Details of an ambitious new music festival for Powell River were announced on November 27. Townsite Jazz Festival, the brainchild of music educator Paul Cummings, will take place from April 5 to 7, 2018.
The festival’s pitch phrase is, “It’s about time,” and the question Cummings said he asks is whether enough interested members of the public will take the time to attend.
Cummings said the festival will feature a unique blend of a professional jazz festival with university-level and high school music festivals. Its success will come down to the calibre of musicians who perform and the Townsite venues, according to Cummings.
“We have our three jazz ensembles at Brooks involved,” said Cummings, “Another thing that is going to attract an audience is our alumni band. We're inviting people from any year who played in the Brooks or Max Cameron jazz bands to come.”
One alumnus is Powell River’s Adam Robertson, who is currently studying percussion in the jazz studies program at Vancouver Island University. Robertson said he found it surprising that nothing has highlighted Powell River’s jazz side since the Powell River Vocal Summit.
“There's such a deep musical culture here,” said Robertson. “There's always been a rich cultivation of jazz in Powell River and this is a really great opportunity for the town to be recognized.”
The vocal summit was established by Powell River Academy of Music in 1994 to bring together high school and college ensembles, along with world-class jazz artists, for a weekend of concerts, competition and workshops.
With the exception of the annual Brooks Jazz Dinner in January, occasional live gigs around town by local jazz musicians and recent shows at McKinney’s Pub in Townsite, a large stage for jazz appreciation has not been front and centre in Powell River.
Cummings said he decided on the festival format based on a teacher’s point of view, what is best for his students and from an audiences’ point of view.
Jazz aficionados will recognize a few artists who have been to Powell River before and already have a following.
Professional jazz bands participating include the Phil Dwyer Trio. Dwyer is an unbelievable improvisor and a very lyrical player, according to Cummings. The three-time, Juno award-winning musician was awarded the Order of Canada in 2013. Dwyer’s trio will perform with Victoria vocalist Melinda Whittaker.
“We have four professional ensembles coming,” said Cummings. “Dwyer is completely different from a group we've hired called Black Gardenia. They're a gypsy-jazz, Django Reinhardt kind of group. And then there’s the 19-piece Bruce James Big Band, complete with vocalist.”
Rounding out the headliners is a group of Vancouver Island musicians forming a new, yet-to-named quartet. The quartet is on the cusp of recording an album, according to Cummings.
Three shows will take place each day over the three-day Townsite Jazz Festival with nightly performances at 6, 8 and 10 pm.
Venues are as big as Dwight Hall, where James will be present big-band swing, the concert-hall vibe of Max Cameron Theatre, and cozy settings such the Fireside Lounge in the Rodmay Hotel and McKinney’s Pub, as well as upstairs in the old Bank of Montreal building.
Cummings said he is a fan of smaller venues.
“You feel like you're sitting in the lap of those jazz musicians,” said Cummings. “I love those kind of settings.”
Tickets for Townsite Jazz Festival are available at the Peak office. For more information, go to townsitejazz.com.