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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 9 June 2012

The Edmonton International Jazz Festival: World Stars and Local Traditions

by Kornél Zipernovszky / June 1, 2012

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Ever since the Edmonton International Jazz Festival was re-launched six years ago, it has become an integral part of the summer jazz circuit. “Being a member of Jazz Festivals Canada, (the nation’s festival umbrella organization) enables us to book headliners like Wayne Shorter, Chris Botti, Eliane Elias and Mike Stern”, explains local tenor sax player Kent Sangster, the executive director of the event’s producer, the Edmonton Jazz Society.
Running this year from June 22 to 30, the EIJF will surely attract dedicated jazz heads with Wayne Shorter on its bill. Sangster is also quick to call attention to the astounding qualities of a quartet comprised of Danilo Perez, John Pattitucci and Brian Blade. Botti, for his part, is more than just a heartthrob for the ladies, and Sangster admits to have been greatly impressed by the quality of the trumpeter’s group in a live setting.
Beyond such star attractions, the festival capitalizes on the iconic institutions of jazz in Edmonton, the most famous of them being The Yardbird Suite, Canada’s oldest jazz club. Known as a major stop for touring bands year round, it is home to enthusiastic audiences who enjoy the music attentively and silently, making it much more than just another bar for live music. The late Ronnie Scott, of the famous London club bearing his name, would really have loved it. This year, it will stage shows by French trumpet phenom Médéric Collignon, Yggdrasil & Eivor from Sweden, Tommy Smith from Scotland and American trumpeter Terell Stafford. What’s more, it will serve as the main hub for festival attendees, since most of the other venues are all within walking distance, among them the Catalyst Theatre, TransAlta Arts Barns and Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre. Two smaller venues should also be mentioned, Jeffrey’s Café and the Blue Chair Café which are both, in Sangster’s own words “vital in keeping the city’s music tradition alive.” Not to be overlooked either is the Winspear Centre, the acoustically impeccable home of the Edmonton Symphony.
The Yardbird, by the way, is situated on Tommy Banks Way, named after one of the city’s iconic jazz figures. Upon his retirement as a big band leader around 2005, it was decided to keep that tradition going by instituting the Edmonton Jazz Orchestra. A mainstay at the festival, this big band has also participated in educational and outreach programs. The festival also includes an annual non-competitive meeting for student bands. Moreover, the music program of the Grant McEwan University provides fresh input for the local scene. A key component in the event’s schedule, it’s something Sangster is quite proud of: “More than half of the artists on the bill are from here, and it will remain so as long as I’m involved!”


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