Don’t let the name fool you.
As the lineup for this year’s 35th TD Victoria International Jazz Festival will attest, the city’s largest annual celebration of music has long since past the days of being a purely jazz event.
“I wish we weren’t stuck with the label of being just a jazz festival,” says founder and festival director Darryl Mar. “Nearly 100 per cent of the artists the first couple of years were just jazz artists, but we’ve diversified into blues, soul, world music and more. It’s basically allowed our festival to expand our audiences. If we were strictly a true mainstream jazz festival, it wouldn’t be as large.”
One of this year’s headliners, Grammy Award winner Macy Gray (June 27, Royal Theatre), is one of those unique artists who can seamlessly move between genres. Her roots are in jazz, but she has achieved success in the R&B and soul categories. Fronting her own band in this second visit to Jazzfest, she will perform various original compositions intertwined with jazz standards.
Mar is also excited about the first Jazzfest appearance of Dee Dee Bridgewater, a jazz scene veteran and Grammy and Tony Award winner who for this tour is teaming up with the Memphis Soulphony for an opening night show June 22 at the Royal.
“This is a tribute to her hometown of Memphis, it’s an R&B soul performance with a nine-member band,” he says. “For me that is definitely going to be one of the highlights of this year’s jazz festival.”
Other Victoria “coups” for 2018 include a first appearance for Alabama soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones (June 28, Royal), as well as multiple Grammy-winning bluegrass dobro and resonator guitar player Jerry Douglas (June 29, McPherson Playhouse), “one of the most in-demand session musicians in Nashville” and a regular in the Alison Krauss band.
Pure jazz players are by no means left out of the 10-day Jazzfest roster – Oak Bay High’s Dave Dunnett Theatre hosts legendary figures Ranee Lee from Montreal and alto saxophonist supreme Vincent Herring and his quartet, as well as the virtuosic Julian Lage Trio.
But the diverse nature of performers continues with the likes of England’s Go Go Penguin, a contemporary electronic act, and two dance-oriented nights in Centennial Square with Indian bhangra rock outfit Red Baraat, and Ghost Note, a spinoff band from the jam collective Snarky Puppy.
Another point Mar noted was that no less than nine bands playing ticketed performances at this year’s festival are led by female artists, the highest ever to his memory.
While the main audience market for Jazzfest continues to be South Vancouver Island – between 75 and 80 per cent, Mar says – a solid 20 per cent attend from “offshore,” which could be anywhere from the Lower Mainland to Europe.
“We get a lot of people asking us, early in the year or late in the year previous to the festival, if we have our lineup announced yet,” he says, noting that doesn’t usually happen until mid-March. “But people do look at the content of our festival so they can plan their holidays around it.”
Find a full schedule of concerts both free and ticketed at jazzvictoria.ca/jazz-fest/lineup.