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Halifax Jazz Fest’s 25th Anniversary ♪ July 8-16, 2011

By Michelle Brunet

♫ Shoobee doobee doo wah– Ski bop ba dah- twenty-five ♪

That’s right - the Halifax Jazz Fest is celebrating its silver anniversary and it’s the perfect balance of old and new. The festival has grown from its 1987 beginnings of 13 or so acts to this year’s 100 programs comprised of over 400 local musicians in addition to performers from all across North America. You can expect more headliners and more venues than ever before, including the waterfront helipad, Theodore Tugboat and the Tall Ship Silva.

No longer on the corner of Queen and Spring Garden, the hub of the Jazz Fest will now be on the waterfront at the Salter Street Extension across from the Alexander Keith’s Brewery. “We did a little bit of shopping around sites and this is a really good new home for us,” says Jazz East’s Laura “Lulu” Healy. She expects tourists and locals alike to enjoy this new Festival Tent venue, where daytime concerts and programs are free.

This is Lulu’s third festival as Creative Director meaning she is in charge of basically building the whole festival, from selecting all of the venues and performers to producing the shows. She starts booking musicians as early as September and she wanted to make this year’s silver anniversary extra special. “It takes months and months of getting disappointed or getting excited about something and then it falls through. There are quite a few things that fell through for this year, but I’m really happy with the way things lined up. There’s a lot more heavyweight jazz than last year in terms of big names and I think people will notice that”.
Some first time appearances include jazz pianist and singer Freddy Cole (Nat King Cole’s brother), Bass phenomenon Christian McBride and Kenny Barron, one of the best jazz piano players in the world.

This year’s festivities also emphasize musicians that characterize its 25 year history. Lulu put together the Jazz East Anniversary Big Band that will perform a retrospective concert at 7pm, July 14 at St. Matthew’s United Church. “There are 21 musicians that have been central players in the festival throughout the years. Mike Murley is coming back, Kirk MacDonald, Jay Clayton, David Braid, Don Palmer … there’s a lot of local heavyweights.”

Lulu adds there will also be a big parade on Lower Water Street on July 9 and a concert series celebrating Jazz drummer Jerry Granelli’s 70th birthday. Granelli has played most of the Halifax jazz fests since 1988. Originally from San Francisco, he moved to Halifax in the early 90s and started the Creative Music Workshops that the festival has been hosting for the last 15 years. As part of this year’s series, Granelli is collaborating with musicians in four different programs. “It’s him playing with people that have been really central to his musical journey,” says Lulu. For one show, Anthony Cox, a legendary bassist from Minneapolis, will play with Granelli, his son J. Anthony Granelli (bass) and Simon Fisk (cello). Another program includes Granelli playing with his trio of Danny Oore and Fisk with Mary Jay Lamond improvising Gaelic vocals over top their instrumentals.

Even if you do not consider yourself to be a jazz fan, it is part of Jazz East’s mandate to showcase a plethora of musical genres. In a one week period, tents, pubs, churches and ships will be oozing of world music, blues, roots, folk, contemporary classical, R&B, soul and improvisational sounds. For opening night, The Bad Plus is doing something completely avant-garde. They will be performing their interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring accompanied by a visual spectacle of video projections.

Lulu recommends that you check out the program. “I can guarantee that there is something in there for everybody, that everybody will like something”. From the spoken word poetry of our own Shauntay Grant and Nomadic Massive’s hip hop tunes fused with world cultural style to Sister Euclid’s synthesis of rock, blue grass and jazz and Juno Winner Charles Spearin’s transformation of talking voices – there is indeed a show for each person’s taste.
Of course if you are looking for some traditional jazz, there is lots to choose from, including Drummer Mark McLean, who taps into established sounds but still keeps it fresh, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band pumping out Dixieland jazz straight out of New Orleans.
Lulu describes there is something really special about the Halifax Jazz Fest. “The festival has just grown and grown. It’s always kind of been a musicians’ festival - it was started by musicians. There’s a huge component of local players in the festival. I don’t know of a lot of other festivals that have that anymore.”

As you’re gearing up for July 8-16, check out Jazz East’s Retrospective site. It is a cornucopia of photographs, videos and recollections from the last 25 years. You can share your own memories too, like veteran Halifax jazz musician Mike Cowie: “My favourite jazz fest concert I attended was by African trumpeter Hugh Masakala. It was so cool hearing cats from Africa play their sound and groove and Hugh’s playing was so deep. I also dug how he used his music to spread his humanitarian beliefs.”

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