Graduating students Ryan Bonanno

Jazz musicians receive honours

If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to Jo & the Soul play together, this summer will be your last opportunity.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to Jo & the Soul play together, this summer will be your last opportunity.

This jazz band is made up of four talented young people.

Ryan Bonanno, playing electric bass, Bobby Shaw playing saxophone and Steve Cogbill on drums, were first known as Soul Power and had been playing together since Grade 7.

Joining the band last year as vocalist and guitarist was Johanna McNeil.

At that time they decided on a new name: Jo & the Soul.

Since then they have performed at local venues, including Festival of Lights and Action Festival.

They have won numerous awards while competing at the regional, national and international levels.

Last week they won gold at Musicfest Canada, where Shaw and McNeil also received individual honours.

After being the first Canadians to win in the highest possible category (Quad A level) at the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival in Idaho, earlier this year, they were selected to play at the Kibbie Dome, the arena where the professionals play.

All four agreed that playing there in front of 2,000 people has been the highlight for them thus far.

They attribute much of their success to their music teacher Craig Thomson.

Each of the group members got their start in music at an early age.

McNeil started playing piano at the age of four, but didn’t really like music until she found guitar at the age of nine.

For Cogbill it was a little different. “For me, when I was really young, apparently I was the classic story of hitting pots and pans. When I was seven I took my first drum lesson and I just kept going from there.”

Shaw was also a classic case. “When I was really young, whenever my mom would be playing music I would point out when there was a saxophone in a song. I somehow recognized it. In Grade 7 I took band and I tried saxophone because I had that connection.”

Bonanno started studying music when he was seven.

He played piano until he found the bass, which is what he loves to play.

The group has several gigs coming up for the summer, but after that they will disperse to further their education in music.

Shaw auditioned at Humber College and received a $14,000 scholarship to go there.

“It was a bit nerve wracking, but it paid off,” he said. His ultimate goal is to teach music, becoming a university professor.

Bonanno will be attending Capilano University. “I auditioned there and they liked me and I got in. Previous to that, at the Interior Jazz Festival they gave me a scholarship to go there,” he said.

McNeil has already auditioned at Capilano and has an upcoming audition at Grant MacEwan University in June.

Cogbill is still deciding whether to go to Capilano or to move to Toronto or Vancover and work his way into the music scene.

“I’d rather play than go to school,” he said.

As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” Speaking to that, McNeil said,

“It’s bittersweet. The band is parting but it’s going to be cool getting out and seeing other parts of the music industry of Canada.”

“It’s been really fun the last couple of years, playing, getting gigs and getting known throughout the Okanagan for what we do. It’s been a great experience, but on the other hand it’s going to be fun to go off and do our own projects and play with other people and get better,” said Cogbill.

Shaw agreed saying, “We got really lucky in such a small town having a band with such chemistry. We’re really going to miss that when we leave.”

“I guess if you think of music as a language, we all talk the same way with each other and now we’re going to be able to go out into a different situation and they’re going to teach us how to speak their language,” Bonanno said.

The band will be playing at the Minstrel Café in Kelowna on May 23 at 8 p.m.

They will perform at the Penticton Farmers Market starting May 31 and will appear at Action Festival on June 8.

To book the band, email

If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.


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