Jazz as we know it grew out of the musical and cultural mélange of New Orleans and it is fitting that there is a strong Crescent City flavour at this year's TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, fuelled by brass instruments, especially the trombone.
The Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet, fronted by the trombone-playing brother of the famous New Orleans jazz clan, opens the theatre concert series on Monday at the West End Cultural Centre. He's presenting a pared down version of his Sweet Thunder, a reworking of Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder suite based on Shakespearean characters and themes.
Trombone Shorty (a.k.a. Troy Andrews) brings his version of the Big Easy -- jazz, R&B, funk and just plain old party -- to the stage of the Burton Cummings Theatre, June 21. Shorty's show at last year's festival was a success and that he's been booked into a larger venue this year reflects his growing popularity.
Toronto-based The Heavyweights Brass Band offers a mash-up of traditional New Orleans brass band, originals and pop tunes. Catch former Winnipeggers trombonist Chris Butcher and saxophonist Paul Metcalfe, June 17 and 18, in Old Market Square, and June 18 at Le Garage Café.
Festival executive producer Paul Nolin says his intention was to "book artists that will excite the public" and he doesn't think of programming in terms of themes so the New Orleans connection was serendipitous for this year's fest, which runs through June 23.
Trombone Shorty sold out a week or two before last year's WECC show, Nolin said, and strong ticket sales this year prove he was right in booking Shorty again, and putting him into the Burt. "He's like Pink Martini and Jesse Cook, Winnipeggers can't get enough of him," Nolin said.
Pianist Ramsey Lewis is widely known for his acoustic and electric jazz playing, but also for crossover hits The In Crowd and Wade in the Water. Expect to hear those tunes, new compositions for an upcoming recording along with music from his hit electric album Sun Goddess when his quintet performs June 22 at the Burt.
Nolin says he likes to book a legend like Lewis for the traditionalist fans, although Lewis's new electric band isn't bound by the past.
One of the best bands at this year's fest -- the Vijay Iyer Trio -- is booked into a smaller venue at the new Aqua Books location (at 123 Princess St.), which holds 140 people.
Iyer is a terrific pianist -- one of the best of his generation -- and his new trio recording, Accelerando, is great. Expect to hear some music from it and from some lesser-known but exceptional jazz composers when the band performs June 23 at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Nolin strives for balance between acts like Iyer, who looks forward in his music and the elder statesman Lewis.
Iyer performed at the festival a few years ago when "he was not quite as far along in his career as now," Nolin says, adding "Vijay's show will be transformative."
On June 20, the inventive jazz singer Gretchen Parlato performs at the WECC. The engaging songstress has performed in Winnipeg before on a gig with guitarist Lionel Loueke, but this will be the first solo show.
Nolin says ticket sales overall are going quite well, but "I'm a greedy guy; I'd always like more."
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When Icelandic guitarist Bjõrn Thoroddsen hits town he likes to make good use of his time. He'll perform three times during the festival, including a CD release show for the new recording he and Winnipeg trumpeter Richard Gillis have recorded.
Gillis has arranged for Thoroddsen to visit Winnipeg many times and he has visited Iceland and the two have become friends and musical colleagues. They'll release Morgana's Revenge on June 18 at Juss Jazz (see CD review on G4).
Thoroddsen also will perform on June 20 with the Tim Butler Trio at Le Garage and June 21 as the guest artist with the High School Honour Jazz band show at WECC. And knowing Thoroddsen, he'll show up playing somewhere else, too.
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Musical legends get the tribute treatment this year.
Shine On: The Universe of John Lennon, June 19, WECC, features Lennon tunes from the Beatles and his solo career arranged by Toronto guitarist Michael Occhipinti and performed by singers Yvette Tollar, Dominic Mancuso and Elizabeth Shepherd, drummer Mark Kelso, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, bassist Roberto Occhipinti and Michael Occhipinti.
The project began as part of a December 2010 concert to mark the 30th anniversary of Lennon's death and the band will release a CD in July.
Four top Montreal musicians -- bassist Michel Donato, pianist Franßois Bourassa, saxophonist Frank Lozano and drummer Pierre Tanguay -- share a passion for the music of the late great pianist Bill Evans, at a 9 p.m., June 21 concert at Aqua Books.
Winnipeg's Lucas Sader Project performs a tribute to the much heralded 1960s Miles Davis Quintet, easily one of the greatest groups in modern jazz history.
Drummer Sader debuted this project in January and its performance June 22 at Aqua will be recorded by Winnipeg guitarist and recording engineer Larry Roy for a CD.
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Jazz has a history of established musicians helping younger players hone their skills and the fest offers free TD Jazz Labs for this to happen: Delfeayo Marsalis (June 18), drummer Mark Kelso (June 19), blues guitarist and organist Lucky Peterson (June 20), saxophonist Frank Lozano and pianist Franßois Bourassa (June 21), and guitarist Henry Johnson (June 22) at the Manitoba Conservatory of Music & Arts, 5:30 p.m. The Vijay Iyer Trio will hold a free workshop June 23, 5:30 p.m., at Aqua.
Many fans also enjoy hearing the musicians play and talk about their approach to music in a more intimate, informal setting.
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The Winnipeg Free Press News Café is hosting club shows again this year: Helen White and Friends, June 18; Monika Wall, June 19; Rosemarie Todaschuk, June 20; Collage-A-Trois, June 21; Jodie Borlé, June 22; and the Walle Larsson Band, June 23.
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Main shows, which also include Booker T. Jones of Booker T and the MGs fame, and The Hold Steady, run June 18-23 at the WECC and the Burt. Club shows run at various locations all week and the free opening weekend shows at Old Market Square started Thursday and continue today and Sunday. Ticket information is available at jazzwinnipeg.com.
Chris Smith's Top 3 picks:
1. Vijay Iyer
2. Delfeayo Marsalis
3. Ramsey Lewis
Paul Nolin's Top 3 picks:
1. Vijay Iyer
2. Ramsey Lewis
3. (Tie) Gretchen Parlato or Franßois Bourassa