By Lisa Manfield
Canada Day long weekend to most people means donning something red and white, partaking in some outdoor eats, and perhaps watching the fireworks. For me, it’s also always included some time lounging on a blanket at David Lam Park surrounded by the sultry sounds of jazz floating lightly on the summer breeze.
This summer, the Vancouver International Jazz Festival marks its 33rd year with performances starting June 22 and running through July 1. It’s become the biggest music festival in B.C., featuring 1,800 artists and 300 concerts at 35 indoor and outdoor venues.
With over 150 free shows, it’s easy to catch some jazz in passing or to settle in for an afternoon in the park, but it’s also nice to be more intentional with your music picks. To that end, I chatted with the Jazz Fest’s co-founder and media director John Orysik to get the scoop on the hottest happenings this year.
The free shows
If you’re interested in the Jazz Fest but aren’t sure where to begin, Orysik suggests hitting up a free concert first. “People can come, hear music without cost, see what’s going on on-stage, and then start digging deeper into genres they want to know about.”
Free concerts take place downtown at Robson Square, at David Lam Park and the Roundhouse Community Centre, and on Granville Island. “One band I’m really excited to hear is Alsarah and the Nubatones,” Orysik says. “It’s Nubian pop music, originally from Sudan and now based in Brooklyn.”
The big names
If you’re into big-name artists, you should start with the festival’s Marquee series. Feature artists include Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters, Macy Grey, and Kamasi Washington.
“Washington represents the younger demographic,” Orysik says. “He’s coming out of the jazz tradition but is very much conversant with the hip hop scene and brings this heady mix together.”
The ticketed shows
If you’re ready to slap down some cash for a ticketed concert, Orysik says there’s something for everyone. For those who love to dance, try the Spanish Harlem Orchestra at the Vogue. “If you’re into salsa, they’re at the top of the game,” he says. “We’ve eliminated a number of rows at the Vogue for dancing.”
If you prefer something more traditional, check out the Roberta Gambarini Quartette at Pyatt Hall. Meanwhile, the Imperial series offers something that might appeal to younger audiences. “Cherry Glazerr, Knower, and Sons of Kemet from England — one of hottest saxophonists in the world leads this band. It’s a great portal for the younger demographic.”
And if you want something more casual, you can head to Frankie’s Jazz Club, a venue operated year-round by the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, for some after-party jam sessions. “All the musicians from the festival come there to jam,” Orysik says. “You’ll get to see a once-in-a-lifetime performance.”
Whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed an international, cutting edge musical experience. “What makes jazz such a great musical genre is that it has absorbed so many cultural elements from around the world,” says Orysik. “Not only do we represent traditional jazz, but also the cutting edge. Apart from entertaining people, part of it is to create epiphanies. The festival is designed to lead to deeper investigations of music.”