British Columbia

Almost 300 B.C. musicians call for jazz society board members to step down after chaotic AGM

Almost 300 B.C. musicians have signed a letter calling for certain board members of the Coastal Jazz & Blues Society to step down following an annual general meeting in November that degenerated into profanity.

Members voice loss of faith in Coastal Jazz & Blues Society leadership, fear impact on Vancouver jazz festival

The Coastal Jazz & Blues Society produces the annual TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. (Coastal Jazz and Blues/Facebook)

Almost 300 B.C. musicians have signed a letter calling for certain board members of the Coastal Jazz & Blues Society (CJBS) to step down following an annual general meeting in November that degenerated into profanity.

In the letter — whose signatories include popular artists like Dan Mangan — CJBS members ask the society's board to respect the outcome of a vote at the AGM, in which most board members failed to receive enough votes for re-election.

Those board members have refused to step down, several CJBS members told CBC News, leading to a loss of faith in the society's leadership.

"The resolution is for the current board to step down," said Aram Bajakian, a local guitarist, composer and educator.

Some members say they are now worried about the future of the annual TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, which the CJBS produces, given the current state of the society.

AGM breaks down

Bajakian says only three of seven board members were re-elected at the AGM in November. However, immediately after the vote, two of the newly re-elected board members resigned.

He says a second emergency vote was held to elect new board members. Two people volunteered, a vote was held and, according to Bajakian, they were elected.

But he says the former board members refused to either step down or acknowledge the election of the two new members. From there the meeting deteriorated, culminating in one board member hurling profanities at the membership, he said.

"These are the people you are supposed to be serving, not swearing at," said Bajakian.

The CJBS board declined requests for an interview, but in a letter to its members it appears to acknowledge what happened at the meeting.

"Emotions were running high, resulting in words and actions that we profoundly regret," the board wrote in the letter.

CJBS member Sonja Muller says she's been to many AGMs for various organizations but has never experienced anything like the one in November.

"The level of division and hostility toward the members was just mind boggling," the musician said.

"The profanity, too, that's something I've never [experienced]."

Crowds gather in downtown Vancouver for the festival in pre-pandemic times. (Instagram/Coastal Jazz)

Bylaws don't demand vote, board says

Following the meeting, the CJBS board consulted its legal team regarding the society's bylaws.

It says it found that board members cannot be "voted out" and an election only needs to be held if the number of candidates exceeds the number of open board positions — so, in this case, the vote wasn't required.

"These bylaws were precisely designed to avoid the kind of uncertainty and chaos that resulted at the AGM in question," wrote the board.

But members of the society say the bylaw contradicts the precedent of how the society normally re-elects board members. Bajakian and Muller were under the impression candidates were required to receive 50 per cent plus one of the vote share to be elected.

"Instead of accepting that, they then found these other bylaws to circumvent the vote of the membership," said Bajakian.

Muller says she can't understand why an election was held in the first place if those bylaws are in place.

"We all felt like our vote didn't matter and it was just brushed aside and ignored," she said. 

"The entire outcome of the elections were ignored twice."

New members shouldn't have been at AGM

A day after the original publication of this article, CJBS co-founder John Orysik agreed to an interview.

He said that in the days leading up to the AGM, many new members registered with the society, including Bajakian and Muller.

Orysik believes many of the new members were recruited to vote out the board over strained staffing issues within the organization.

"I think the whole thing is driven by personal grievance and personal animosity," he said, adding that many of the new members shouldn't have been at the meeting in the first place.

CJBS bylaws state that members are only allowed to attend the AGM if they were members at the time the meeting was announced.

Though Muller admits she only became a member ahead of the AGM, she says she wasn't recruited and has been a part of the community for years. She joined, she says, due to the need for more diversity on the board in terms of gender and racial diversity. 

Bajakian said that as a longtime member of the Vancouver music community, he was aware of tensions between the staff and board at CBJS — but ultimately, he also joined the society to advocate for more diversity.

Festival fears

Bajakian and Muller believe the lack of support for the board shown in the vote was due to many members not supporting the direction the society was heading in, along with a desire for fresh perspectives on the board with increased diversity to better represent the membership.

The aftershocks of the AGM are still being felt by the Vancouver music community.

Bajakian says some members have expressed a desire to pull out of this year's jazz festival, which is slated for June 24-July 3, if certain members of the board don't respect the results of the vote.

He says he is working hard to keep that from happening because a diminished festival would be a blow to all involved.

"The Vancouver International Jazz Festival is really a beacon of light in the world because you not only have the name artists, but it also supports a whole variety of up and coming artists," he said.


  • This story was updated after the CJBS board provided CBC News with new information after publication.
    Feb 15, 2022 12:01 PM PT


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