There are musical gems throughout the lineup of the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival; some right in your face on the mainstage, others in smaller venues, but all worth the effort to seek them out.
Obvious choices for some exciting jazz during the June 13-23 fest include saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa (June 17), singer Patricia Barber (June 18) and U.K. saxophonist Courtney Pine (June 22).
If you like singers, there are Bettye LaVette (June 19), Jane Monheit (June 21), Barber, and Montreal's Coral Egan, who performs two sets June 20 at the Winnipeg Free Press News Caf©.
Egan has a nice jazz/pop sound and will sound great in the intimate setting of the News Caf©.
Having three singers in the mainstage lineup was more of a happy coincidence than a master plan, Jazz Winnipeg executive producer Paul Nolin says. But he calls Barber, LaVette, and Monheit "distinctive, stylishly unique singers."
The festival mainstage always includes an act or two off the beaten jazz path, and this year that means: The Roots (June 22), the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop outfit known for its house band gig on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; and guitar great George Benson.
The guitarist, who closes out the festival on June 23, has faced criticism over the years for moving from his jazz roots to a popular R&B sound. Not that he or his accountants regret the move.
"I haven't heard any pushback on him as not being jazzy enough," Nolin says. "Lots of people coming into the office for tickets are pleased to see him. He's a real entertainer, a quality player."
Benson's show will be more of a general show for Winnipeg, Nolin says. Benson's new recording -- Inspiration, A Tribute to Nat King Cole -- requires a full orchestra and his June 23 concert at the Burton Cummings Theatre will be with an octet, Nolin adds.
If you like to catch jazz stars in the making, teenage bassist Devon Gillingham performs June 22 at the Cube Lounge.
Gillingham, who is just finishing high school, won this year's Jazz at Lincoln Center Essentially Ellington composition contest with his piece Remember Me, which was recorded by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra last month.
Gillingham has been accepted into the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. This is a chance to say you knew him when.
Jazz Winnipeg wants more of a festival, party atmosphere in the Old Market Square area and, accordingly, has concentrated more club shows there -- at the King's Head Pub, Rachel Browne Theatre, Cinematheque and Winnipeg Free Press News Caf© -- as well as the free opening weekend that runs June 13-16 in Old Market Square.
New this year is what the fest organizers call the Cube Lounge, a fenced-off area around the Cube stage in the square, that will offer traditional jazz by local musicians on Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22, in contrast to the opening weekend's more eclectic mix.
Entry to the lounge area (for a $10 fee or to pass holders) includes access to beer and wine service. Patrons will be able to see the stage from inside the low-fenced area.
Concentrating more activity near Old Market Square came from audience feedback about the distance between venues, Nolin said, and Jazz Winnipeg board members and staff held a strategy session to address it.
Ticket sales are consistent with other years, Nolin says, "but it's in my nature to fret." With the late spring, people were slow to click that festival season was here, he adds, but it is picking up.
Mainstage shows include: Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak, June 17, West End Cultural Centre; Patricia Barber Quartet, June 18, WECC; Bettye LaVette, June 19, Burton Cummings Theatre; Preservation Hall Jazz Band, June 20, the Burt; Jane Monheit, June 21, the Burt; The Roots, June 22, Centennial Concert Hall; Courtney Pine, June 22, WECC; and George Benson, June 23, the Burt.
Tickets for the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, which runs June 13-23, are available at jazzwinnipeg.com, 204-989-4656 and at the Jazz Winnipeg office (007-100 Arthur St.). Tickets for Burton Cummings Theatre and Centennial Concert Hall shows are also available at Ticketmaster.