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Let the beats begin

Jazz festival prepares to dazzle downtown with legendary acts and lesser-known gems

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/6/2016 (1315 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you see a disproportionate number of musicians wandering around the Exchange District, it can only mean one thing — it’s time to kick off festival season with the 2016 Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.

The free opening weekend begins June 16 in Old Market Square with a quartet of local acts, including Fauxpasfunk and the Noble Thiefs, but the 27th edition of the annual festival has much more up its sleeve as the 11-day event rolls out performances from some of the top jazz artists the world over.

Local songwriter Micah Visser</p>

Local songwriter Micah Visser

"I’m pretty happy with how things are going with the festival and how it’s been received by the public. I think the feedback about the lineup has been really positive — I hope that excitement continues," says Paul Nolin, jazz fest’s executive producer.

This year’s theatre shows are all happening at the Burton Cummings Theatre and will feature a variety of talent from all points on the jazz spectrum, including saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington, R&B up-and-comer Andra Day, Swedish pop trio Peter Bjorn and John and husband-and-wife-led Florida soul-blues group Tedeschi Trucks Band. Hard-edged funk band Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will close out the festival on June 26.

Three ‘under the radar’ shows

It’s easy to get caught up in the big headlining names, but there also must-see musicians performing smaller shows throughout the festival as well.

The first one, Nolin suggests, is Steve Kirby’s Oceanic Jazz Orchestra, which will take the West End Cultural Centre stage on June 24.

"The music he’s composed and put together is incredibly ambitious," says Nolin of the bassist, who is also the director of jazz studies at the University of Manitoba. "It’s not your straight-ahead, classic American jazz. It’s adventurous — there’s components of new music in it.

"I’ve heard some of this stuff, and I’ve been in a room with people listening to this stuff, and everybody stops and is quiet and they lean in… It’s unlike anything Steve has presented in this form in Winnipeg before."

Another artist to note is Amanda Tosoff, a pianist out of Toronto who is playing an intimate show at the Rachel Browne Theatre on June 23. Her project involves a lot of spoken word, which is something "out of the norm" for the more traditional jazz fest audiences, says Nolin.

"She’s wonderfully talented, and the players on this project are also really solid and terrific," he adds.

Saxophonist Tia Fuller</p>

Saxophonist Tia Fuller

Saxophonist Tia Fuller, who plays the West End Cultural Centre June 25, is likely most famous for her stint as part of Beyoncé’s all-female touring band, though she regularly plays with some of the best musicians in jazz today. She’s also sticking around a day after her show to rehearse and perform with the Manitoba High School Honour Jazz Band on June 26, again at the WECC.

"Not only is Tia a great jazz saxophonist, but she’s fronting a nearly all-female quartet (three out of four)," says Nolin, noting the other three musicians are Mini Jones on bass, Shamie Royston on piano and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums. "All of them are serious players."

Free opening weekend

A cast of well-known faces can be seen at this year’s free opening weekend, which runs until June 19, including local acts Moses Mayes, Mariachi Ghost, Papa Mambo and Trio Bembe.

Nolin has also added fresh faces such as Vancouver R&B singer Dawn Pemberton and Côte D’Ivoire-born Winnipeg jazz-soul singer Kelly Bado, as well as locals such as indie-pop act Micah Visser, folk-soul trio New Lightweights and yacht-rockers Middle Coast.

"I try to keep some familiarity there to keep drawing audiences out to go see their favourites, but then I’m also trying to grow audiences for these new, emerging names," says Nolin. "You put them side by side, and hopefully it becomes a showcase audience for those who are coming up."

The opening weekend sets the tone for the rest of the fest, so Nolin is praying Mother Nature keeps the skies clear (the event has been rained out in the past) and that Winnipeggers are energized for the start of festival season.

"Creating an opportunity to make people happy and fill the park and throw a party, that’s a gratifying way to kick things off," he says.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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