It's a ritual. Each and every year we await a most longed-for event: Spring, and only secondarily, we wait for it to roll over into Summer in all its temperature-raising glory. And each and every year since I've lived in Vancouver I go through a personal ritual directly related to the weather. I forget what June can be like. That June can be cruelly, unseasonably chilly and even rainy. I think it's a mental block and there's only one thing that could make a jazz fan forget the unpredictability of Vancouver weather: the world's greatest jazz festival. If I stop and think about it, I do believe I look forward to the Vancouver International Jazz Festival more than Summer itself. And with very good reason, and if you'll read on, you'll know just what I mean.
Beginning Friday, June 22 and carrying through to Sunday, July 1, 2001, more than 1600 musicians will play over 300 gigs, and lead over a dozen workshops throughout the days starting around noon, and finishing up the last shows around 2 or 3am. Excited yet? Did I mention that over 1/3 of the gigs and all of the workshops are FREE? Try this: Barbarito Torres, Dave Douglas, Joshua Redman, John Scofield, Terence Blanchard, Kenny Werner, Barry Guy, Tim Berne, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Metalwood, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Sex Mob, Zony Mash, Hank Jones, Curtis Fuller, Gary Bartz, Ray Drummond, Louis Hayes, Cinematic Orchestra, Hard Rubber Orchestra and the NOW Orchestra. Plus a whole lot more.
The trick to making the most of the Vancouver Jazz Fest is in the planning. Programs are available around town and, for those of you not yet arrived, go to the official website to see the entire line-up. Once you have your program in front of you, you can start planning your days, and mapping out your route. You have to take your pursuit of fun kind of seriously, at least in the planning stages.
The beauty of a festival this size and scope is that you have an awful lot of chances to hear some incredible music you wouldn't get access to in such close proximity in such a huge, delicious, smorgasbord feast over 10 days straight! And much of it absolutely free.
While world music, particularly that with Latin roots, continue to have a strong influence on this festival, and jazz and music, in general, a prevalent theme of new groove music is weaving its way through the genre and, as such, the Vancouver Jazz Festival. The festival, produced by Vancouver's Coastal Jazz & Blues Society, has always reflected trends in jazz and its related musics, and been ahead of the curve in many young artists it has presented. In the last few years, the fest has been in-line with the growing popularity - with musicians and fans alike - of young, funky jazz, jam and other types of groove bands, presenting a nightly series at a near-perfect-for-anything venue, Performance Works (on Granville Island). It's chameleon-like in that any kind of music or theatre works well in its just-large-enough yet still intimate environment of hardwood floors, glass walled-sides that open wide, and can be covered with black curtains for nighttime concerts. Set up some tables and chairs, open up the bar, sit back and enjoy! Highlights of the New Groove Series this year include the worthy of the hype Cinematic Orchestra, Vancouver's "nuevo flamenco" Alma Libre, Metalwood, whose fantastic new album features guest turns from John Scofield, Mino Cinelu and DJ Logic, and even without them, would be a monster of new groove jazz, and Broken Soundbarrier featuring cornetist Graham Haynes and the shockingly crafty violinist/violist Eyvind Kang.
More grooves and world-influences to move your feet out from under you are happening at the Commodore Ballroom downtown. Inarguably the biggest night is the bill headlined by the John Scofield Band, and Metalwood with openers Bloomdaddies. There is absolutely no question that this will sell out, so get your tickets soon. Scofield, whose commitment to jazz-funk is lending an elder statesmen credibility to groove/jam music, is bringing Avi Bortnick (rhythm guitar/samplers), Adam Deitch (drums), and Jesse Murphy, a bassist I've heard about from friends in NYC and long wanted to check out. Cinematic Orchestra, the purveyors of a unique brand of self- sampling, looping mix of original ideas previously recorded in live studio sessions, will undoubtedly set the spring-loaded dance floor of the Commodore into motion. Another triple bill of note features Trilok Gurtu Band (mixing Indian and African rhythms and vocals, heavy on creative percussion), NY's dirty funksters Sex Mob, and Wayne Horvitz's Zony Mash.
Down the more straight-ahead path, you'll find an interesting mix of legends and maybe even some legends-in-the making with the major concert series at the Vogue Theatre. Leading the pack is festival favorite, returning after last year's noted absence, for two undoubtedly triumphant gigs. His new Quintet is double-billed with Chris Potter's Quartet, and has been dubbed his most accessible project yet. (For those of you who favor Douglas' more out leanings, don't fret, he's set for an evening of improvisation with bassist Barre Phillips, clarinetist Louis Sclavis and percussionist Dylan van der Schyff, which is expected to be utterly astounding, and some unrealistic expectations, with players of this calibre it will not disappoint.) Also making Vogue Theatre appearances are Hank Jones, Curtis Fuller, Gary Bartz, Ray Drummond and Louis Hayes under the Legends of the Bandstand header. Joshua Redman's Quartet will delight audiences with tunes from his latest disc and the proliferation of young trumpeters like Roy Hargrove and Terence Blanchard is never a bad thing in my books, and they will also undoubtedly wow 'em. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre's your main destination for more heady, brain-stupefying improv and free jazz, with the Steve Lacy Quintet, Barry Guy's New Orchestra, Hard Rubber Orchestra, Paul Plimley/Barre Phillips/Donald Robinson, Mark Turner/Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet, and Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black performances being highlights of this series.
The very far out stuff happens, as usual, at the Western Front, with 5:30pm performances worth foregoing dinner for, including intense German pianist Georg Graewe, the Italian December Thirty Jazz Trio, and an improv meeting of players from Europe and Vancouver with Achim Kaufmann/Ron Samworth, Wilbert de Joode/Dylan van der Schyff. Bringing together improvisers from around the world, including many fantastic musicians from right here in Vancouver is one of the highlights of the festival, and with many of this type of show being free, is a rare opportunity for those whose bent hasn't 'bent that far' to check this kind of music out. Some of it is very strange, sometimes it doesn't work, but more often than not, due largely to the experience, commitment and creativity of these players who are among the best of their homelands, most will find something in each performance to open their ears and mind to, if even just a little.
Many of the fest's freebies include the wealth of local jazz from our very own Vancouver. Considering how few jazz clubs or venues we actually have year-'round, it is a constant source of amazement that we have the number and quality of players we do. But we do, and for this, we are grateful. The city's premiere jazz club, The Cellar, features some great gigs, including an intimate club gig by the Bloomdaddies, the fiery hard bop swing of pianist/trombonist Hugh Fraser's Quintet, tenor saxist Mike Allen's Trio with guest guitarist Oliver Gannon in a show that should absolutely smoke, the always charming and inventive Kate Hammett-Vaugan Quintet, and two (!) nights with the Mark Turner/Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet. A few recently new venues popped up and figure into the club schedule for the fest, including the Fox & Firkin, and Zev's, both in the Vancouver's West End, and the official fest hotel, the Metropolitan Hotel's Diva at the Met restaurant/lounge will for the first time this year, feature an almost nightly series of jams where the fest musicians are invited to drop by and join in. This is an element of the fest that has tried to organically happen, with not much success, from time-to-time, particularly at the very laidback, cool hang of Studio 16's midnight performances. Hope this one takes off!
The free weekends bookending the fest are always much-anticipated for the variety of music, and street-party vibe and atmosphere they bring. Saturday, June 23-Sunday, June 24, the fest takes over several blocks of Water Street in tourist mecca Gastown for performances on two stages at either end of the street. Highlights include my personal fave local band, the electric, trippy, decidedly modern but rooted in tradition sounds of Diversions, and, carrying on the groove bent of late, Backseat Betty.
Can you guess? Yes, an homage to the electric music of Miles Davis, circa 1969-74 - a veritable supergroup made up of nine players hot out of the Vancouver scene. Not to be missed - this group played ONE concert last year to a packed, stoked, stunned house.
Imagine it out in the public, under the sun, sweltering, swaying, heaving, pounding. Oh ya. Those almost ubiquitous Bloomdaddies take to the free stage on Sunday, not long after longtime fave funksters Crash and the pure-voiced Susie Arioli Swing Band takes the stage. An unnamed "Mystery Groove Band" closes out the Gastown Series, and my 20 bucks is on the John Scofield Band, which headlines the next evening at the Commodore.
The following weekend which wraps up the fest (sniff! No, not yet!) includes a few dozen plus gigs and workshops all happening at the Roundhouse Community Centre in the Yaletown district. It's a delightful scene with an outdoor stage, an indoor theater, and in indoor concert hall complete with a bar on one side.
Who could ask for anything more? Decent food booths, souvenirs, an on-site record store, a huge grass lawn to park on. That's the life! Concert highlights include the 15-piece improvising monster, the NOW Orchestra, December Thirty Jazz Trio, the Al Matheson Nonet, Uri Caine Trio, Zony Mash, the Tony Wilson Nonet (featuring Vancouver's most creative improvisers) and workshops by Wayne Horvitz, Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black, and Louis Slavis. All for free.
So, what are you waiting for? Go grab your program, get surfing, rest up and get ready for the best 10 days of your year - rain or shine!
Festival Host Hotel: Metropolitan Hotel, Jazz Festival rates as low as CA $169.00/US$117.00*
To reserve e-mail
or phone 1-800-667-2300
*Room and rates subject to availability, exchange rates subject to currency fluctuations, based on single/double occupancy, Jazz Festival rate available with presentation of Jazz Festival tickets upon check-in.