Jazz legend founds emergency fund for students

Ian McDougall’s latest recording to benefit those in fine arts

Ian McDougall

Ian McDougall cranks the volume on his home stereo and lets a smile overwhelm him. His new recording of the Charlie Chaplin original, Smile, plays.

“I like it loud,” says the 73-year-old jazz trombonist.

Arms outstretched, McDougall pauses, then as if to point at the notes filling his living room, cries out in appreciation of Rick Wilkins’ arrangement on the track.

“Listen to the strings,” McDougall says of the recording which happens to be much slower – and more emotional – than most expect from the ballad. The way Chaplin intended, he says.

But the iconic jazz musician, Juno Award winner, University of Victoria professor emeritus and Order of Canada recipient stops himself short of embarking on a conversation about sentiment. The story behind his latest disc, The Very Thought of You, featuring Smile and 13 other classic ballads performed by an all-star ensemble of Canadian talent, is powerful enough on its own.

The record is an entirely volunteer endeavour of McDougall’s, an effort to create an emergency fund for students entering the arts. Ten dollars from every $20 CD will go directly into the fund, intended to support fine arts students in need at UVic. No strings attached.

The project is nicknamed the “one potato” fund after McDougall’s encounter with a young man purchasing a single potato for dinner at his neighbourhood grocery store, Pepper’s Foods.

“He was looking a little worn out,” McDougall says. “It was right at the end of the year and he’s got no money to eat, poor guy. And he’s just buying the one potato.”

The fund is not intended to supply bursaries or scholarships, rather  “a little dough” for students in immediate need, he says.

“If they get successful after that and they’ve paid their millions in students loans and they can put it back in the fund, but if they don’t, that’s okay.”

Also behind one potato are UVic alumni Jim Crawford and Tony Gage, who assisted with financial backing by establishing Ten Mile Music Production Limited Partnership and soliciting donors to the project.

“It’s something I could never afford, but I can do the stuff that makes the record. I can write and I can play.”

The Very Thought of You was recorded at the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, along with McDougall’s wife Barb, a four-piece rhythm section, 20 strings and an oboe. Barb, a violinist, produced and mixed the recording.

The oldest of the ballads – which McDougall insists aren’t jazz – is a 1926 George Gershwin tune. The newest: Henry Mancini’s Moon River from ’61.

McDougall’s epic career began in late night downtown Victoria, where he “learned on the job,” he says, as young as 12 years old.

“Instead of playing in the school band, I was playing in the clubs with a bunch of boozers,” he adds.

He went on to play on somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 LPs and CDs over his 63-year-career and accompany the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Gladys Knight. McDougall continues to perform with his band, the Ian McDougall 12tet.

“Musicians never stop working if they care about music,” McDougall says, adding that continuing to play is also an excuse not to drink cheap wine.

Should CD sales take off, Ten Mile has plans to extend the fund to fine arts students across the country.

“I’m very happy to the supporters and that they’re happy giving to this fund. What more can you ask for?”

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