JazzYYC hopes to bring new ears to the genre with summer festival

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Grammy-winning musicians Cuban pianist Hilario Durán and Snarky Puppy percussionist Larnell Lewis,  guitarist Jocelyn Gould, singer-songwriter and pianist Laila Biali and Canadian-born, New York-based pianist Andy Milne will be among the heavy hitters performing this year at the TD JazzYYC Summer Festival, offering a lineup that organizers hope will bring fresh ears to the genre in Calgary.

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“I’m not trying to preach to the converted with jazz,” says Kodi Hutchinson, artistic director of JazzYYC. “We’ve got lots of jazz coming that if you’re a jazz fan you’re going to be super happy. But I’ve always wanted to give a wide range of music so people can discover what they like. If they’re new to it, they might see something in the lineup and say, ‘That looks cool. That looks like something I’d like.’”

The festival, which runs in various venues until July 3, will feature an international roster of talent. But there does seem to be a focus on Canadians or Canadian ex-pats. In fact, Hutchinson jokes it’s been dubbed the “Juno Festival” this year because so many in the lineup have earned trophies over the years from the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for their contributions to jazz.

Gould, Biali and Andy Milne & Unison will play The Festival Hall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, respectively. Festival headliners, The Larnell Lewis Band featuring Joy Lapps will perform at the Central Library on Saturday.

Lewis may be best-known as the percussionist for Grammy-winning American jazz fusion ensemble Snarky Puppy. Lapps, his wife, is a composer and master steel pan player. The show will explore Afro and Latin-Caribbean jazz, R&B and soul.

Clarence Penn, Andy Milne and John Hebert. Photo by Anna Yaskevich
Clarence Penn, Andy Milne and John Hebert. Photo by Anna Yaskevich jpg

Milne, who is now based in New York, was mentored by Oscar Peterson. The latest album by Andy Milne & Unison, 2021’s reMission, picked up the Juno Award for Jazz Album of the Year by a group.

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Other highlights include The Heavyweights Brass Band, a Toronto-based outfit specializing in New Orleans-styled brass, who play The Ironwood Stage and Grill on Friday.

Kristian Alexandrov, a Bulgarian-born, Calgary-based pianist and composer and former music director for both trumpeter Jens Lindemann and Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, will perform with his trio, singer-percussionist Shannon Gaye and dancer and choreographer Tasha Lawson, on Thursday at Asylum for Art.

ES:MO, a duo featuring vocalist-pianist Elizabeth Shepherd and guitarist Michael Occhipinti will perform singer-songwriter fare that recalls Bruce Cockburn, play Saturday at the Ironwood.

Pianist Hilario Durán, who is based in Toronto but grew up in Havana, will be part of a double bill alongside Calgary-based singer Tim Tamashiro on Saturday at Asylum for Art. Duran will also hold a Cuban piano workshop earlier that day at Asylum for Art.

On Sunday, the festival will feature the day-long JazzWalk at Jack Long Park, a free program that will feature the Simone Lutzko Quartet, Juno-nominated Calgary soul-jazz singer Joanna Borromeo, Durán, a “surprise band” at 5:45 p.m. and VOLK, a Calgary jazz supergroup led by trombonist Carsten Rubeling and featuring trumpet player André Wickenheiser, keyboardist Steve Fletcher, bassist Steve Shepard and drummer Steve Jackson.

“VOLK is the coolest band that people don’t know about in Canada and I suspect they are going to be touring soon because their Spotify streams tell me they are definitely hitting their market,” Hutchinson says. “Carsten Rubeling put the project together because he wanted to connect with 20-somethings with jazz.”

Hutchinson says there is at least anecdotal evidence that the festival has been doing its job turning the curious but uninitiated into jazz fans.

“In 2019, the number of tickets we sold said to me that it couldn’t be just jazz fans,” Hutchinson says. “We did a reduced festival last summer that was more Alberta in scope. But when I looked at our outdoor stage especially, the number of people who I’ve never seen in my life — like hundreds of people — were out. ”

The TD JazzYYC Summer Festival runs until July 3. Visit jazzyyc.com

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