Edmonton Journal


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Scandinavian acts top list for latest Yardbird jazz fest

Locally, Perry and Lefever have signed on


Roger Levesque


EDMONTON - A local and national artistic focus won't preclude the airing of exotic, international sounds at this year's Yardbird Jazz Festival.

Full details of the second annual event were announced at a media launch Tuesday, reflecting a similar scale and scope that brought success for the Edmonton Jazz Society's first Yardbird fest last summer.

Some 65 shows (compared with last year's 60) will feature nearly 200 musicians from Canada, Europe, Cuba, Australia and the United States.

"There's a new playing field so we have to be conservative and move forward gradually," explained Kent Sangster, a jazz musician and part of the four-person team of co-producers behind the event, which runs June 23 to July 2.

"We want to get an accurate assessment of what people want at the festival before it grows much larger. Last year, we sold around 400 tickets for a headliner artist. That number should be 1,000, but we have to work up to that slowly. At the end of the day, you have to pay your bills or there is no festival, but this isn't a small event by any means."

American guitarist Mike Stern and Cuban reedman Paquito D'Rivera were already announced as headliners earlier this month. The addition of an international series this year will highlight such bands as Sweden's renowned E.S.T., Norway's adventurous Zanussi 5, Scandinavian singers Jeanette Lindstrom and Susi Hyldgaard, and Italy's Alberto Pinton. Australia's Alister Spence Trio and Joost Buis's nutty Astronotes from Holland should boost the international jazz flavours even further.

Bands led by Montreal's Michel Donato and Pierre Cartier, Cuban-born pianist David Virelles, Victoria's Marc Atkinson and Toronto's Roberto Occhipinti all figure in a lineup of Canadian jazz stars along with New York-based Michael Bates and a Toronto collective named Drumheller.

Edmonton artists such as Mo Lefever, Rubim DeToledo, Bobby Cairns, Sheri Sommerville, Don Berner, Jim Head and P.J. Perry will head up their own concerts and Rollanda Lee's Canadian Hot Stars will share the bill with Montreal's Le Dixieland in a Maclab Dixieland jazz night.

Most of the venues remain the same from last year with four major concerts booked in the Citadel's Maclab Theatre, more shows at the Varscona and Catalyst theatres and Faculte St. Jean, and the international series at the Yardbird Suite club.

Four restaurants -- Four Rooms, Bravo Bistro, La Table De Renoir and Jeffrey's Cafe -- are participating in a downtown club series featuring local acts. Big Miller Park (north of the Yardbird Suite on the edge of Saskatchewan Drive) will host a free outdoor stage on the two weekends of the festival including an appearance from Cuba's Maraca on July 1.

The 2006 festival will also have an educational component with four days of workshops for up-and-coming jazz musicians. Finally, a festival kickoff concert in the Maclab Theatre will debut the new 17-piece Edmonton Jazz Orchestra, a project that Sangster hopes can become an ongoing outlet for big-band jazz.

The first Yardbird Festival, put together on the fly in the spring of 2005, turned out to be a considerable success, garnering lots of support, community goodwill and financial sponsors. Sangster says many of the same sponsors came back again this year, including a sizable contribution from the Edmonton Dixieland Jazz Society. But even so, they can still use more sponsors.

As for the new European series, he feels it was a needed showcase for progressive jazz bands that came together through several factors.

"It has a lot to do with collaborating with the Vancouver Jazz Festival and the fact that the artists are well-funded so it's not as expensive to present them, but they also offer a whole different perspective on leading-edge music."

In general, Sangster hopes to build a new festival profile on community trust and word of mouth.

"I would ask anyone who went to the festival last year and had a good time to tell one friend to come out this year. I think we're improving things as we go along and it's going to be exciting to see what happens."

Tickets for most events are on sale now through Ticketmaster (451-8000), while tickets for the Maclab shows with the EJO, Mike Stern, Paquito D'Rivera and the Dixieland night will go on sale at the Citadel box office June 1.