Leads for the Winnipeg Jazz Festival

A note from Jamie Howison:  Realizing that this post reflects my own personal tastes and biases, and that not everyone will share my sense that jazz music has the potential to “enact” theology and to embody something of the human search for the sacred, I still wanted to put this out there as a way of encouraging our commitment to connecting the arts to the life of faith. If you’re wanting to explore some of these themes a bit more, you can check out two other posts: “God’s Mind in the Music” and “Jazz and the Holy.”


he Winnipeg Jazz Festival is just about to kick into high gear, offering up various opportunities to hear some great live music. Last night the legendary Sonny Rollins played what was billed as a “festival preview concert,” and it was a very fine way to kick things off. Very fine. Rollins will turn 80 in just three months, and while he walked and moved like an older man, he played with a startling level of  passion and power. His fresh and imaginative solo in the opening song ran close to 15 minutes, and never once was there any sign of his tiring. Great stuff.

The festival proper runs from June 25 through to July 4, and will offer an amazing array of music from which to chose. I’m thinking that the best small venue show of the whole festival is Christian Scott at the Rachel Brown Theatre (the small performance space at the School of Contemporary Dance, Bannatyne at Main) on Saturday June 26. The show is late – 11pm – mostly because Scott will have already played a warm-up set the same night for the Roy Hargrave Quintet over at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre. The Hargrave show will also be a good one, but I always find it best to see jazz shows in smaller rooms. The Downbeat Magazine Critic’s Poll named Scott the trumpeter of the year for 2009, which is really quite something for such a young player.

Depending on my energy after worship on Sunday night, I might look at heading over to the Rachel Brown Theatre to check out the Marco Benevento Trio at 12:30am. From what I’ve heard the guy is wildly innovative, which certainly comes across in the audio samples on his website.

There are also a number of good free gigs, including a few that I’m not likely to miss. In the free noon hour series in Old Market Square, I’d looking at seeing The Blue Fisher Band on June 28 and Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm on June 30. If we didn’t have tickets to see Toshi Reagon on Friday June 25, I know we’d be going to hear Andre Leroux in the Market Square that night at 7pm. And of course, there is free music on that stage the evening of Friday July 2, and from 3:00pm until 1:00am on both the 3rd and 4th. Much of the music over that weekend is not actually jazz, but rather music that springs from something of a common lineage.

Now, this is anything but a comprehensive list, and I know I’m skimming over all sorts of great stuff. If you’re going to a show or two, why not write in a comment below, and tell us what your picks are and why.

2 Responses to Leads for the Winnipeg Jazz Festival

  1. Larry Gregan says:

    Well, if I can find my tickets (yeah the riches are that embarrassing) you will see me at Terrance Blanchard’s Jazz in Film revue with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra Wednesday evening at Pantages. If you want music that will fall indisputably within the much disputed definition of what constitutes jazz, this will be it. And it will also be accessible, so there’s your sweet spot. As for authority on the subject, Blanchard scores Spike Lee’s films. And he’s a major player. If you’ve seen Mo’ Better Blues his trumpet playing has moved from film background to the foreground of your memory of the film (pretty good, wasn’t it?). But none of that is why I think you should go. I don’t even like reviews – too didactic; I much prefer jazz musicians to just be mute and not break the spell of their music (where is Miles when we need him?). No, the reason everyone should go is to hear great big band jazz. For decades the majority of jazz appreciation has been built on experience of small groups – trios, quartets, and quintets. But before the punishing economics of hauling around that many musicians laid waste to all but a very few, big band WAS jazz. Even the beboppers tried to keep larger ensembles going but could not. But the memory of those larger horn sections continued to echo behind the pared down sound of small group jazz. Just as you can sometimes hear Keef’s rhythm guitar as a stand-in for a phalanx of R & B horns if your ears recognize it through exposure, you’ll begin to hear silent swaths of sound in the ensemble playing of small groups if you listen to the roar first.

  2. Sonny Rollins was a great way to start but to me it seemed like starting big with a quick fall off. This year’s festival seems weak in comparison to the last few (and weak compared to the artists that will fly over Winnipeg on their way to Calgary’s and Vancouver’s festivals) and seems to be heading quietly into the Dave Sherman type of festival of the past where the jazz music becomes the minority shareholder of the JAZZ festival, with the non jazz, supposed money makers, getting the lion’s share of promotion and time slots. Why both the director and outreach person listed their festival recommendations in the Free Press today and between the 2 of them there was only one vaguely ‘jazzy’ artist mentioned. In a clear conflict of interest the outreach guy is in fact local dj turntablist DJ Hunnicut.

    So if we remove all the blatant non jazz (indie rockers folkies rappers hip hopsters etc) our choices are shocking limited.

    Within that frame work I recommend
    Trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Piano Duo/ Husband and Wife Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, Crooner Kenny Coleman with Ron Paley, Toronto Drummer Terry Clarke’s band with Don Thompson on bass. My favourite Canadian jazz singer is Ranee Lee and she is here this year. Normally I don’t recommend the local talent as we can see them anytime but Bassist and Jazz educator of the year (2009) Steve Hamilton is fronting a trio playing his original compositions. In the “non jazz but vaguely related section” I recommend Raul Midon. He does the banging right hand guitar style made famous in August Rush and while harmonically limited and stylistically narrow he has a nice voice and instead of soloing on the guitar or scat singing he does some pretty convincing faux trumpet solos with his mouth alone. And opening slot should be the right amount of time for his thing.

    If you are out at 5:30 there are numerous FREE jazz labs led by some of artists this year Marc Benevento, Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, Terry Clarke trio and Ranee Lee are doing them this year. They are attractive to us musicians but are welcome. I think hearing questions from musicians to better musicians can expose non musicians to another side of what is going on and what to listen for.

    RB ♪♫

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