Vancouver International Jazz Festival. The very words stir something in the soul and excite the senses for what is to come in those most special 10 days of the year: All the unheard sounds to fall in love with and familiar ones to revel in, running into friends old and new, racing from one incredible gig to the next, full of anticipation and hope for another uplifting musical experience. Oh, that all the days of the year could be so action-packed with incredible music from around the world and right here in our backyard. To an extent, they are, as Vancouver, despite (perhaps in spite of?) its size (pop. approx. 1. 8 million), has one of the finest, liveliest jazz and improvised music scenes in the world. Musicians from here, and those who visit and even move here to be part of it, say the musical climate of openness for new experiences and collaborations, combined with an outdoorsy, healthy lifestyle make Vancouver their choice for their creative and leisurely pursuits. That also makes it the ultimate town to have a jazz festival in, and what a jazz festival!
Each year seems to have a prominent thread running through it last year it was heavy on new grooves, the previous year Latin influences reigned. This year’s line-up sees a relatively even mix of straight up, world influenced, new groove, improvisation, modern jazz, blues, and more always more! Major headliners include vocalist Dianne Reeves, the Kenny Werner Trio (who delivered a concert so rapturous at last year’s fest, people are still talking about it, so thank goodness they’re back for another round), Ahmad Jamal, Dave Holland Quintet, Brad Mehldau Trio, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Vienna Art Orchestra, D.D. Jackson Trio, Jane Bunnett, Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell Intercontinental Quartet, Jack DeJohnette & John Surman, Renee Rosnes, Claudia Acuna Quintet, Ken Vandermark’s School Days, Sex Mob, Lucky Peterson Now, those names mentioned in tandem with many other festivals in the world, would constitute the entire line-up. Not here. That is but a small sampling of the variety that is the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. It’s all about packing in as much great music from the local, national, and international scenes as possible in 10 days of dozens of gigs by hundreds of artists.
Unlike many major festivals, VIJF has long incorporated local musicians into its schedule, and this year is no exception. This feast on the local crème de la crème through up-and-comers is a boon for the audience to get a good sampling on the local scene in one fell swoop, and scope out musicians to follow up on the rest of the year. Among those making particular waves this year include Vancouver pianist Chris Gestrin with his new project "Stillpoint". Berklee grad Gestrin’s talents as player, composer and producer have culminated in this invigorating new recording blending acoustic and electronic music for a thrilling trip. His first public performance with this new project is sure to be a highlight of the fest. The saying used to be ‘ask any Vancouver musician who they are most in awe of and the name Brad Turner is likely to come up over and over again’. Turner’s legend is growing far beyond Vancouver’s and even Canada’s borders as tales are told of musicians who have heard and heard of his musical prowess and it’s not without due. A gifted trumpeter, pianist and drummer, Turner’s own modern jazz quartet is always absolutely stellar, and his membership in the electric powerhouse multi-award-winning group Metalwood firmly entrenches his status as THE Vancouver player to watch. Check him out with other fantastic local groups throughout the fest (check your programme thoroughly many musicians appear several times in different groupings). Cellist Peggy Lee, with a background in classical and jazz, and a natural instinct for improvisation, debuted her six-piece Peggy Lee Band three years ago. Deservedly, Lee’s got a number of high-profile gigs this year, including a double bill at the "musicians’ music venue", the Vancouver East Cultural Centre with the D.D. Jackson Trio for her PL Band, and several improv gigs, including one in duo with respected pianist Marilyn Lerner.
Another great tradition in Vancouver during the jazz fest and throughout the year, has musicians from around the world being matched up with locals for oft-memorable gigs. Possibly the great treat of this year’s fest is the Kenny Werner hook-ups with the aforementioned Brad Turner and his quartet members bassist André Lachance and drummer Dylan van der Schyff for a gig at Capilano College, in which Werner will also perform with the college’s acclaimed vocal group NiteCap. Celebrating its 25th year as Vancouver’s premier improvising ensemble is the venerable NOW Orchestra, an organization with a reputation for grand-scale collaborations in concert and on record (Wadada Leo Smith, George Lewis, Barry Guy, Butch Morris). This year, the NOW basks in 25 great years and looks to the future with a performance featuring pianist Marilyn Crispell. Not to be missed is the exciting, one-night-only grouping of French guitarist Marc Ducret with Vancouver’s gripping bassist Chris Tarry, adventurous drummer Dylan van der Schyff, creative clarinetist François Houle and the aforementioned pianist Chris Gestrin an absolutely inspired bill.
As always, the free all-day concerts on the two weekends book-ending the fest are jam-packed with music, much of them to be enjoyed in the great outdoors. Gastown’s two stages at opposite ends of (closed-to-traffic-this-weekend-only!) three-block Water Street have a pied-piper effect, drawing all within earshot in to the energetic scene of music, lively street performers, smells of street food vendors all basking under the June sunshine. Highlights of Gastown include To Be Ornette To Be, featuring saxist Jon Bentley, a Vancouverite living and studying in London for the last year, along with Brad Turner; the newly formed Mike Murley (sax)/Ian Froman (drums) Quartet featuring Toronto trumpeter Kevin Turcotte (which should be absolutely killer); the always mind-blowing Metalwood (it’s a great puzzle and great fun to try to figure out just how this group is always, and I mean always absolutely, totally devastatingly fantastic); and the "Mystery Groove Band", a delicious surprise started last year which spawned days of rumor and festival staff badgering as to ‘who can it be?’, which ultimately did not disappoint. But then, how could the jazzy funk trio of Soulive with guest John Scofield ever disappoint? Expect greatness from this mystery band!
Weekend number two at the Roundhouse is a veritable plethora of music to suit any taste non-stop! Concerts are continuous on three stages, one outdoors in the park, and two indoors (one a closed theatre and the other featuring an open wall opposite the stage and a beer garden!). Must-see’s for the weekend include the achingly beautiful spiritual mood surrounding the Tony Wilson Tentet; the brash and sassy hugeness of John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra; the quiet intensity of the Montreal pianist Bryn Roberts Quartet; the aurally and visually stimulating Talking Pictures; another inspired improv match-up with ex-Vancouverite saxist Rob Armus, his old bandmate, soulful guitarist Tony Wilson, the extreme and unpredictable drummer Han Bennink and Chicago bassist Jason Roebke. In recent years, this wonderful festival has concluded with a blessed holiday Monday on which the July 1 Canada Day national holiday celebrating Canada’s birth is observed, giving a day of recovery after 10 days of jazz feasting before heading back to the regular work week. This year there’s a twist: with the holiday falling on the Monday the usual post-fest day becomes part of the festival, as a full day of music takes is scheduled on five stages at Vancouver’s famous tourist hotspot Granville Island, making this the first 11-day festival and fulfilling widespread wishes that the festival could carry on into the rest of the year.
In between the weekends is an astounding amount of music I’ve barely been able to touch on in this space, so the only thing to do is pick up a programme or get thee to the official website in order to see and believe just how wide the scope. At the official site you’ll find information on the artists, music samples, fest updates, contests, ticket info, and all that you’ll need to make your Vancouver International Jazz Festival experience incredible. 1-888-GET-JAZZ