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Who requested Stormy Weather?

Rain provided some sour notes for 11th jazz fest, but indoor shows were hopping

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Into each life some rain must fall, some days must be dark and dreary.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


The American poet, who died in 1882, wasn't writing about this month's 25th Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, but he might as well have been.

The 11-day music fest, June 12-22, saw rain spoil about half the free outdoor concerts in Old Market Square that mark the opening weekend.

It was Paul Nolin's 11th year as Jazz Winnipeg's executive producer -- "I had 10 years of pretty good weather," he said shortly after the fest ended.

A lot of longtime festival workers told him they hadn't ever seen weather as bad as this year, Nolin says.

Thursday night and Friday shows went off, but Saturday concerts had to be shut down at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday was cancelled altogether.

And while it's a depressing way to start a landmark festival, Nolin is confident the festival will be in the black once the numbers have been crunched.

Strong theatre and club series attendance and enhanced grants "provide us with some resilience," Nolin says.

But even there, the festival had to cancel a theatre series show when pianist Ellis Marsalis couldn't make it to Winnipeg from New Orleans because of cancelled flights.

"It was an artistic disappointment more than a financial blow," Nolin says.

"We'll take a hit for sure (because of costs associated with preparing for the show), but a greater loss is the loss of a strong name in the lineup," he says.

Jazz Winnipeg had a couple of fundraising successes this year, Nolin added. The Winnipeg Foundation, which has funded individual initiatives in the past, gave general support to the festival this year. An increased contribution from Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries also helped.

"We're a small operation," Nolin says, "and it takes a few weeks to get everything through accounting."

However, Nolin who describes himself as an inveterate worrier, adds, "I'm not losing sleep right now."

Ticket sales for the non-jazz shows at the Burton Cummings Theatre were strong, he said, and he was happy with the MTC series that hosted the main jazz concerts.

The festival also has a bit of an accumulated surplus as a fallback, he added.

"I feel we'll sneak by," Nolin says.

-- -- --

Jazz festivals are more fun for fans, who don't have to fret over weather, ticket sales and other fiscal matters.

There are so many mainstage, club and outdoor concerts to choose from -- perhaps too many.

It sounds hypocritical, I know, to complain about not being able to see every act I wanted to even as I was able to review top theatre series shows like Winnipeg/New York drummer Curtis Nowosad, blues legend James Cotton, Grammy-winning singer Gregory Porter and Afro-Cuban jazz great Arturo Sandoval.

I was looking forward to the Ellis Marsalis concert, the pianist/educator who had such an impact not only on his musical sons Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, but also on former students such as Harry Connick Jr. and former Winnipegger Glenn Patscha.

But his cancellation did give me a chance to see and hear pianist/singer Laila Biali, whose quartet included one of Canada's best saxophonists, Phil Dwyer.

Dwyer is busy performing on the summer jazz circuit, but that show is likely the last time Winnipeggers will get to hear him play in a long time. In the fall, he enters law school, which will put a damper on his performing time.

Singer Gregory Porter was a treat, a five-star review treat, for his singing and for the band he fronted at his MTC show. Saxophonist Yohsuke Satoh, whom I've heard on Porter recordings, was fabulous onstage.

It wasn't all success, however. I missed Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett's new band of young, female Cuban musicians, Maqueque. And I missed Montreal saxophonist Joel Miller, whose recordings I like and who I wanted to hear perform.

In fact, there were countless club shows I would have liked to see, but that's a jazz festival for you. For some reason, they are never programmed just to meet my desires.

Was there a show you caught that really lit up your life? A venue that really felt right for the music? A show you really wanted to see, but missed because of scheduling conflicts?

Let me know at the email address below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2014 C16

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