The Year End Artistic Director’s Report – December 2013
By: Ken Pickering
By: Ken Pickering
Hey jazz fans - the Christmas season is upon us once again - signifying that time of the year where we ought to be very thankful for all the good tidings bestowed upon us. It’s not only a time to celebrate it’s also a time to remember the less fortunate in our community by making that extra effort to bring some good cheer to each person that we come into contact with. That can mean giving to the food bank, contributing to toy drives or buying a hot chocolate for someone in need.
Colourful Christmas lights are up in full force all over town and this year it actually feels just right. For real - winter in Vancouver – who knew? We’ve already experienced a dusting of snow and some unseasonably cold weather to reinforce that warm holiday feeling (although we all know the monsoons are never more than a few days away). Maybe the eggnog, hot toddies and some hot jazz help with that too!
At the year end there’s a jazz tradition where critics and hard core fans list their top 10, 20 or 50 favourite releases of the year. With the holiday season fast approaching and that tradition in mind, I thought it might be nice to harken back to the summer and conjure up a few highlights from the festival. On a similar note, it’s also the perfect time to catch up with some of the great music that you might have missed over the past 12 months. The first lists are appearing and even with the huge number of releases that I check out from day to day, there’s a lot of music that I missed. Lots of great music to catch up on!
In keeping with festival tradition, 2013’s event was solidly balanced bringing Vancouver some of the best of today’s jazz, creative, improvised and related scenes from around the world.
The amazing crowd at Downtown Jazz - Georgia Stage
Only one Marquee show this year: Herbie Hancock wrapped out the festival with a strong performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
The Vogue Theatre Series was the strongest sales performance we’ve had in that storied venue in years. Although we did have a couple of shows that fell short of expectations we also had shows that far exceeded projections with sellouts - David Murray with Macy Gray and Dr John. We were thrilled that Esperanza Spalding finally played the festival and as expected, her show also sold out.
Personal highlights at the Vogue were the David Murray / Macy Gray show, John Scofield’s Uberjam Band and the unsung veteran soul belter Betty LaVette.
Performance Works was a busy venue – 2 performances on most days – plus a full slate of free to the public programming on Canada Day.
Michael Blake's Variety Hour on Canada Day at Performance Works
The evening series was our strongest box office showing ever at PW with a very solid program of mostly jazz programming over 9 nights.
Highlights included the Vijay Iyer Trio – one of the great piano trios on today’s jazz scene. Vijay also treated a curated selection of Vancouver’s best jazz musicians to a master class funded by CMHC through the Masters of the Island program.
Rapidly rising soul/jazz singer - Gregory Porter’s first festival performance was very impressive - as was the duo magic of Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah & the great Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius – the last guitarist in Oscar Peterson’s quartet. The duo attracted an expanded diverse audience that built on her triumphant 2010 Roundhouse show.
The flagship afternoon free to the public “jazz” program at PW was very successful – personally I think it was one of our best ever. The concept behind this series is to showcase some of the finest jazz talent this country has to offer – mixed with some local greats and spiced with some international talent.
We heard standout performances by Montreal pianist – Marianne Trudel, Alberta’s Hutchinson Andrew Trio, ex-Winnipegger now Brooklyn-ite saxophonist Curtis Macdonald as well as Juno award winning Pugs and Crows with Tony Wilson, Vancouver’s Peggy Lee Band (who toured the Canadian festival circuit for the 1st time) and Amsterdam’s Boi Akih. This is one program that we’re very proud of.
Canada Day at Performance Works continued in the same vein – surely the most powerful Canada Day run we’ve ever had at that venue. Highlights included:
Sharon Minemoto’s moving Tribute to Ross Taggart, great trio performances by Rémi Pannosian from France and Rafael Zaldivar from Montreal – expat Vancouverite – Michael Blake now living in Brooklyn (for over 25 years!) took the festival out in grand style with a powerful performance by his Vancouver band – “Variety Hour”. Recent discussions with the Anders Eriksson, the new director of the Molde Festival in Norway have resulted in an invitation to Michael to perform at the 2014 edition of that storied festival. Exciting news!
The Ironworks at the edge of the downtown east side was shining bright throughout the festival. The new afternoon series – 5 shows - all free to the public was designed to bring jazz to that community – a piano / keyboard series where each show was prefaced by an artist talk.
Chicago vibes master Jason Adasiewicz brought Sun Rooms - a great trio that expanded to a quartet for their last set with Francois Houle.
Paul Plimley and Tommy Babin at The Ironworks
The series was packed each afternoon – a beautiful example of impactful outreach – we heard Cat Toren, Chris Gestrin and Paul Plimley among others.
Ironworks Innovation – the evening series – was also successful. The box office was the strongest to date. We increased the ticket price to $25 and it helped us edge a little closer to a positive bottom line on that series. UK / Scandinavian trio Phronesis, Alan Jones All Star Canadian Sextet, Norway’s Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, Brooklyn’s Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up, Berlin's Silke Eberhard Trio and Tim Berne’s Snake Oil were among the stand outs.
Mary Halvorson at the Roundhouse
The 3rd series at Ironworks was the Late Night –
also put together with outreach in mind – to reach the younger street level creatives – a series of mixing media, new music, improvised music – a punk DIY aesthetic– epitomized by shows like Destroy Vancouver – a sampling of the experimental music series created by Vivo Media and Arts – drummer John Brennan. Colin Stetson was also back to collaborate with local hero Gordon Grdina. Alfred 23 Harth performed at the fest for the first time in probably 20 years - a detailed and nuanced set with Torsten Müller's Distant Relatives. We wrapped out the festival late night at Ironworks with Chicago’s monster vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz Sun Rooms – our own Francois Houle guested on the final set for the icing on the cake.
Our bookend weekends were also incredibly successful – particularly a thrill to see Downtown Jazz at the VAG and Robson Square be so thoroughly embraced by Vancouverites.
I have to mention the amazing Kellylee Evans performance at the Georgia Stage – after being hit by lightning in her kitchen doing the dishes– this lady not so long afterwards was back in performance mode. She radiated such incredible energy! Unbelievable really!
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up (from Brooklyn) at The Ironworks
And our own David Ward - found in house! This guy takes care of our social media – wonderfully – but who knew that this young man had such serious pipes - he blew us all away and the audience response was overwhelming. This guy should be a star and is one to keep an eye on.
We also had successful 2nd years with our Made in the UK series and Spotlight on French Jazz – both of these series we hope will continue into 2014.
Chicago cellist (AACM) Tomeka Reid at David Lam Park conducting the High School Jazz Intensive.
Chicago’s Tomeka Reid did a great job working with the High School Jazz Intensive – such an inspiring program – the centerpiece of our education and outreach. The Sounds of Youth Stage was successful in the first year –honourary board member and legendary band teacher, Bob Rebagliati does a yeoman’s job in curating this very special and important set of programs. We also presented a diversity of workshops at Tom Lee Music Hall and the Roundhouse – a sampling might include Seamus Blake, Phil Dwyer and Alan Jones, Mike Reed and Mary Halvorson. Great stuff.
Chicago drummer Mike Reed outside the Roundhouse
So wrapping out – a special thanks to the programming team: Manager of Artistic Programming and Executive Director of Jazz Festivals Canada Rainbow Robert for her great work in putting the local Vancouver program together – Ironworks Day & Late Night and to associate director, Alex Grigg for adding value to the indie programming mix. Big cheers to our Board, Staff & Volunteers, Supporters and the Musicians – we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you one and all!
(all photos from Ken Pickering's iPhone and iPad)