Calgary jazz swinging into full gear

By Courtenay Adams

It’s summertime and the living is easy. Cats are scatting and the beatniks are high. The saxes are sweet and the pianos are cooking. The jazz is raging, so festival season must be nigh. It’s time for Calgarians to reacquaint themselves with the city’s live music scene as the Calgary Jazz Fest rolls into town June 24. This year, the festival welcomes such legends as Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis and Maceo Parker and stirs in some incredible local talent.

Executive director of the event Patrick Maiani explains that the relationship forged with Jazz Festivals Canada, an organization operating in several of Canada’s major cities, helped attract acts. The organization arranges concert dates and transportation for a plethora of jazz acts, large and small, that wish to tour the country. Maiani says the network provides new blood to an already well-established festival and opportunities for Calgary’s undiscovered talent.

“Now that we’re working with [the network] more, we can get some of our local guys touring in the other festivals,” he says. “They get more radio airplay, they sell more CDs. We try and be a catalyst and support the scene in making these things happen or in helping to promote what is happening so that it is successful.”

Calgarians Allistair Elliott, performing with Naturally 7, and Johanna Sillanpaa, performing with Beady Belle, are just some of the festival’s budding artists. Maiani notes that when local artists are able to perform with such internationally acclaimed performers, the benefits run both ways.

“[Allistair] has a good following and Naturally 7 has a good following, so put the two of them together, it makes them stronger,” he explains. “Johanna Sillanpaa is another example. She’s playing with Beady Belle, her idol, but she brings her audience to the Beady Belle show.”

The mix-up of legend and local offers eclectic musical styles, to say the least. Maiani acknowledges that, though the hardcore older fans would likely show up for the well-known and highly revered fast-finger frenzy of pianist Brubeck, the event is by no means limited to any narrow notion of what jazz is or should be. In fact, he says, the notion of attending live jazz music is often falsely stereotyped as something more attractive to an older crowd.

“In some ways, parents know these musicians because they grew up with them,” he says. “Back in the ’50s, jazz was the bad boys’ music. You had the white kids going to the black music clubs to hear this music in [the black boys’] part of town.”

However, this bad boy nostalgia, he notes, is bound to reassert itself in the younger generations since trends cycle. The festival is hoping to draw a younger crowd, and turn skeptics into jazz fans, by playing on some generational gaps of cultural understanding.

The range of venues also suggests an attempt to accommodate a variety of schedules and students certainly haven’t been forgotten. With several shows at SAIT this year, as well as at a smattering of locations in the core, the festival is readily accessible to anyone with a transit pass.

Availability of tickets, however, may be more touch-and-go. Many of the headliners are already soldout, though festival passes are still available-passholders can get into any show depending on available seating 15 minutes prior to showtime. However, festival organizers are eager to keep last-minute jazz whim-chasers satisfied by having several concomitant shows in areas surrounding the big acts.

In the end, there is no reason to skip out entirely on Jazz Fest 2008 and many reasons to attend. At the very least, according to Maiani, attending the festival is a move towards understanding the evolution of Calgary’s jazz culture on the whole.

“I think we’ve actually got a little bit of everything and that is fairly representative of Calgary’s jazz culture,” he says. “There are people doing avant-garde stuff and people doing mainstream stuff and people doing the standards, people doing a lot of their own writing and contemporary music, going in a lot of directions.”

The Calgary Jazz Festival runs from June 24–29. Check out for information on artists, venues and tickets. You can find our reviews of the festival online next week.

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