Jun 26, 2012

2012 Jazz Fest AfterMATH

Well the Fest is over with a whimper. The best and (to my knowledge) the only sold out/non local JAZZ show was Vijay Iyer. At least the early set was sold out I don't know if the second set was as well.

So what else happened?

Phrases in Italic indicate text taken from festival press and ads.

Well Aqua Books bailed on the Fest. Other than slavish loyalty to a business owner who has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, this is not much of a jazz fest issue...stuff happens.

The Bad Bad Not Good, a band of music school drop outs (more famous for slagging their school than their playing) cancelled their entire western 'tour'. Then Rakim was the replacement (a rapper) and he cancelled his entire Canadian tour.

Sure, go ahead, book supposedly trendy, leading edge pop acts, that are so leading edge they have to cancel tours due to poor sales and a lack of interest in general to a JAZZ festival...makes perfect sense.

I talked about this last year in reference to pop acts cancelling mere days after they were announced and the folly of continuing to book here today, gone later today pop acts to a JAZZ festival.
When was the last time a jazz artist cancelled a WPG jazz fest gig?? When the pianist of EST died.

As well right in the middle of Jazz Fest we had MEME. A collection of djs and laptop players (as well as video artists). Not my bag but seems to sound like most of the 135ish BPM dance music that gets run into each other. Either way we clearly have a place for the DJs etc. to get a gig and we have a Jazz fest (with a DJ high up in the organization) booking DJ's and non jazz electronica competing with each other.

That's just stupid.

We have MEME, 2 stations playing 'urban' music 24/7. Year round clubs/festivals/events playing electronica, rock, pop, indie, blues etc. Seriously, it is time to stop competing with other ventures and private business and get back to JAZZ.

Along similar lines we have a new Blues festival  http://winnipegbbqandblues.ca/ Was the need seen because the peg jazz fest (jazz festivals have traditionally had a lot of blues) was light on blues (3 out of 'over 200 artists') I don't know but I'll bet my eye teeth neither the MEME or Blues and BBQ will be booking any jazz.

Only jazz festivals feel the need or insecurity to book other kinds of music and our festival has insecurity to spare.

As anyone trying to pay attention knows; the local fest is not very forth coming with numbers but I do have some.

"They" are already reporting  "more than a dozen sold out performances." Though, with 54 ticketed events, 13 is not a number to brag about. They are also reporting "The Club Series enjoyed its best attendance figures in several years" (like last year that stat is bloated by the 300-500 volunteer/performer free passes).

So we have some of the 'pay to get in' event numbers. Other than set 1 of the aforementioned show it seems NONE of the supposed big draw acts had a sell out and most of jazz acts weren't even close.

Trombone Shorty more R&B than jazz, considered a big draw because they sold out at the WECC  last year.  And typical of the organisers lack of imagination as he was just here last year. This year at the Burton Cummings? 638 tickets short of a sell out (not including the usual freebie give aways)
Gretchen Parlato, At the much smaller WECC, 190 shy of a sellout (not including the give aways)
Shine On also at the WECC 145 short
Delfeayo Marsalis 105 short
Even "the festival’s poster girl, Janelle Monáe, descend (sic) upon the Burt and wow (sic) the near-capacity crowd" was not a sell out. Got close though but she played the MTS center just last year opening for teeny bopper idol Katy Perry you'd think you could get a sellout with that.

Ramsey Lewis and Booker T numbers have not been released and I suspect they never will. If it was a sell out or near enough...we would have been told. The crowd for Lewis were referred to as 'enthusiastic' which is usually code for small.

I have no idea about the numbers for the indiebands, dj's etc. No one in the Winnipeg press community (not even the small indie papers) saw fit to attend and/or review these events.

So what is a sell out to the organisers? Maybe they only intended to sell 2/3rds of the available seats  for Trombone Shorty. Maybe they only needed to sell just over half of the capacity of the WECC for Gretchen Parlato.

My definition of a sellout is the stated capacity of the venue.

Which brings us back to Iyer. Why was this the only sold out, touring, remotely jazz, offering and one of the few sold out shows of any musical stripe?

Perhaps because the venue is small at a capacity of 250. On the other hand the attendance was better in bums in the seats, SRO and percentage than Gretchen Parlato (cross over jazz/funk) Shine On (pop done jazzy) or Delfaeyo Marsalis (real jazz but yet another Marsalis). And if the second set did nearly as well that number might reach 500!

Real, new, original, uncompromising jazz does better than most of the other acts. In a festival that is too big and too lacking in jazz, the jazz fans flocked to the leading edge up and comer. Jazz fans have a knack for rooting out this sort of thing and WPG jazz fans know they need to see something like this because he will still be awe some in years to come but in too much demand internationally to come to our jazz lite fest. (also he will be too jazz for our festival).

Or (yawn) they will book him this winter or next year, put him in a bigger venue, take a bath like they did with JATLC last year or Trombone Shorty this year and then sit back and claim jazz won't sell.

Vijay did well despite flying under the jazz fest's radar.

So for the bazzilionth time in a row they set up the jazz to fail through intent or incompetence.

 The formula
  1. have a jazz festival
  2. under promote the jazz
  3. hype up and over promote the non jazz like putting the main pop act on your main poster
  4. watch as most jazz events get under attended and the non jazz do slightly better
  5. claim the jazz doesn't sell so they have to have more pop than jazz
  6. ignore what works for jazz (like Vijay this year, Gary Burton or SRO Kelly Lee Evans last year)
  7. keep up the mantra that we can't support a jazz festival focused on jazz
  8. repeat from item 1

insert appropriate Einstein quote here......
On the bright side:

Local jazz singer Jodie Borle needed an extra set added to her night because she actually sold out in advance. A few other locals with devoted followings did well also.

Didn't see any of the dj's, rappers, indie or rock bands needing more time.

Juss Jazz (nick-named Jusst about anything but Jazz) may have seen they can have jazz and some kind of crowds. Not likely but a guy can hope.

And just let you see how comparable cities doing it this year.

In Saskatoon they have taken a step to the dark side with their ticketed events. 17 jazz and 25 non jazz but the scale does tip in their favour as they have 25 jazz appropriate (Jazz Blues Latin) to 17 pop acts (only 2 djs and zero rap hip hop) and they have Wayne Shorter, Benny Green, Dianne Reeves, Bill Frissell. (along with many of the artists we had)

But their free stages (made up of mostly locals) is dominated by jazz groups.

You know the bazillion posters some you might see around the city ( the ones not buried under homemade missing cats and indie or heavy metal concerts? You know, one for every touring performer, mostly of a non jazz nature.

Here is the Edmonton one.
Weird eh?? One poster, only jazz acts promoted.

Another wonderful thing Edmonton does is, rather than be insecure about jazz and pander to non jazz fans,  they try to educate them.

They have a page called Jazz 101 where they give an overview on the wide world of jazz.

On their performing artist list they tell you the type of jazz the artists are playing so if you have never heard of them you can still get an idea of what you are in for.

The huge diversity from Fusion to Dixie should be an eye opener for the local collective.  We  tend to get a lot of the same type of jazz. Lots of standards played standard, lots of cross over jazz/pop and this year, 3 brass based bands doing 5 shows.

Now Edmonton is a slightly bigger city (752,412) vs. our 684,100 but both cities share a sparse population outside the perimeter (look at a map of Edmonton and the layout looks almost like the 'Peg) with the edge going to Edmonton

But their festival is 11 days (1 day longer than ours) but with a mere 47 performers  (VS our 80 ish) at 9 venues (1 less than us) almost all jazz and 100% jazz fest appropriate.

Ya, no way you can have a jazz festival focused on jazz in central Canada.


  1. Hey Rob,
    Well, you're never a guy to hold back the opinions!
    I'd have to agree that this was a very thin year program-wise. I mean sure, Ramsey Lewis is a living legend but has nothing like the profile and impact of a Sonny Rollins. And yet another Marsalis?

    I did go to see Mike Janzen at Juss Jazz, but they'd set the sound board in the middle of the narrow room, between the front and back sections. Two sound guys and three other people stood at the board, meaning that those of us in the back section couldn't see even a hint of the stage... pretty frustrating when one goes to not only hear but also see live jazz. I left midway through the third song.

    Also saw the Lucas Sader Project (with the world class trumpet player Derrick Gardner) doing a very fine tribute to the Miles Davis Quintet of the 60s, and they were very fine. This one took place at the Exchange Church, but because the big MEME festival was on the sound bleed into that space was pretty pronounced.

    What saved the week for me was the Vijay Iyer Trio at the Park Theatre. I was at the early show, which was very clearly sold out, and it was an outstanding performance. Keep bringing this calibre of players in and presenting them in good rooms, and the festival might have a chance of rebounding.

    But please... no more Marsalis family members and no Pink Martini. If they're going to include larger concert venues in this festival, look to the likes of Wayne Shorter.

    1. Got a few opinions there yourself ;-) which is cool. As I say it is more honest. Believe me I get many more form locals but only you actually post them.
      I have heard more than a few complaints about sound reinforcement personal at this and previous festivals. Setting up like they are at the MTS center, too much bass and bass drum, too much monitor, disrespectful to the performers, etc. I think we all remember Brad Meldhau freaking on the sound guy at his show a while back (it was Brad’s guy but the board kept kacking out)

      Sound guys tend to do rock pop shows and are quite clueless about doing anything else (but then it really is a pop music festival). Of course it brings up the question: Why in the world do you need that much pa gear and personal to mike a piano bass trio?? You could get by with 1 person and a club pa to round out the sound

      The thing is bleeding money and they keep spending money on things like 4 way pa’s, roadies, backline for locals, (the grand pianos are nice though) giving tickets to cronies, posters, etc.

      I guess we can sit back and wait for another plea for money at the year end

  2. Hi,
    I whole heartily concur with your piece. Where I used to take in 3 or more shows in that week I'm down to picking one show now. Gary Burton last year and the Shine On Gang this year. I must admit that my excitement for the festival is not the same as it used to and I'm of the age now that I can jump on plane and go to other festivals that suit my jazz tastes. That is likely what I may do in the years to come. I attended the Chicago Jazz fest a couple years ago and it was great without attending any big names. I still appreciate the Jazz Winnipeg gang bringing in bands like the Bad Plus this week, I have to give them failing grades on what they call the Jazz Festival though.

    Thank you for your voice on this subject. You are not alone, there are more of out there.


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