The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra (WJO) is Canada’s first community-based, non-profit professional jazz orchestra; its equal can be found in only a handful of North American cities. Dr. Richard Gillis and Sasha Boychouk founded the WJO in 1997, inspired by a vision of forming a professional big band with the best emerging and veteran musicians in Winnipeg.
Gillis and Boychouk were the right people at the right time, but the WJO also owes its roots to the collective efforts of many passionate stakeholders including the musicians, board members, volunteers and administrators who sensed a potential audience that was not being served. Their familiarity with the Winnipeg music environment (the key players, the marketplace, and the community’s appetite for jazz) gave them confidence in the capabilities of local musicians and out of that natural savvy and inherent enthusiasm, the WJO was born.
Commissioning new works and connecting with and inspiring students and young musicians is an integral part of the WJO vision. Today, the orchestra roster boasts 16 to 25 Winnipeg-based musicians whose combined resumes touch every corner of performance jazz locally, nationally, and around the world. WJO’s popularity has grown steadily over the course of the band’s history, from small, informal events at the West End Cultural Centre to a six-concert season and sold-out performances at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.