Issue #431: February 28, 2002
Yardbird On The Roll

by Peter North

Let’s give some credit where credit is due to start things out this week.

As much as this column gives the Yardbird Suite space on a regular basis and understandably so, we haven’t dwelled on the fact that over the past 12 months, the club operated by the Edmonton Jazz Society has upped its profile in the community and is drawing much more diverse and consistently enthusiastic and large crowds on weekends.

Anyone who has worked in a non-profit board setting knows that for the all the moments of gratification that arise, there are just as many situations that are akin to slamming one’s head into a concrete pillar.

Given all the positive physical changes that the inviting room has undergone over the past 18 months, and couple those with the ongoing, impressive booking policies, there must be a board of directors and group of volunteers who are all moving in the same direction.

Anyone who has even sporadically supported the venue over the past 15 years can likely remember the days when we were ushered into the room with more of a glare than a greeting and the service was so pathetic it encouraged folks to carry hip flasks. Simply put, the good old days left a bit to be desired. Not so today.

You walk in and you immediately feel welcomed. There’s rarely any doubt that you will get your money’s worth from the featured artist and the service at the bar is quick and efficient while pleasantries are the norm, not the exception.

We’ve grown accustomed to catching a fine mix of international artists, many of whom are flown into town to play with superb local rhythm sections, the best of Canadian touring groups, and our hottest local and regional artists and ensembles. Right now they are all drawing and the interaction between audience and artist is exciting as packed houses only feed the creative fire of the players.

To see Edmonton’s sax ace Kent Sangster entice as big of a crowd as Toronto’s Doug Riley, one of this country’s true musical geniuses, makes one realize locals are finally and properly appreciating homegrown talent. The acoustics in the club are better than ever, thanks to a new drape that wraps it’s way around two-thirds of the performance space, and there never really has been a bad seat in the house.

What is really encouraging as of late is seeing younger faces in the club, many of which are visibly excited about what they are witnessing, as if the years of being beaten to death by huge PAs and clone rock acts or intimidated by overzealous bouncers are finally a thing of the past.

A quick glance over the next two months worth of bookings confirms the diversity is continuing as music fans can catch everything from a Tribute To Tito Puente led by local timbale master Tilo Paiz, to the great American saxophonist Sonny Fortune to a few ensembles from overseas as well as couple of performances from big bands based out of this city.

The blues of course continues to get its shot and this weekend Lisa Otey returns a year after she knocked the joint out with a band comprised of some of our finest roots/blues boys including Dave Babcock and Rusty Reed. There’s no reason to believe the booking won’t be a repeat success as the Tucson-based pianist and singer will be leaning on tunes from her latest disc, Hard Workin’ Woman.

There’s a lot more to come before summer rolls in and everyone takes a break. One booking in the late spring finds a band that will feature two ex-Weather Report members, bassist Alphonso Johnson and amazing percussionist Airto Moreira.

The Yardbird is on a roll and if you’re tired of the choices you’ve been making of late, check it out and, of course, there’s the added option of the popular Tuesday night jam sessions.

It looks good on the folks who have done all the hard work and our city’s music scene.