Not talkin’ ‘bout Montreal

Diverse line-up characterizes 21st annual Winnipeg International Jazz Festival

  • Acclaimed hip-hop group The Roots headline the 2010 TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival during some time off from their gig as house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. – Jazz Winnipeg

Kicking off this year’s summer festival season, the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival commences with a variety of traditional and modern artists from Wednesday, June 23 to Sunday, July 4.

More than 75 acts from around the world will perform at nine different venues. But how does Winnipeg stack up to other jazz festivals in Canada?

Many describe Montreal’s festival as the best in the world, yet there are still advantages to staying home this summer.

Montreal makes use of French lyricists and local music school graduates, just as Winnipeg’s roster includes local acts that reflect our culture and community.

It blends young talent with veterans and mentors, like local DJ Kasm, who co-hosts the city’s longest running DJ show, CKUW’s “Quadrafunk.” Helen White incorporates British pop and folk into her latest album, while teaching at Quest Musique and the Portage Conservatory of Music.

Other local acts include the Manitoba High School Big Band, who will appear with pianist Francois Bourassa, 1985 winner of Montreal’s new talent competition. Hailing mostly from the University of Manitoba’s jazz program, Retro Rhythm Review’s musicians and vocalists reinterpret classic ‘60s and ‘70s soul and funk.

“One of the great opportunities we afford to these artists is the exposure because of the marketing of the jazz festival,” says Paul Nolin, the festival’s executive director. “I think it really elevates their profile in the community.”

One of the great opportunities we afford to (local) artists is the exposure because of the marketing of the jazz festival. I think it really elevates their profile in the community.

Paul Nolin, Jazz Winnipeg Festival executive director

This year’s festival also offers headliners traveling to Montreal like Grammy-winning group The Roots. The Marco Benevento Trio will play Winnipeg before they appear out east. And local guitarist Keith Price, another student of Steve Kirby’s jazz program, plays the Montreal festival for the first time.

“It’s good exposure,” Price says. “There’s a little bit of prestige also in playing at the Montreal festival.”

Still, there’s no place like home.

“We’ve played the Winnipeg festival the last couple years in a row and it’s (been) really good to give us a chance to grow and play in bigger concert settings,” Price says.

Other notable jazz acts appearing at the festival include the Roy Hargrove Quintet and the Steve Hamilton Trio. Mix in hip-hop acts like Buck 65 and indie darlings Deerhoof, Great Lake Swimmers and Martha Wainwright, and you’ve got one diverse festival.

It’s easy to get close and interact with hip-hop acts Shad, The Lytics or Sugar and Gold’s disco funk at intimate club spaces like the Pyramid Cabaret or King’s Head Pub. Or you can also take advantage of the free outdoor concerts at Old Market Square.

“It happens at a great time of year when everyone wants to be outside. The atmosphere is great because there aren’t many festivals in Winnipeg so when one happens, everyone comes out,” Price says.

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Published in Volume 64, Number 26 of The Uniter (May 27, 2010)

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