It was my honor to travel to Vancouver for a second time to work with the folks at Coastal Jazz on the 2017 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. We were given the opportunity to set up a tent near Robson Square where the festival’s free downtown jazz concerts are (find the free jazz on Granville Island for Canada Day July 1 ), and to emcee a few of the hottest shows on a toasty early Summer weekend in one of North America’s most beautiful cities.
Here are Abe Beeson’s fond memories of his trip to the land of jazz lovers and world-class poutine:
Our first day at the festival began setting up the new KNKX tent on a closed off section of Howe St. next to Robson Square where the festival presented three stages of free jazz for the first weekend.
Down the stairs near the public ice rink (warmed up to something more akin to a roller rink during summer), the Sounds of Youth stage presented by Tom Lee Music is dedicated to some of the finest secondary school jazz combos and big bands in the greater Vancouver area.
I was on hand to introduce the extremely talented young musicians with the Semiahmoo grade 12 jazz band, directed by Kevin Lee.
Mr. Lee was kind enough to select four young musicians from the band to talk to me during my introduction about why they love jazz, and gave us more proof that the Pacific Northwest is a wonderful place to learn about improvisational music and the power of musical teamwork and communication.
These kids are not just great players, they’re smart young people who are making the most of their jazz education, and their band knocked out a fantastic set of complex big band arrangements with great aplomb.
KNKX hopes to bring an all-star combo from Semiahmoo into our studios for a School of Jazz studio session one of these days – stay tuned!
We spent the afternoon greeting more than a few Canadian jazz fans who knew the value of jazz programming on 88.5fm through our nearly half century as KPLU and who are now catching on to KNKX and our worldwide, commercial free, 24-hour online jazz service, Jazz24.org.
Later in the afternoon, I strolled down the block to introduce our friends Sammy Miller and the Congregation. We enjoyed their visit to the KNKX studios this Spring, and they seemed happy to see us in Vancouver, sharing hugs and laughs before taking the stage. After my introduction, my wife and I made our way to the front of the stage, where Sammy got us involved in a bit of joshing during their hysterical update of “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. It’s always a pleasure to see and hear the joy and fun this group produces each time they take the stage.
After dinner, it was off to Ironworks in Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood for an evening concert with the Donny McCaslin Group. Donny had just days earlier performed live on 88.5 in a duet with bass player Nate Wood, who sat in for injured keys player, Jason Lindner. This was not just an opportunity for me to catch the full quartet, including one of today’s hottest drummers, Mark Guiliana, it was a show jazz fans at the festival were clamoring for – a sell-out and a front page feature story in Vancouver. The McCaslin Group has rock band power, high-end improvisational skills, and songs of epic beauty and textures. I was happy to hear from Mr Lindner that he’s recovering nicely from his nasty bicycle accident (“I wish people would stop patting me on the back, I should wear a sign!”), and congratulated a jubilant McCaslin after the show, where he told us the Group is already preparing new material for their next album.
Up bright and early Sunday for some Waffle Bant fuel (don’t ask, don’t tell), it was back to the KNKX tent to enjoy conversation of jazz and radio with our Canadian fans from Vancouver and beyond. Special thanks to our four area volunteers for their help: Norm, Sean, Craig and Jim. Thanks, fellas!
First up for your humble emcee was an afternoon show at the Robson Stage with Newport High School product, pianist/singer/composer Ariel Pocock and her trio. With a fresh new second album just released – the wonderful Living in Twilight, recorded in Montreal and released on the Canadian label Justin Time – we surprised Ms. Pocock with a new KNKX T-shirt backstage before the show. (“Thanks SO much, my laundry situation is pretty ugly.”) Ariel’s piano chops continue to amaze, but it’s her voice that deservedly draws the most attention. She’s really coming into her own, a light delivery seasoned with a unique, youthful rounding of words and phrases and impressive scatting; her mix of pop and jazz and beyond-her-years piano chops put her high on any list of modern jazz talent.
The night (and the trip’s many delights for your intrepid jazz host) concluded with a concert by a jazz superstar in West Vancouver, nestled on a waterfront hillside at the beautiful Kay Meek Centre. NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron performed two sets of brilliant solo piano for an audience who hung on his every note. We heard a gorgeous medley of Ellington/Strayhorn tunes, a nice variety of Mr. Barron’s own compositions, and a finale of Thelonious Monk’s song “Monk’s Dream.” I was there early to interview Mr. Barron which you can hear here. Suffice it to say, over his nearly 60 years playing professionally, Kenny Barron has performed with stars from Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody to Stan Getz and his own award winning bands, and collected some great stories on the way.
During the intermission between sets, I was lucky to meet up with a longtime 88.5 listener from Salt Spring Island in the Georgia Straight who’s been an email and phone call friend for nearly two decades. I also ran into a bass player named John and a woman named Judy – both longtime listeners and Save KPLU supporters. I also spoke to a gentleman named Neville who shared a story about the time he got to take lessons from Kenny Barron when he was living in the Middle East. There are so many wonderful jazz fans in Vancouver, and their annual jazz festival continues through July 2nd with weekend performances ahead from Scott Hamilton, Tony Foster, the Neil Cowley Trio, Jane Bunnett, Ray Anderson, John Boutte and more. Toques off to the fine folks at Coastal Jazz for another fantastic year at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival – cheers!