole thing. It was an audience reaction that I'll never forget.”
Of course, there was a lot more to the concert than just a performance of the “Rhapsody”. The Saskatoon Youth Jazz Orchestra opened the show with two engaging numbers proving that the future of jazz in Saskatoon, in a “post pandemic” world, is in good hands. Director Nick Fanner has done an incredible job with these young people and it showed.
The SJO performed two sets with Lindemann coming out for a few pieces prior to a brief intermission. As it turns out, Lindemann and SJO artistic director Dean McNeill are old friends from their days in high school in Edmonton. Later on they would also attend McGill University together. The bond of friendship is evidently still strong between them both as they played a gorgeous flugelhorn duet together which was smoothly accompanied by the band. McNeill was in his element not only as band leader but also as a soloist. In fact the whole band was on point. The evening was truly a celebration of music. Lindemann’s all encompassing stage presence was incredible and it seemed the entire SJO rose to his level this evening.
“Jens was a total blast to play with. He is a world class trumpeter,” remarked SJO lead alto player Trent Reschny after the event.
Reschny came in from Regina to sit in with the SJO for this particular performance. Part of McNeill’s modus operandi is to bring in talent from all over the province to play with the SJO from time to time. He loves showcasing Saskatchewan jazz talent. Reschny has sat in with the band on tenor saxophone in the past. I believe this was his first time handling lead alto duties.
“Jens has a very special way of bringing out the best in the musicians he is playing with. I think it is due in equal parts to his talent, skill, and humour,” added Reschny of his time with the SJO last Saturday.
“(Jens) put the audience at ease,” adds Aalders, “They were relaxed and having a good time so we were having a good time and then it all came full circle.”
“This concert featuring Jens Lindemann and Michelle Alders was a complete success by every measure. Great musicians, fully committed to playing great music with a jam-packed appreciative audience….. We all felt like we were sharing something and part of something very special and that at the end of the day that's what it's all about,” concludes McNeill.
The next show that the SJO will put on is scheduled for April 29th. Entitled “Pictures At An Exhibition Reimagined”, it will feature guest conductor and legendary, western Canadian jazz arranger Fred Stride. Info on this show as well as links for purchasing tickets can be found here: https://saskatoonjazzorchestra.com/event/pictures-at-an-exhibition-reimagined/