Is jazz losing its cool?
“Nope,” says John Orysik, media director and co-founder of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. “To me that’s a very loaded question, because jazz has always attracted people who are looking for something different, looking for something to challenge them, looking for new discoveries, having kind of an insatiable curiosity. Those are the people who are always ahead of the curve anyway. The music reflects that. So, how can it lose its cool when it’s always breaking new trends, when it’s always ahead of the curve?
“. . . When you talk to so many bands that are followed by your readership, those bands really dig jazz. And they like jazz musicians. So, they’re seeking out the cool from musicians themselves and then passing it on through their own music.”
Many popular forms of today’s music can find its origins in jazz, like rock and hip hop. But, these days jazz gets shrugged off. It’s a form of music that, conceivably, is synonymous with an older generation. However, consider jazz the product of that time you noticed a guitar in the room, propped it on one knee and gingerly graced your fingers over its strings. Or, enamoured by the grandness of a piano, you lightly tapped its keys. A jazz musician is an individual who did that, and then continued on to their heart’s content. It is raw talent unfolding on stage, pricking your interest, arresting your nerves, making your head nod, shoulders swag and toes tap.
If you can appreciate this, then you must venture to the 28th annual Vancouver Jazz Fest, running from June 22 to July 1. After scouring through the program guide and Youtubing the musicians, listed below are the performances that you should check out.
Macy Gray – She needs no introduction, unless you’re 14-years-old. She was all over the airwaves in 1999 with her Grammy award-winning single “I Try.” Gray will be performing alongside the David Murray Infinity Quartet – David Murray is an award-winning tenor saxophonist and has recorded over 130 albums.
Nosaj Thing – This L.A. based producer gives his audience a visual aspect to his electronic beats. You’ll be seated in the dark, enveloped in his music while watching a bright soundscape on screen and stage. Trippy. To get a sampling, check out the video below at 5:10 minutes in.
Red Baraat – A fusion of bhangra and jazz. If you’re not a jazz lover, then you’ve never heard of these international phenoms. Their 2013 album, Shruggy Ji, hit number one on the iTunes and Billboard World Music Charts. As is bhangra’s way, this will get you moving. Brrrrrrrrrah!
Herbie Hancock – This 73-year-old music icon has built an impressive music resume spanning five decades, including 14 Grammys and playing with the Miles Davis Quintet. He’s a master pianist, keyboardist and also meshes synthesizers and other electronic sounds into his ever-evolving electronic jazz style.
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up – Their sound is an eclectic mix of percussion, trumpet, saxophone and guitar, sometimes confusing, but listen if only for the guitarist. She is amazing. That’s right, SHE. Mary Halvorson. This collaboration brings out the rocker in her style. She’s also playing a free solo concert at the David Lam Park Jazz closing weekend.
Nikki Yanofsky – You may have first heard this Montreal-born, Juno award-winning songstress here at the 2010 Winter Olympics when she sang the national anthem. Her single from Nikki “I believe,” was the official theme of the Olympics. Heralded as a 19-year-old musical prodigy, her singles have reached gold and platinum certifications, and she’s worked alongside the likes of Quincy Jones, Wyclef Jean and Herbie Hancock. Her sound is Diana Krall-esqe.
Shane Koyczan – He composes the sweetest prose. If you are a writer, Koyczan’s work will green you with envy while inspiring creativity. He is the winner of the US Slam Poetry Championships and the Canadian Spoken Word Olympics. You may have heard Koyczan’s work at the 2010 Olympics when he recited to the world his poem, We Are More.
Mary Halvorson – If you play the guitar, or you’re a music-lover at heart, Mary Halvorson’s guitar stylings will have you floored. She was called “the most impressive guitarist of her generation,” by All About Jazz.
Buckman Coe – Reggae grooves that sometimes incorporate a ukulele, these guys put out a feel-good funky vibe.
Sharon Minemoto Quartet – If you are into the piano, then you must watch Sharon Minemoto’s fingers tear it up on the piano keys. Jaws will drop.
Royal Wood – Handsome like Maroon Five’s Adam Levine, Ontario-born and Juno-nominated Wood will play pop-rock tunes on the piano and sing you a love song.
Will Campa y su Gran Union – An 11-piece band sounding salsa beats with Afro-Cuban influences. Bring your dancing shoes.
Bessie and the Black Eddies – A 7-piece band playing sultry and sassy performances reminiscent of the classic, smoke-filled jazz club era and old school burlesque. The blues-drenched vocals of Bessie Wapp will bring some heat to your face, or put a coquette smile on it.
Hornography – This 9-piece band consists mainly of horns with two drummers, electric bass and guitar. The music is reflective of its youthful members who like to do mashups and covers, such as Tom Petty’s ‘Freefalling’ and Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’.
Roberto Lopez Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra – An 8-piece band that beats out Afro-Colombian inspired salsa, funk and soul tunes guaranteed to have the crowd dance their summer evening away.
Santa Lucia – 7-piece band consisting of guitar, saxophone, drums, trumpet, trombone, bass and percussion. Their style is West Coast funk flavoured and similar to the Latin rock stylings of Santana.
Jazz Festival closing weekend at David Lam Park:
Much like opening jazz weekend in downtown Vancouver, Yaletown’s David Lam Park will be transformed into a jazz concert village replete with all the fixings for a good time under the sun – three stages, a family zone, food and artisan market, a TD comfort zone and a beer garden.
“We broke records last year, we drew 560,000 people approximately last year. We’re hoping to top over 600,000 people, so I ask you: is jazz cool?” asks Orysik.
Written and researched by Neelam Sharma, copy editor at Vancity Buzz. Connect with Neelam on Twitter @_neelamsharma.