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No live jazz festival? No problem. It's streaming.

How a digital jazz festival without superstars is making an impact

Many locally produced international music festivals and concert tours were either put on pause or outright cancelled due to COVID-19.

Kent Sangster, artistic director of the TD Edmonton International Jazz Festival, has instead fought to produce a creative experiment that gives musicians and fans a renewed sense of purpose.

A stripped-down virtual version of the festival's normal 10-day run is available free online from June 19 to June 21 and again on June 27 and 28 at edmontonjazz.com.

Sangster’s reasoning to shift direction was based on several factors.

“The festival exists to give people in Edmonton access to quality jazz. But it also exists to support musicians locally, nationally and internationally. And at this time, we wanted to give musicians a bit of work,” Sangster said during a telephone interview.

Friday, June 19

One of Canada’s most expressive trumpeters, Bria Skonberg launches the digital festival at 8 p.m. with multi-Grammy-nominated guitar prodigy Julian Lage following at 9 p.m.

“Bria’s got all the pieces. She’s a strong musician. She’s a good singer with a powerful stage presence and her ability to market herself is very strong. And she’s very humble and hard-working.

“Julian is clearly a virtuoso from an early age. He really comes from the blues and is part of the lineage of modern jazz guitarists.”

Saturday, June 20

The Andrew Glover band, with St. Albert bassist John Taylor and drummer Sandro Dominelli, of the locally run Dominelli School of Music, lets jazz soar with a live-on-tape performance from the Yardbird Suite at 8 p.m.

As one of the top rising jazz singers on the scene, Veronica Swift joins pianist-composer Emmet Cohen for a performance at 9 p.m. Individually, each musician is a vibrant performer. Together they command the medium with driving passion and communicate at the deepest level.

Sunday, June 21

Dianne Donovan interviews Sheila Jordan, a jazz pioneer of bebop and scat singing, at 3 p.m. on CKUA Radio. A walking encyclopedia of jazz history, Jordan was mentored by the legendary Charlie Parker and was active in New York’s jazz scene for numerous decades.

The evening ends with a bang at 8 p.m. as Edmonton’s Funkford Family, an energetic nine-piece band that also includes St. Albert guitarist Peter Belec gets groovin'. A dance hybrid of funk, soul, jazz and blues, Funkford Family will stream live from the Starlite Room.

Saturday, June 27

Canadian cellist, composer and sound designer Christine Hanson, whose latest work The Cremation of Sam McGee is drawing international attention, will stream at 8 p.m.

Sunday, June 28

Edmonton trio Shelley Jones & A Touch of Cole (with Wes Yaciuk and We Caswell), are featured at 3 p.m. in a pre-recorded live show from the Yardbird Suite. The jazz trio performs a repertoire that varies from classic jazz to modern pop/soul and crossover jazz.

The COVID back-story

In March 2020, concert tours and festivals took the huge step of cancelling events and bringing the entertainment industry to a grinding halt. Sangster’s team kept an eye on Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter and ticketing agent, and took their cue from them.

“We went through lots of indecision. We reluctantly but realistically had to cancel the festival. Unfortunately, there was an immediate expectation we would flip a switch and start streaming. But it wasn’t that easy,” Sangster said.

The festival was founded in 2005 and Sangster is a seasoned professional saxophonist, band leader and artistic director.

“But this time I felt like I was chasing my tail.”

All festival venues and artists were booked up to a year ago. Verbal agreements and signed contracts were in place, however the festival had not yet sent out deposits.

“Fortunately we built up a good reputation with agencies. Anyone we intended to book, will be presented next year.”

During discussions about virtual presentations, the team opted to shy away from the often poorly produced living room streams that were saturating the market. Instead, Sangster chose to produce snappy, high-quality videos that fused music and personal interviews, a union of artistry and intimate perspectives.

“We assembled the videos to give insights into people.”

Bria Skonberg and Julian Lage were originally slated to perform live at the festival and graciously offered to restructure their performance with inspirational insights.

“Funkford led by Jamie Cooper is everybody’s favourite band. I like artistic excellence and it’s a style that’s fun.

“Andrew Glover reminds me how good some jazz players are. I’m a big supporter of young musicians, but you have to remember that older players need support too.”

For stay-at home viewers this year’s jazz festival is an opportunity to stretch out on the couch, pop a favourite beverage and munch on snacks while listening to one-of-a-kind concerts.

“I hope this will be as engaging, entertaining and comfortable for the people as well as the artists. And we want to let people know that all the artists who committed to this have been paid. You can consider this a warm-up to next year’s festival. And it's free.”


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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