One of North America’s great jazz festivals is ramping up for its 32nd edition, and KNKX will be there for the first weekend. Stop by and say hello at our tent in the middle of the free jazz stages downtown in Robson Square near the Vancouver Art Gallery this Saturday and Sunday.
It’s a stacked festival once again this year, and KNKX has a preview to help you plan your jazz experience. Between June 22 and July 2, our neighbors to the north welcome more than 300 concerts over ten days, including more than 150 free shows. Obviously, that’s more than we have space to mention here, but you can find the full line up for this year's TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival at coastaljazz.ca. For a few highlights, here are 14 shows we think are well worth a trip across our northern border.
Antibalas (Friday, June 23, The Vogue, 8p)
Entering the first weekend of the festival on the good foot, Vancouver will be moving to the afro-beat rhythms of Brooklyn’s popular Antibalas. For nearly 20 years, the band’s high energy, danceable jams have drawn from the musical legacy of Nigeria’s biggest music star Fela Kuti. They’ve been featured in the hit musical Fela! and they include his talented eldest son Femi on saxophone – dance shoes a plus for this one.
Sammy Miller & The Congregation (Saturday, June 24, Georgia Stage, 5:15p)
The drummer, singer and bandleader has a deep love for vintage jazz material, but a fresh, irreverent way of delivering the goods. His band fully buys into Miller’s joyful performances that verge on vaudeville with synchronized dance moves and sharp, comedic timing carried off with complete sincerity. For proof, look no further than their recent studio session live on 88.5.
Donny McCaslin Group (Saturday, June 24, Ironworks, 9:30p)
Whether or not you caught the band in Seattle last week, the dramatic, searching modern jazz of the Donny McCaslin Group is worth repeated listening. Rocketing to fame in the wake of their David Bowie collaboration Blackstar and their subsequent tribute album Beyond Now, this is an allstar quartet that earns their diverse crowd of jazz and rock fans. Check out the amazing duet session on KNKX Donny performed with Nate Wood on bass.
Ariel Pocock (Sunday, June 25, Robson Stage, 1:30p)
The Bellevue native and product of the Newport High jazz program has just released her second album, Living in Twilight, a blend of jazzy pop vocals (or are they poppy jazz vocals?) and dynamic piano instrumentals from a variety of sources. A pair of originals share room with a handful of jazz standards and smartly chosen modern songs by Adele, Sufjan Stevens and The Weepies.
Kandace Springs (Sunday, June 25, Pyatt Hall, 7:30p)
This Nashville-based singer, songwriter, pianist found a big fan and patron in Prince just a couple years ago, and she’s been building her audience steadily with the recent release of her soulful jazz album Soul Eyes. Not necessarily inspired by his adventurous pop/rock musical style, she says he helped her find her musical personality just sitting at the piano and singing. Springs is sure to see Prince’s predictions about her career come to fruition, “all your dreams are going to come true.”
Kenny Barron (Sunday, June 25, Kay Meek Center, 7:30)
An underrated but legendary pianist, Kenny Barron presents a solo performance hot on the heels of his Grammy-nominated trio album Book of Intuition from last year. A world-class sideman with sax legend Stan Getz and the great Ella Fitzgerald in their last years, Barron continues to increase his stature as a bandleader. This show may be the high point for fans of classic, straight ahead piano jazz. Look for Abe Beeson's interview with Kenny Barron, talking about his amazing journey in jazz, on this website very soon.
Cyrus Chestnut (Tuesday, June 27, Pyatt Hall, 7:30p)
Though twenty years younger than Kenny Barron, Cyrus Chestnut is another top player in the jazz tradition of blues and swing, though with a deep connection to the gospel church in nearly every note he plays. Cyrus has been busily recording and releasing records, including the new CD There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit, and gives his fans in the Northwest another chance to catch his trio up close.
Tierney Sutton Band (Tuesday, June 27, Kay Meek Center, 7:30p)
There’s good reason for noting L.A.-based singer Tierney Sutton’s band, as she’s forged a nearly telepathic connection to her long-time backing group. Their latest collaboration is The Sting Variations album, surprisingly jazzy arrangements of music by the pop singer Sting and his old rock band The Police. Perhaps not so surprising, as Sting has long-favored a good jazz standard and all signs point to him eventually jumping head first into the world of improvisation. The Tierney Sutton Band set a fine example for him.
Jacob Collier (Tuesday, June 27, Performance Works, 9p)
He doesn’t turn 23 until August, but multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier is dropping jaws with each performance as he continues his mostly-one-man tour around the world. A recent Benaroya Hall show built a lot of buzz around Seattle and getting tickets to the relatively intimate (400 max?) Performance Works space on Granville Island is sure to be challenging. Modern jazz or avant-pop, Jacob Collier is a star by any measure.
Branford Marsalis w/Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (Wednesday, June 28, Orpheum Theatre, 7p)
The world has been well-aware of Branford Marsalis, the jazz star, since his work in the 80s with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers through his time as band leader on The Tonight Show, up to the non-stop series of award-winning albums with his quartet. This concert shows his talent in a very different setting, but don’t expect a mess of strings and woodwinds to temper his forceful musical personality. He’s been playing with classical ensembles on and off for nearly his entire career, so expect Branford to sound right at home.
Buster Williams & Something More (Friday, June 30, Pyatt Hall, 7:30p)
From his early work with some of the finest singers in jazz – Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter – to the improvisational rock-fusion of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet, bassist Buster Williams has been leading his own groups for more than 40 years. The Something More group includes the wonderful Portland-based pianist George Colligan, busy sax star Steve Wilson, and longtime Return to Forever drummer Lenny White, promising something more than most allstar groups. This is modern mainstream jazz at the highest level.
Tony Foster Quartet (Fri/Sat, June 30/July 1, Frankie’s Jazz Club, 8p)
Vancouver native Tony Foster relocated to the Seattle area a few years back, gracing us with a KNKX studio session performance last Fall with music from his wonderful recent release to the film music of Ennio Morricone and Henry Mancini, Project Paradiso. Back in his old neighborhood, Foster expands to a quartet with guitarist Pasquale Grasso for another look at cinematic melodies mixed with a nod to many of his jazz heroes, like fellow Canadian Oscar Peterson.
Neil Cowley Trio (Saturday, July 1, Performance Works, 9:30p)
Part of the festival’s celebration of jazz from the United Kingdom, British pianist Neil Cowley and his trio are pushing acoustic jazz to its limits with a genre-defying blend of rock’s power, baroque grace, hypnotic atmosphere and hooks on which you can hang a large family’s winter coats. Cowley’s past work with acid jazz giants Brand New Heavies and modern pop queen Adele give only hints of this trio’s capabilities. A hidden jem in the festival landscape this year, Neil Cowley is not to be missed.
Scott Hamilton Trio (Sunday, July 2, Pyatt Hall, 7:30p)
Reminiscent of the great swing tenors of bygone days, Scott Hamilton was one of the few to keep the style of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins alive in the 70s. Now well-loved as one of the great tenor sax stars in jazz, Scott Hamilton continues his pursuit of beauty and melody, spending much of his time playing to appreciative audiences in Europe. This may be where he met young Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello, touted as one of the few great stride pianists in the world today. Swing is the thing with this threesome.