By Doug Hallett
The Guelph Jazz Festival returns this week with lots of free things to do, including the festival’s third annual all-night Nuit Blanche. There are also several ticketed concerts, of which half a dozen are described by jazzfest artistic director Ajay Heble as “must see” shows.
Topping the list of attractions at the 19th annual festival is South Africa’s Abdullah Ibrahim, who has a solo piano concert on the River Run Centre’s main stage on Saturday Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.
Ibrahim, who rarely performs in North America, spent many years in exile before returning to South Africa when apartheid ended in 1992. His music is described as having been one of the driving forces behind the anti-apartheid movement, and he performed during the 1994 presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
Heble says he has “long dreamed” of bringing Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand, to the local jazzfest. His appearance, which will be Ibrahim’s only North American appearance, is a “real coup” for the festival, says Heble, the U of G English professor who founded it.
As well as performing on Sept. 8, Ibrahim will be interviewed onstage on Friday Sept. 7 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in a free event that’s part of the festival’s annual three-day jazz colloquium at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, which starts on Wednesday.
Heble’s fab five
Heble hesitates to single out particular concerts when asked what he’s most looking forward to in the line-up, saying he’s “genuinely excited about the whole program.”
However, he told the Trib this year’s festival includes five shows that he’d call “must sees,” along with Ibrahim’s concert.
In order of appearance, they are:
• A double bill show at 8 p.m. Sept. 6, in the sanctuary of St. George’s Anglican Church, featuring Montreal-based solo bass saxophone Colin Stetson and Guelph’s own hurdy gurdy soloist Ben Grossman
• An 8 p.m. Sept. 7 main-stage show at the River Run that will see California-based Rova Orkestrova present its interpretation of John Coltrane’s 1966 jazz album Ascension. (It’s preceded by a free 5 p.m. concert at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre where an 11-piece ensemble from Toronto, led by saxophonist Jeremy Strachan, will perform Coltrane’s original version of Ascension)
• A 10:30 a.m. Sept. 8 concert at the Guelph Youth Music Centre featuring American violinist Jenny Scheinman and American pianist Myra Melford
• A 1 p.m. Sept. 8 double bill in the River Run’s Co-operators Hall featuring mainly American musicians. New York pianist Matthew Shipp will perform in a duo with alto saxophonist Darius Jones, while koto player Miya Masaoka, bass player Reggie Workman and percussionist Gerry Hemingway will play as a trio
• A 10 p.m. Sept. 8 show in Co-operators Hall by Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer’s new trio.
Heble says this year’s Nuit Blanche – which translates loosely as “sleepless night” – is shaping up an exciting event lasting from sunset on Saturday Sept. 8 to sunrise on Sunday Sept. 9.
“There will be many, many highlights,” he said in an email. These include a first-ever Guelph appearance by German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, a return appearance by Brazil’s Sao Paulo Underground and an all-night celebration of the late American composer John Cage in honour of the 100th year of his birth.
With all the Nuit Blanche offerings, “the hardest thing, I think, will be for people to make choices about what to see, because there will be lots going on (and often at the same time),” Heble said.
“I encourage people to check out the amazing schedule, now available online” at www.guelphjazzfestival.com.
The festival’s jazz tent is moving this year from Upper Wyndham Street to the new Market Square in front of city hall, where music can be heard free of charge from 11:30 a.m. Saturday until close to midnight.
The jazz festival has been working again this year with KidsAbility, a local organization that helps children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Improvising musicians Susanna Hood and Scott Thomson and performers from KidsAbility will parade in brass-band style into the River Run Centre to greet Abdullah Ibrahim before his Sept. 8 piano concert.
Also free is the three days of talks, panel discussions, workshops, onstage interviews and musical performances that make up the festival’s annual jazz colloquium at Macdonald Stewart. It runs from about 9:15 a.m. to late afternoon on the three days starting Wednesday Sept. 5.
Festival passes and individual tickets can be bought at the River Run Centre box office, 510-763-3000. Concert tickets will also be sold at the door, if still available.