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Wrap It Up: Jazz Fest 2018

Another edition of the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival has come and gone. Here in Saskatoon, jazz fest is one of the greatest times of the year. There’s music everywhere and there are people everywhere. It’s not only the kick off to summer in Saskatoon, but it really brings the city to life!

The Shows…

Quite often, jazz fest can feel like it is lacking in real jazz. This was the first year in a long time that I felt like jazz was alive and well at the festival. Two of my favourite shows this year were Austrian jazz group Shake Stew and rising jazz start Kamasi Washington. Two very different shows, but both undeniably jazz and incredibly powerful. Stepping a little out of the jazz world, but only a little were two fantastic shows at The Broadway Theatre. The first, from Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soul-phony followed by the legendary Spanish Harlem Orchestra. I also take in the occasional show that isn’t jazz at all. Tom Cochrane and Red Rider absolutely rocked the main stage on Saturday night and Begonia absolutely slayed the opening spot on the main stage Friday night.

The only show of the festival that I was disappointed by was The Jerry Granelli Band Featuring Robben Ford, Bob Lanzetti, & J Anthony Granelli. Knowing Jerry Granelli only from his playing on the Charlie Brown Christmas Album, I as expecting some classic sounding tunes, though I first got a little worried when on stage with him were two electric guitars and an electric bass. As I read through their bio though I saw that these guys were some pretty serious players; Ford having played with Miles Davis, Lanzetti having played with Snarky Puppy, and A. Granelli having studied with Charlie Hayden. Unfortunaly after the first half of the show was filled with blues rock jam style playing, I left. Don’t get me wrong, they all played great, but those that know me know that I have a very short attention span for the blues.

I also got to see some great shows in Saskatoon bars that I normally try to avoid including Ghost Note, Sons of Kemet, and Red Baraat at The Capitol and Moon Hooch at Amigos. The music of all four of these bands clearly has roots in jazz, but they’re all doing such new and innovative things. It was really refreshing to hear.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a shout out to my friends, and fellow Saskatoon based saxophonists, Rory Lynch, Connor Newton, and Gerard Weber, for putting on fantastic shows with each of their bands.

The Volunteers…

The blood pumping through the veins is each and every one of the hundreds of volunteers. I know how hard these people work because for the last 5 years, I’ve been one of them. The stage mangers/MCs, the drivers, the hospitality providers, the beer garden workers, each and every one of them is a volunteer. As a performer, I’d like to recognize all the areas of volunteers that have an impact on our show. First our MC, I unfortunately don’t recall his name (and I feel bad for this), but he has been assigned to our show three years in a row and always does an amazing job of introducing us in a way that makes us sound like something really amazing. Our drivers; yes we have drivers. As a former volunteer on the transportation committee and having one of the transportation coordinators as my neighbour, I arrange for me and the band to be picked up from my house for the show with all our gear and brought back after the show so we don’t have to worry about parking. I greatly appreciate them allowing a small time local jazz group to get a taste of what the big stars get. The hospitality crew for bringing us beer. Enough said. Most importantly, the beer gardens workers and 50/50 sellers. I recognize that ultimately your job isn’t glamorous, but the work that you do and the festival income it generates is ultimately what pays our performance fees and for that, I thank you.

As a volunteer, I’d like to thank all of my fellow volunteers for being so much fun to work with. As special shout out as well to all the volunteer coordinators who put in an insane amount of hours to make this all work. Finally, I’d like to thank the festival for all the perks that come with being a volunteer. The cheep drinks and the pass into shows that aren’t sold out makes for a much more exciting festival for me without breaking the bank.

Photo by Aaron Brown Photography

The Performance…

Going into our jazz fest show this year I really didn’t feel prepared. We all worked really hard on the music and the performance, but something just didn’t feel right. But that all went away when we stepped on stage and played the first notes. I’m so fortunate to be able to play with some a talented group of musicians and to keep a more or less consistent line up for the whole five years we have been doing this.

Our audience started small due to the weather shutting down the band before us 15 minutes early, but the skies cleared up in time for our show and we went out there and hit it hard. Musically, everything fell into place. Performance wise, it felt great. In the last couple of years I’ve really loosened up on stage and it feels great. As we played, the audience started to slowly rebuild and by the end of our 90 minute set, the park was full again. It’s always great to play for familiar faces and I thank my friends and family for coming, but there is something special about playing for strangers. It’s thrilling to know people are hearing your music for the first or maybe even second or third time.  But either way, and audience is an audience and we appreciate each and every one of you.

To close, I want to thank some more people because I haven’t done enough of that already, so here we go…

To Kevin Tobin, artistic director of the festival, for booking this local blip on the radar of a jazz band year after year and giving us great time slots. To my band mates, Michael Stankowski, Bryn Becker, Nevin Buehler, and Dylan Smith for being solid musicians and thus, making me a better player. To the crew of PR Productions for putting up with us and still making us sound amazing. And most important of all, to my wife, Chelsea, for the endless support in chasing this (possibly) ludicrous dream of being a jazz musician, letting us make noise in the basement, and for allowing me to virtually disappear for 10 days every year when jazz fest rolls around.

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