Kay Meek Centre’s annual fundraising gala featuring Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole, Friday May 31 at 7 p.m. Tickets: welcome reception and show, $129; VIP meet the artist, $159. Box office and info: kaymeekcentre.com. “The evening combines world class entertainment with community spirit to raise funds which allow Kay Meek Centre to reach its goals as a cultural and entertainment hub on the North Shore.”

When celebrated Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole was 15-years-old, she embarked on a journey that changed the course of her life – musical and otherwise.

“My parents were not happy about it,” she says, reached Wednesday from her current Toronto, Ont., home.

Cole left her then home of Fredericton, N.B., with a mere $20 in her pocket and hitchhiked south across the border to Boston, Mass.

Born into a musical family, Cole’s grandfather was a country and western accordion player who played with Hank Snow, her parents are classical piano players, and her brother, Allen, now an accomplished Toronto-based musical writer (The Wrong Son), had decided to study jazz at the Berklee College of Music.

Cole laughs when she tells the story of how she surprised her older brother at his college, sharing details like how she snuck in and out of his dorm where she crashed for a month. Thanks to their similarly-styled long tresses, she’d use Allen’s ID card, masquerading as him to gain access. Once inside, she’d hand the card off to one of his dorm-mates who would transport it out and hand it over to Allen so he too could get in.

That early introduction to the jazz world at the influential New England institution resulted in Cole feeling like she “saw the light.”

“It inspired me and I knew what I wanted to do,” she says.

“It was such an influential time in my life. . . . I feel so fortunate that I discovered what I really wanted to do and what was my real passion and what I was good at, at a young age and some people never do in their lives,” she adds.

Cole continued to visit her brother and eventually went on to launch her own jazz career, and she’ll be forever grateful for the influence and support of her family in helping her do so.

That’s why she’s pleased to have the opportunity to take the stage as the featured performer at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre Friday, May 31, at the local theatre’s annual gala fundraiser. Funds raised will support Kay Meek’s operations, including youth learning and education, the creation of professional self-produced theatre, community outreach and audience development.

“When I see causes like the Kay Meek I think to myself this is an opportunity for other young people to discover what they want, discover what they’re good at, discover what inspires them, discover what is exciting, what is creative and how they can change their lives (and) change other people’s lives. . . . The Kay Meek Centre could be the kind of thing that turns, kids and teenagers, their lives around and sets them on a path of creativity, a path of positive thinking and it could be a huge thing,” says Cole.

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