Jazz star Campbell Ryga returns to Summerland for special concert

The son of the Canadian novelist and playwright George Ryga returned to his small-town roots for a sold-out performance in honour of his father.

First annual Marginal Arts Festival takes place this weekend in honour of writer George Ryga

Campbell Ryga is an award-winning Canadian jazz musician and son of famous playwright George Ryga. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

They say each generation has something to valuable to offer. In the case of the Ryga family, those words ring true.

Campbell Ryga is a Canadian jazz musician with many accolades to his name — he's won three Juno awards and has even been nominated for a Grammy.

But Saturday night, he played a sold-out concert in Summerland, B.C., dedicated to his father — the great Canadian playwright and novelist George Ryga.

"It's a real celebration of the community and my dad," said Campbell Ryga. "He was really a wonderful man and it's really nice that the community is celebrating that and recognizing that."

Ryga is the headliner of the Marginal Arts Festival — the first annual festival and celebration of George Ryga.

The event is meant to showcase local artists and musicians and pay tribute to the elder Ryga, who was known as a champion for marginalized communities through his work. He gained national recognition in 1967 when he released The Ecstasy of Rita Joe — a story chronicling the struggles of a young Aboriginal woman in a Canadian city.

Campbell Ryga joined host Margaret Gallagher on CBC's Hot Air to talk about his father, growing up in a small town, and his headline appearance at the Marginal Arts Festival.

Campbell Ryga appeared on CBC's Hot Air with Margaret Gallagher to discuss his performance at the Marginal Arts Festival in Summerland. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Margaret Gallagher: What was it like growing up in the Ryga household in Summerland?

Well, growing up in Summerland was an experience that I wouldn't have traded for the the world. I think that I was really, really fortunate — I had lots of close friends. This is something as a father now that I really kind of wish I could do for my kids.

I think growing up in a small community like that is really important — it helped sort of mould me. It was a great place to grow up.

We had a lot of folks coming [to our house] with all kinds of different concepts and ideas, and that was part of the reason my dad had such an open policy to the place — it kind of helped inspire him into different directions and what not. We had really the cat's breakfast of different folks who used to come through.

How did you find music through all of that?

I had a really great band teacher in high school. That was a real nice catalyst for me. Plus he was very much into the music I was checking out, which was my mom's old Dixieland record collection.

It was just sort of a natural transition. Music was one of those things that was kind of uniquely my own. I could work at it as much as I wanted to.

I wasn't studying privately at first, so I was learning a lot of things wrong — but that got sorted out pretty good. I started getting on the right path to figure out that the right hand goes down and the left hand goes up, instead of the other way around.

What did your parents think of your explorations as a jazz artist?

It was a very arts-oriented household — they were thrilled with it.

Any time that any of us showed any interest in the arts — for instance, if my brother showed an interest [in a trumpet] and said, 'Boy, trumpets are a great thing,' two days later there'd be a trumpet. So it was a little daunting.

[Our parents] were always very much into supporting any kind of move to an artistic area. And music was mine.

How do you see your father's legacy differently now that you're a father yourself?

My dad had an interesting upbringing — he was the son of homesteaders. There was a lot of work to be done on the farm up in Athabasca, and he was very interested in creative writing and speaking for those who couldn't speak for themselves.

I really wonder about my grandfather, because to have let my dad go to pursue that was a real hardship on the family — there was a lot of work to be done. I think about that quite a bit, and how fortunate my dad was to have some of those opportunities which he could of easily not had at all. It was a tough upbringing for him.

I'm proud to be George Ryga's son, and I share many of his views. He's in my thoughts all the time, every single day.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

With files from CBC's Hot Air

To listen to the full interview and hear some of Campbell Ryga's music, click on the audio labelled: Canadian jazz musician Campbell Ryga gears up for a performance dedicated to his father