Although the TD Canada Trust Vancouver Jazz Festival has grown considerably since its debut 26 years ago, its organizers insist that not much has changed.
“When people ask me what’s new, I say that there are new musicians each year, but the mandate, the mission, is always going to be the same,” says John Orysik, media director for the Coastal Jazz & Blues Society. He adds that the festival’s mission is “to connect artists and audiences to the real power and beauty that jazz and improvised music provides.”
Coastal Jazz has been running the festival since 1986, which instantly made a big splash by featuring legendary musicians Miles Davis and Tito Puente. Since then, the festival has grown both in size, and in international reputation. It’s now the biggest musical festival in British Columbia, and this year’s festival will feature over 1800 musicians from both Vancouver and around the world, in 400 performances at 40 venues across the city.
Multiculturalism has been a mainstay of Vancouver’s festival since the very beginning. The festival’s commitment to international musical diversity is probably it’s premier claim to fame.
“(Multiculturalism) has been a given with us since day one,” says Orysik, “jazz by it’s very nature is multicultural. Although jazz may be a music born out of the black American experience, it’s an adult now. It’s a world traveler.”
Orysik acknowledges that there are difficulties in generating interest from western audiences in lesser known artists from across the globe, but says that the brand of quality the festival has created over the years goes a long way to getting audiences to trust the organizer’s choices.
He says audiences know what to expect from the festival, suggesting that, “if you come to the jazz festival, you know you’re going to have a high caliber experience. You’re going to hear music of value. You’re going to hear music you’ve never heard before that can move you in ways that you’ve never been moved before.”
The real strength of any music festival is in its talent, and 2011’s line-up is flexing its considerable muscle. There’s something for everybody, with pretty much every genre of music being covered. Some of the bigger names headlining this year’s festival include American stars like Wynton Marsalis, Lucinda Willliams and Steve Earle, Canadian blues icon Colin James, and French-American singer Madeline Peyroux. Spanish guitar virtuoso Paco De Lucia, and New Orleans superstar-in-the-making Trombone Shorty will be two of the other hot tickets at this year’s festival.
Vancouver’s own prestigous jazz scene gets plenty of coverage, with local mainstays like Gordon Grdina, Brad Turner, Sharon Minemoto, Paul Plimley, and many others getting ample exposure. In addition, former Vancouver residents who have long since moved to other parts of the world are back as well, with Darcy James Argue and Michael Blake snagging high profile gigs this year.
The festival’s commitment to improvised and avant-garde music remains strong, with artists as diverse as Norway and Sweden’s Atomic, Canada’s Colin Stetson, the UK’s John Butcher, Japan’s Satoki Fuji, France’s Jean-Michel Pilc, and Switzerland’s explosive Peter Brötzmann, being only a few of the dozens of adventurous souls from across the globe that will be tearing up Vancouver stages at the end of June.
Although going to this many concerts sounds like a drain on the wallet, new initiatives like the festival’s Hopper Pass, and the over 100 free concerts that are part of this year’s line-up are specifically designed to engage as many concert goers as possible.
“The opportunity to really participate in the festival is really high,” says Orysik, “a lot of people like to sample parts, and this way they’ll really be able to dig in and…sample the whole range of human expression from all over the world.”
The festival runs from June 24–July 3 at venues all across the city, and the full line-up can be found at www.coastaljazz.ca.