The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra (WJO) is Canada’s first community-based, non-profit professional jazz orchestra. Founded in 1997 (registered charity in 2000), the WJO has matured to become an important part of Winnipeg’s cultural landscape, reflected in the ongoing support the organization receives from the Manitoba Arts Council, the Winnipeg Arts Council, the Winnipeg Foundation, and other sponsors. The mandate of the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra is to be an instrumental force in the promotion and development of big band jazz in Manitoba and beyond, through performance, composition, recording and education.
The WJO has sought to fulfill this mandate in several ways. They present a regular concert series that reflects the diversity of approaches to big band performance and repertoire. They hire Manitoba’s best professional jazz musicians to make up the ensemble, and allow for a rotation of personnel to bring in up and coming musicians. The WJO seeks to present the best big band jazz compositions and arrangements available, and they encourage new work through the commission of new compositions and arrangements for big band by Canadian and Manitoban composers (over 100 have been written for the WJO to date).
The orchestra collaborates with national and international guest performers and conductors that have informed and developed the ensemble, musicians and audience. The organization gives back to the community through educational outreach programs and projects including school ensemble performances at WJO concerts, their High School Honour Jazz Band project (a collaboration with Jazz Winnipeg Festival), and big band workshops held in several Winnipeg schools. Finally, they fulfill their mandate through recording the ensemble and its original music. The WJO has released seven albums to date, with many more on the way.