Valentine’s Day may have recently passed, but Paul Cummings is still playing matchmaker.
For the artistic director of the third annual Townsite Jazz Festival, set to return April 1 to 4 to Powell River’s historic district, that’s the best analogy that comes to mind when describing his unique role.
“As I’m piecing things together it just puts a big smile on my face,” he says. “I think every year is the best year ever, you know, but I’m enjoying more and more selecting the groups and finding the perfect venue for them.”
The 2020 instalment of Townsite Jazz Festival will feature the likes of Pierre Komen, Walter Martella, Miles Black, Phil Dwyer, Jodi Proznick, Oliver Gannon, Bill Coon, Mazacote, and more. Student ensembles from School District 47, Capilano University, Carson Graham Secondary and Oak Bay High School will round out the lineup, opening for the professionals at every show.
Cummings has a simple policy when it comes to booking talent: the artist has to inspire him.
“If I can’t get excited about it, how am I supposed to expect other people to?” he says.
Each November, the festival unveils its lineup during a preview party. Doing so isn’t devoid of risk – for example, organizers almost always have to tweak a few venues and artists along the way – but it does help to build momentum early and show the range of musical possibilities leading up to the spring event.
“I try with only five professional groups per year to mix it up as much as I can, but also from year to year and even over a three- or four-year period,” explains Cummings.
He and his team have also responded to public feedback. This year they will be extending the length of the gala dance on April 4 to run twice the length of a typical Townsite Jazz Festival show. They’ve also tapped Tanga bandleader Malcolm Aitken to return with his other Latin project, Mazacote, as a nod to the 2019 event’s success and energy that emanated from Dwight Hall that night.
“Both last year and the year before we felt a little guilty getting everyone all revved up with no place to go,” says Cummings. “When there’s a conga line weaving its way through the room about two minutes before you’re supposed to be shutting the place down, your audience is telling you everything you need to know.”
The jam session, which used to begin at 10 pm immediately following the gala dance, will now close out the multi-concert Ash Avenue Amble earlier that afternoon. This year’s Amble offers a four-hour smorgasbord of live performances, 10 to be exact, taking place at three venues all within a block of one another. Like all other performances at this year’s festival, the ticket price is $20, except children 12 and under may enter the Amble for free.
“We’ve also added an extra concert at the beginning of the festival, at the Wildwood Public House on April 1, to kick things off,” says Cummings. Saxophonist Pierre Komen of Wunderbread fame is scheduled to perform with his Vancouver Island-based quartet.
“It’s so interesting because these freelance musicians, especially jazz musicians, can do anything. They can read anything, they’ve got ears that can hear chord changes coming from a mile away, they’ve always got their radar on,” adds Cummings. “I love watching the audience recognize a bandleader or a sideman they’ve seen at one of our previous festivals, or even a previous concert at that same festival.”
A perfect example is Oliver Gannon, whose quartet performed in 2019. This year he returns with fellow guitarist Bill Coon in tow, under the moniker Two Much Guitar. Similarly, bassist Jodi Proznick, who attended last year’s festival as a member of Gannon’s quartet, is bringing her own quintet to the fore.
“And of course, Phil Dwyer, our associate president, is someone we’ve been inviting since the very beginning to collaborate with our various artists in all sorts of new and satisfying combinations,” says Cummings. “Not to mention Powell River’s own Walter Martella, who has proven time and time again that he can sit in with just about anybody.”
Tickets for the 2020 Townsite Jazz Festival are available at Ecossentials, Townsite Brewing and online at townsitejazz.com. Seating is limited and some events are close to selling out. For a full schedule of concerts, go to the website.