And all that jazz …

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A musician with local roots continues to hit the high notes in her musical career, including a performance this week at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Beth McKenna, a graduate of North Nova Education Centre (2008) and now based in Montreal, has developed a career for herself in the arts, known as being one of the most talented and versatile professional artists on the Montréal jazz scene. She is the daughter of Jim and Wanda McKenna of New Glasgow.

In her final years at NNEC, she successfully auditioned for admission into McGill University’s world-renowned Schulich School of Music, where she completed a concurrent Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Education as well as a minor in Political Science: International Relations (class of 2013).

“I knew Montreal was like the jazz hub of Canada, and the best place to build a career professionally,” she says, and that’s the scene where she wanted to be immersed so she could be exposed to a maximum number of opportunities. Having already completed the French Immersion program at NNEC, McKenna knew she also had an advantage in already speaking both French and English.

She has continued to make her life and her living in Montreal for the past dozen or so years where she both performs and works professionally.

This year’s appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival is not the first time for this award-winning jazz composer, jazz saxophonist and big band leader. In 2012 her McGill student jazz combo was selected as one of Schulich’s top jazz combos, to perform in a student-showcase series at the festival. In 2017, following her ensemble’s win at the Prix Opus (Concert Jazz de l’année, 2016-17) she performed again to an audience of more than 10,000 with leading her full jazz orchestra on the festival’s Scène TD (main stage). Her 2017 performance at the festival was of her work, “Home: Montreal”, a one-hour eight-movement piece for 19 musicians, where each movement would be inspired by and illustrate a different location within the city of Montreal. Video footage of this performance can be found at: .

Initially, “Home: Montreal” was a project funded by a grant from the Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Quebec (CALQ). As part of the project, McKenna and her full ensemble recorded that as a four-track demo and launched it in a premiere performance at Montreal’s l’Astral, a medium-size venue in the heart of Downtown Montreal with a capacity of about 400. The studio recordings can be found available on her website ( Following the concert’s win at the Prix Opus, McKenna was contacted by the Montreal Jazz Festival to present the concert on a prime spot long-weekend evening spot, on the largest stage at the 2017 festival.

This year, McKenna has been invited back to the Festival, presenting her newest project, “Spaces Beyond Here” as a quintet. She has also been nominated for the TD Grand Jazz Award “I was thrilled, humbled and very surprised,” to be asked to present this new project of mine, directly expanding from Home: Montreal, McKenna says.

In addition to performing in the jazz, R&B, and pop scenes in Montreal, McKenna also does a lot of musical theatre work. She just finished performing as part of the seven-piece orchestra in The Hockey Sweater: A Musical, based on the book by Roch Carrier which premiered at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts in Montreal in 2017. She also continued with the show to its second performance run in Ottawa, for 3.5 weeks at the National Arts Centre of Canada.

McKenna’s love for music runs deep.

“I started playing clarinet in Grade 4 at A.G. Baillie, and at the end of Grade 5-Grade 6 I moved to saxophone. I made this move because I went to beginner band camp after Grade 4 and my roommate at the Acadia University Band Camp was a saxophonist. Being impressionable at that age and easily swayed by my peers, I thought it was the coolest instrument. All the cool kids played saxophone!”

But her loved of music really developed in her high school years.

“It was Andrew Alcorn who really pushed me in music from grades 10 to 12. Both Andrew and Janice offered me extra opportunities beyond the core curriculum of music classes, finding me extra challenges and projects to keep me developing. Being part of the Nova Scotia Youth Wind Ensemble and Nova Scotia Honour Jazz was also a great way to keep growing with great student musicians from around Nova Scotia.”

She laughs when she recalls, “When I started the saxophone, summer of Grade 6, my parents used to be able hear me practicing from up the street! I remember sitting on the front step practising my saxophone and just figuring out how to play that thing.”

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