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Why ‘Steel City’?

When Emily and I first started thinking about hosting a jazz festival in Hamilton, we looked to other jazz festivals for inspiration. There seemed to be a common format for naming the festival: we had just returned from the Detroit Jazz Festival, and earlier in the summer we had been to the Toronto Jazz Festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival (they got a little bit creative), so the obvious choice was to host the Hamilton Jazz Festival. We ran with the name long enough for me to register a domain name (go ahead and see where takes you).

Sometime early on though, Emily decided the name needed a change. After all, we had decided to not follow the typical outdoor jazz festival format, so why feel bound to naming the festival like everyone else? She suggested the Steel City Jazz Festival, and we both loved it immediately. It’s been that way ever since.

I’ve had some people ask me whether I thought including ‘Steel City’ in the name was a good idea, and I told them I had honestly never even thought about it. I imagine any objection to ‘Steel City’ branding comes from a good place, a desire to be forward-thinking and to celebrate the many aspects of this city unrelated to the steel industry. But in jazz music, there’s no escaping what came before you. Each new player does their best to understand the contributions made by others before them and to expand, reinterpret or say something new with that knowledge in hand. History is vital to jazz music.

One of our goals with the Steel City Jazz Festival is to celebrate the history of jazz music in Hamilton because we recognize that without the many contributions of musicians and community members before us, the festival wouldn’t be possible. And so although the connection of this theme with the name ‘Steel City’ came after the fact, I like that the name of our festival affirms in some way our goal. Steel is a part of Hamilton’s heritage, and so is jazz, and I hope you will come celebrate them both with us this August.

Chris Ferguson

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