Winnipeg Jazz Festival

Winnipeg Jazz Festival

A note from Jamie Howison – This is the time of the year that I often take the liberty of posting a few recommendations for shows worth seeing at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival. Fully aware that not everyone will share my sense that jazz music has the potential to both celebrate human creativity and also – at least occasionally – 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.

First of all, I’d have to say that after a couple of years in which the festival program was a bit thin on serious jazz, this year marks a real return to form, particularly with the featured and main stage shows. Of those, I’m happy to recommend the following:

  • Fred Hersch will offer up a more experimental take on the piano trio on Monday June 15, 8:00 PM at Maw’s Beer Hall; a rare opportunity for Winnipegers to see someone of this calibre in a club setting. As far as I’m concerned, this is probably the real gem of the festival. There’s a great article on Hersch in the New York Times Magazine, retelling the story of his recovery from AIDS-related dementia that landed him in a two-month coma back in 2008. To my ears there’s a very real sense in which Hersch’s playing is informed by that confrontation with mortality and death…  if you’re thinking of attending any of the festival shows I’d encourage you to read that New York Times piece and then see if there are any tickets still available.
Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch

  • Kenny Barron is bringing a trio that is one of the truly great piano trios currently at work. I saw them at the Village Vanguard in New York back in 2007, and didn’t hesitate to scoop up my tickets for this show. Friday June 19 at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.
  • The distinguished bass player Dave Holland is bringing an amazing quartet for a June 20 show at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. With guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Chris Potter, and drummer Eric Harland, this one will push the edges more than just a bit… which is just fine in my books.

In keeping with a tradition of featuring some blues and gospel music as part of the festival, this year’s offerings are more than a just a little stellar:

  • Bluesman Buddy Guy is appearing at the Burton Cummings Theatre on Wednesday June 17, and while this is the priciest event of the festival ($49.50 – $79.50, plus those annoying Ticketmaster fees), it also means seeing one of the living legends of the blues in a great live music theatre.
  • Mavis Staples is on at the Manitoba Theatre Centre on Thursday June 18, and in the world of gospel you simply can’t do any better than this show. From her days with the legendary family group The Staples Singers right through her 2013 album One True Vine album, she’s been a remarkable force. Now 76 years old, this is quite likely the last time a tour will bring her through our city.
Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples

There are some other pretty impressive looking feature shows, including one by the Grammy award-winning singer-composer-bassist Esperanza Spalding, a bass player with some serious jazz credentials. She’s bringing her newest project – Emily’s D+Evolution – which looks like something of a departure from her more straight-ahead jazz work, but she’s such a solid and creative character it will surely appeal to fans of her 2011 Grammy winning Chamber Music Society album.

Jimmy Greene will also be back in the city, fronting a quartet that includes former Winnipegger Luke Sellick on bass, and performing two June 18 shows at Maw’s Beer Hall. Much of the music that night will be from his recent Beautiful Life album, which celebrates and commemorates the life of his 6-year-old daughter Ana, who was killed in the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut shootings.

And as for the free events held in Old Market Square, I’d definitely recommend the Dirty Catfish Brass Band (Thursday June 11, 9:30pm) for their truly infectious and spirited take on New Orleans style brass music. That whole evening is actually rather solid, and winds up with perennial festival favourite, Moses Mayes.

I’d also recommend the June 12 performance by Mariachi Ghost, for whom our own Adam Kroeker plays bass. That evening is all Latin music, and I’m thinking that this 10:15pm Mariachi Ghost set will be the one that really stands out.

Add to that a slate of affordable club shows by a wide range of artists, and it is looking to be a great festival.

Jamie Howison

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