The Littlebirds started in 1990 as part of an education program run by the Yardbird Suite. Gordon Towell was the director of the youth band that met every Saturday morning from 9am to 12 pm. Gordon’s tenure was short lived as he returned to school to start a doctoral degree. Dean McNeill was the next director of the Littlebirds and perhaps best known for establishing the band as one of western Canada’s finest groups. Dean also heard the call of school and left the band to Jerrold Dubyk who directed the band for 2 years. In the fall of 1998 Craig Brenan took over the band and made a few changes related to rehearsal times. Joel Gray took over as director in 2004, and the Littlebirds continue to flourish and develop, sustaining their high level of musicianship.

The Littlebirds Big Band experience has a profound and lasting impact on the lives of Littlebirds members. Some become music teachers or professional musicians. All are motivated students sharing a love of music. The Littlebirds season includes regular weekly rehearsals from September through May, participation in local Jazz festivals, and occasional participation in the Edmonton International Jazz Music Festival.

LittleBirds Outdoor Performances in Your Backyard

If you want to hear the absolute best in Youth Jazz music in Canada, then please consider hosting the Littlebirds Jazz Bands. These young musicians have been working all year, writing their own music and practicing.

We will safely visit and play a concert in your yard for you and your neighbors, weather permitting. All we need is access to power and for you to help us spread the word to your neighbors. There is no cost to you, but we will be soliciting for donations from the community during the show.

Let’s celebrate the summer with live music. Please contact Joel Gray by calling 780-905-8976 or email him at for more information or to book your show!



Wind players should prepare a solo transcription or song in any jazz style. The selection is your choice and composers to consider are Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, George Gershwin, Wayne Shorter, etc. A copy of the music is required for use by the auditioners. Try to pick a selection that demonstrates your playing ability (style, technique, range — high range for trumpet; low range for bass trombone and bari).

To demonstrate improvisation abilities, wind players will have the option to improvise with Aebersold tracks during the audition. Be ready to play one chorus of Bb Rhythm changes at an medium tempo or two choruses of F blues at a medium tempo. All rhythm section players are expected to improvise as part of the audition process over these two forms.


Bass (upright and electric), Guitar and Piano players should play a jazz classic or standard song in any jazz style. Bass players must walk for 2 choruses minimum. The selection is your choice and composers to consider are Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Gershwin, Wayne Shorter, etc. Guitar and piano players must comp for 2 choruses minimum (accompany with chords in appropriate rhythmic style, possibly with light fills at the ends of phrases).
Bass players and guitar players, please bring your own patch cable if you need to use an amplifier.


Drummers need to be ready to play the following time patterns: Fast swing with both sticks and brushes, medium swing with both sticks and brushes, medium jazz waltz with both sticks and brushes, bossa; samba, and afro-cuban 6/8.
Drummers, please bring your own symbols and sticks to your audition.

In addition to prepared selections, there will be sight reading as part of the audition process.

Are you an aspiring musician aged 14-21?



For this upcoming season, the Littlebirds will be changing its normal format and offering multiple small combos in lieu of Big Band. This change is required to adhere to the AHS regulations concerning COVID-19. 

Big Band will resume as soon as the regulations allow, and members of the combos will be offered positions in the big band. Supplemental auditions will be held to fill any vacant positions at such time.

We can accommodate up to four combos, and rehearsal times will be adjusted to the following:


  • COMBO ONE: Mondays, 7:40PM to 9:00PM
  • COMBO TWO: Mondays, 6:00PM to 7:20PM
  • COMBO THREE: Wednesdays, 6:00PM to 7:20PM
  • FIRST rehearsals begin on September 21st for Combo One and Two, and September 23rd for Combos Three and Four.

Members will be required to wear masks while performing. Wind instrument players will require bell coverings for their instruments (we can provide them if necessary) and must also bring masks when not playing. 

There is lots of space at the Yardbird Suite, and combo members will all be sufficiently distanced to adhere to the AHS social distance requirements. 


Auditions are still happening on Sept 13th, between 11:00AM and 4:00PM. APPOINTMENTS ARE REQUIRED, and please call or text 780-905-8976 to book your audition. You may also submit a video audition, and can email your submission to The deadline for video submissions is Sept 13th, at 4:00PM. 

If you forgot to book an appointment, don’t panic, we can still take you, but you must call or text the number above when you arrive at the Yardbird Suite and possibly wait outside until we can fit you in!


You must be 14-21 years of age. If you are attending Junior High or High School, you must also be a member of your school band program, if it has one. Attendance at rehearsals is mandatory unless a player has good reason to be absent. Players who miss more than three rehearsals may be asked to resign from the band. Players are responsible for all music and materials furnished to them by the Littlebirds. All players are required to take an active role in selling tickets to their own performances. All rehearsals are at the Yardbird Suite.


For those who are successful, the annual non-refundable membership fee for the big band and combo is $400 for the year, payable at the last rehearsal in September. 


We will be livestreaming and recording our concerts in 2020, and hopefully we will be able to perform to a live audience in 2021. In the event we can’t, we will livestream and record all performances in 2021, and possibly have an outdoor final concert in May of 2021.



3 + 12 =


Joel Gray has spent 20 years as a freelance trumpet player and educator in Edmonton and its surrounding areas. Joel attended the music programs at MacEwan College and the University of Alberta, studying trumpet with William Dimmer of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Dr. Fordyce Pier.

Joel is known for his versatility as a trumpeter. He is as comfortable playing lead trumpet with the pops orchestra as traditional New Orleans music or baroque piccolo trumpet. He is a regular performer with many local artists and diverse musical ensembles, including the the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, The Edmonton Jazz Orchestra, Edmonton Opera, Pro Coro Canada, the Don Berner Sextet, the Retrofitz, the Polyjesters, the Tommy Banks Big Band, The New Orleans Connection, and Capital Brass, to name only a few. He is a veteran in the orchestra pit, having performed many professional musical theatre productions at the Citadel Theatre, as well as in other venues. He has graced the stage alongside such greats as Tommy Banks, Arnie Chycowski, Guido Basso, Allen Vizzutti, Kent Sangster, Andrew Glover, and P.J. Perry. He has recorded on over 20 CDs and performed numerous times for CBC radio, and played principal trumpet with the ESO in Carnegie Hall in May of 2012.

As a music educator, he teaches trumpet and Wind Ensemble at MacEwan College, and brass at Keyano College and the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta. He has been an adjudicator for the Cantando Music Festival, Rocky Mountain Music Festival, the Foothills Jazz Festival, the Red Deer Kiwanis Music Festival, and the Olds Music Festival.

Since 2004, he has been the director of the Littlebirds Big Band. Under his direction, the Littlebirds have recorded a full-length CD, played concerts with Allen Vizzutti, P.J. Perry, Allen Jacobson, recorded for CBC radio, and been featured performers at the Cantando Music Festival.



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