The next Nanaimo International Jazz Festival may be half a year away, but the leadoff to the second annual celebration is already underway.
The festival association is launching a Friday concert series, Have You Heard?, presenting local and regional talent twice a month from March to June at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre’s Shaw Auditorium. The concert series is partially funded by a B.C. Music Fund Live Music Program grant.
“This is innovative. This is the first time in Nanaimo that there’s ever been a professional-level series of jazz concerts,” festival association president Andrew Homzy said.
The series kicks off this Friday with It’s All About the Voice, an evening of jazz standards with the Marty Steele trio backing up vocalists Robyn Fortunat, Layla Hanson, Brent Parrish and Daniel Sim. Steele said he didn’t know any of the young singers at first but he soon felt uplifted collaborating with them.
“I play a lot of gigs in town solo and I used to play a lot of jazz but not much anymore and so it gave me a boost in my spirits working with the younger people who had a lot of energy. But what I was really, really happy about was that they had no problem taking my lead,” he said.
“When I started rehearsing with them I could be a little, not hard, but persistent. And I basically leaned on them that they had to know their parts and I couldn’t waste time with them and they responded just wonderfully. And every one of the singers has a special voice all their own and the blend, it was almost magical.”
The remaining seven shows are Women in Charge of Jazz (March 23) with the Monik Nordine and Ashley Wey Trios, Jazz Trombone with Classical Pluck (April 6) with the Nick La Riviere Septet with Strings, The Rags and Riches of Nico Rhodes (April 20) featuring the keyboardist solo and with his trio, Funktional Jazz (May 4) with the Harvey Paris Quintet featuring Ian Weiss, Andrew Homzy’s Sax no End (May 18) with Homzy and four other saxophonists, The Suite Sound of Jazz (June 1) with the Greg Bush Sextet and Loving Jazz (June 15) with Rosemary Lindsay and Ken Lister.
Homzy added that the 200-seat Shaw Auditorium is an ideal venue du to its size, central location and built-in parking. He said he would like to see the Friday series expand over the years.
“All these things fold into each other. It’s part of a continuous vision to celebrate and provide opportunities for local musicians to raise the cultural profile of Nanaimo, to utilize the fantastic resources that we have in the downtown and to build an audience that will and make people aware of the jazz festival, which will be in September,” he said.
“It’s all part of a continuous plan. Continuity and consistency, I think, are very important. We’re trying to build a home for jazz in Nanaimo.”
WHAT’S ON … It’s All About the Voice comes to the Vancouver Island Conference Centre Shaw Auditorium on Friday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $30, $20 for members, $15 for students with ID. Series subscription is $140. Tickets available at nanaimojazzfest.ca.