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Five Years of Steel City Jazz

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Photo courtesy Joanna St-Jacques Photography.

Do you have a favourite Steel City Jazz Festival performance? Here’s a few of mine: in 2015, when Luanda Jones’ Brazilian-jazz grooves had people up and dancing by the end of her set in a very-crowded Artword Artbar. In 2014 when our (now) good friends Adrean Farrugia and Sophia Perlman performed together at the festival for the first time, and the music was so beautiful and intense you could hear everyone exhale together at the end of each song. Last year, when we had to put out all the extra seats we could find at the Pearl Company for Mike Malone-as-Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue Sextet. And waaay back in 2013, our unforgettable first-annual opening night show (and only outdoor concert!) at the Hamilton Waterfront, featuring the Jazz Connection Big Band and the best sunset we ever could have asked for (see above).

I’m confident that our fifth festival will add a few favourites to your list: Colleen Allen is going to blow you away with her four-show Artist-in-Residence series; vocalist Alex Pangman and violinist Drew Jurecka are both bringing classic swing to Artword Artbar; and I hope many of you will take advantage of our clinic/performance combo with Aubrey Dayle and his trio On Topic to connect with the musicians and learn more about their craft. Maybe the most memorable moment won’t even come at a concert, but at one of our talks, clinics or workshops happening throughout the festival. And don’t forget jazz brunch at Rust City Brewery; coffee always improves the enjoyment of jazz.

Five years is a big milestone for a small festival such as ours. I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but it’s not an over exaggeration to say that there is no guarantee each year that another Steel City Jazz Festival will happen, so making it to five years is a big deal. This festival is sustained by the enthusiasm of the Hamilton jazz community, listeners and musicians alike, who believe that live jazz is important and that a festival is a pretty fun way to make it happen! That definitely includes our sponsors, Smordin Law and NLP Canada Training, whose generosity and belief in the festival has pushed the Steel City Jazz Festival forward and given us a solid foundation for growth.

I hope that you will join us this year in not just celebrating where we’ve been but looking forward to where we’re going next. Miles Davis couldn’t sit still musically for more than five years at a time and neither should we. We are trying out some new things this year: we’re back to a one-weekend format with a packed line-up, we’re hosting our first show at Mills Hardware, and we’re featuring a much more robust Speaker Series including a panel discussion on jazz in Hamilton on October 29th. I hope you’ll let us know what you like, what we could do better, and what you’d like to see in the future. Because here’s another lesson from Miles: he couldn’t have done it alone, and neither should we. If you enjoy the Steel City Jazz Festival and want to see it succeed over the next five years and beyond, then get involved! The festival is here to serve the needs of the Hamilton jazz community, and if you’re reading this, that’s you. Help us plot the course for next year and beyond. Say hello at a show, send an email, reach out on social media. Get involved, and help make the next five years of Steel City Jazz a reality.

Chris Ferguson
Director, Steel City Jazz Festival

2017 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence: Saxophonist Colleen Allen

This is a milestone year for the Steel City Jazz Festival. The festival has had many ups and the occasional down over the years but I’m glad to say the process has been filled with amazing people who share my love of jazz music. The people I’ve met through the festival over the last five years have made the many times I didn’t think we’d ever get to the five-year mark well worth it. From musicians to audience members to radio hosts, the music lovers of Hamilton are the best motivation and reward for the long hours put in promoting this little festival.

The Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence series was started with the goal of connecting those music lovers with the festival. I love the idea of the festival somehow being more than the sum of its parts, and I think the Artist-in-Residence series helps get it there. By seeing the same artist multiple times over the course of the festival, you get to know them better. The Artist-in-Residence gets to show a broader range of their work, forge relationships with other musicians and experiment with new projects.  I hope that by the end of the week the audience and the artist feel better connected to the Hamilton jazz community.

Colleen Allen, our 2017 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence, understood immediately what we want to accomplish at the Steel City Jazz Festival, and I think she’s put together our best series yet. Colleen is a very accomplished musician: she’s a Mohawk grad (!); a multi-instrumentalist who performs on saxophone, flute, clarinet and accordion; and has played with Molly Johnson, David Clayton Thomas, Holly Cole, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Rik Emmett, Marc Jordan, Hilario Duran, The Toronto Blues Review, Andrew Craig, Jackie Richardson, Women With Horns, Cirque Du Soleil, and SoulPepper Theatre (among many others) .

Colleen will be performing four times over the course of the festival with four very different bands: Colleen opens the festival at Artbar October 24th with her quartet and vocalist Genevieve Marentette; she joins Caribbean jazz sextet Kalabash on October 27th at Mills Hardware; on the 28th she’s back at Artbar playing with the ECM-influenced Barry Livingston Group and on the 29th Colleen closes the festival with Darcy Hepner for some ‘Alto and Tenor’ Madness.

I’m so excited for this lineup. Each group is fantastic and unique. Colleen will be playing with a mix of musicians from inside and outside of Hamilton, and has been eager to get involved in the festival in every way she can. Colleen will also be kicking off our  lineup of free talks on the 28th with an Introduction to Improvisation workshop at Artword Artbar at 12pm. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she showed up at a late night jam somewhere too, so keep your ears open!

The Artist-in-Residence series has become one of my favourite parts of the festival, and it wasn’t possible until Smordin Law offered us their support three years ago. It’s not too often that someone comes along and tells you that not only do they like what you’re doing, but that they want to help you take it to the next level. Smordin Law has done exactly that and I’m so grateful to have gotten to work with them these past few years to get the festival to where it is today. They have been amazing friends, supporters and promoters of the festival and I am so happy to have them as a part of our community.

Chris Ferguson
Director, Steel City Jazz Festival

Kalabash: Caribbean Jazz October 27 at Mills Hardware

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When I first met with our 2017 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence, Colleen Allen, she had so many fantastic suggestions of possible groups she could put together that we could have done three festivals. I wish we could have done them all, trust me when I say you would not have gotten bored.  But the suggestion that I was most excited for was Kalabash.

Kalabash is a jazz sextet from Toronto, formed in 1993, focused on using the steel pan as a lead voice in the ensemble and dedicated to experimenting with the layering of rich jazz harmonies over the folk and popular rhythms of the Caribbean. The band is made up of Gareth Burgess on steel pans, Joaquin Nunez Hidalgo on drums, Anthony Pierre on percussion, Michael Shand on keyboards, Andrew Stewart on electric bass and Colleen on saxophone, flute and clarinet.  This is a fantastic group of musicians, and they play a style of jazz that we haven’t ever featured at the festival before. Just listen and you’ll be as convinced as I am that this is sure to be a highlight of the 2017 festival!

Another piece of exciting news for this show: it’s our first ever time hosting a show at Mills Hardware on King Street! Tickets are available now on Ticketfly for $15, or you can get tickets at the door for $20/$15 for students.

 

2017 Poster Design by Kareem Ferreira

One of the most exciting parts of the festival-planning process is asking an artist to create our poster design. I’m so proud of the beautiful artwork that his been created for our posters in the past, and this year is no different. I’m thrilled to reveal the poster for the 2017 Steel City Jazz Festival, created by Hamilton-based (and recently, Arizona-based) artist Kareem Ferreira:

You can see more of Kareem’s work on his Instagram. I asked Kareem to describe his work, and he had this to say:

“My painting is intended to capture mood, while evoking the similar expressions being depicted. This intention of capturing feelings and ideas has materialized into an interesting body of figurative art. I find myself breaking down expression into individual modules of the human form. Focusing on individual parts of the face and body and experimenting with the tactile nature of paint application I am capable of dissecting the translations of this message”

I had long admired Kareem’s art when I approached him about working on the poster for the festival. His portraits beautifully capture the emotion of their subjects, and the joyful expression depicted on our poster is a wonderful symbol for the fifth year of the festival.

Fifth Annual Steel City Jazz Festival Dates Announced: Oct 24-29

The Steel City Jazz Festival celebrates its fifth year this October! We’re switching back to a one-weekend format and bringing you some of our most exciting programming yet, including four shows featuring our 2017 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence Colleen Allen. Check back soon for festival details, artist profiles and more!

Where To Eat Before the Show: 2016 Edition

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The food at Mesa is top-notch.

The 4th annual Steel City Jazz Festival starts later today, so naturally now is a good time to take a momentary break from talking jazz to talk food instead. In case you missed out on NOSH last week, let me fill you in: there’s a lot of good food in Hamilton. I’ve got my go-to spots: Hamilton classics like Ola alongside newer favourites like Knead Pizza and Small’s. Since just last year all kinds of new restaurants have opened up around downtown Hamilton, bringing even more quality choices to a fantastic food scene. Each year we like to include a couple of shout-outs to our faves in the form of recommendations on where to eat before catching a show. This list is by no means exhaustive, just a few of the many options worth checking out!

Mesa

A lot of people, myself included, were sad to see Mex-I-Can close down a little while back. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before Mesa opened at 255 James St North, offering up Mexican cuisine that’s as delicious as ever. If you’ve got a craving for something cheesy and saucy that will fill you right up, Mesa has you covered. Honestly I’d go just for the bean dip. The second best part (after the food)? It’s right around the corner from Artword Artbar, so no need to worry about being late for the show!

Zyla’s

Located just down the street from Mesa is Zyla’s, which has quickly established itself as a jazz hotspot in the city. I love the vibe inside Zyla’s, it has a perfect jazz-club atmosphere. With a new menu and some killer drink-deals, it’s easy to see why so many people have fallen for Zyla’s as a great new spot to hang out, have a drink and listen to great music. On any given night you’re likely to hear some Steel City Jazz Festival performers playing, and like Artbar, Zyla’s have been doing a fantastic job of supporting young, local and up-and-coming musicians. If you’re just grabbing a drink or looking for a meal, Zyla’s is always a solid choice.

The Brew

As a member of the Hamilton Audio Visual Node, I’m down on Barton Street pretty often, and I’ve seen a few changes to the strip of Barton between James North and Hughson since HAVN opened up a few years ago. Unfortunately those changes are sometimes short-lived (we miss you, Golden Brown). So I’m extra excited that not only did the Brew open up just a few doors down, but that it has flourished as a welcome addition to the street. Serving up delicious pub fare, you can get a solid meal at a good price at the Brew for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff make the Brew the kind of place that you want to make ‘your place’. To top it all off, the Brew regularly present all different kinds of live music, including lots of jazz!

Wherever you decide to grab a bite tonight, we hope we’ll see you at Artword Artbar at 8pm for two-time Juno Award-winner Andrew Downing and his band Otterville as the kick-off the 4th Annual Steel City Jazz Festival!

Closing Weekend: The Jazz Connection Big Band & Scenic November 4th & 5th

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The Jazz Connection Big Band performing at the 2015 Steel City Jazz Festival

Those of you who have followed the development of the festival over the past few years may have noticed two threads connecting each iteration to the other. The first might be the Jazz Connection Big Band, who opened the very fist Steel City Jazz Festival with an amazing performance at the Hamilton waterfront back-dropped by a gorgeous August sunset. They have played every festival since then, and this year is no different: they perform at the Pearl Company on Friday, November 4th. Their performances are always a festival highlight and always pack a punch; no matter how many times I see them they never fail to have a few surprises in store. As an extra incentive to join us on the fourth (as if that’s necessary), they’re joined this year by vocalist Aubrey Wilson.

Another thread would be the inclusion of musicians from Mohawk College. Honestly the connections between Steel City Jazz Festival performers and Mohawk are are so numerous that I don’t have a chance of going through them all here, but for starters our 2016 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence, Mike Malone, taught at Mohawk College for 25 years; last year’s Artist-in-Residence, Adrean Farrugia, was a student of Mike’s at Mohawk! It’s always a pleasure for me to present not only graduates or faculty members from the Mohawk music program but current students, and so I’m very pleased that to close out this year’s festival on November 5th we’ll be featuring The Scenics, a group of graduating Mohawk students playing music from the Great American Songbook. The Scenics are Stephanie Sloss, Aoife Doyle, Summer Mortimer, Chanille Blair, Leah Korkowski, Chris Power and Alyssa Giammaria singing, backed up by  Ian Brown, Keegan Larose, Nigel Stewart, Zakk Benn in the band.

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The Scenics

I’m happy these two performances ended up falling on the closing weekend of the festival, since I think they represent two goals that we try to hold closely to: just like in jazz music, we always want to be looking forward while remembering where we came from. The 2016 Steel City Jazz Festival is just a few days away now, and I hope you will join us for another year of celebrating the Hamilton jazz community!

The Jazz Connection Big Band perform November 4th and The Scenics perform November 5th, both shows at the Pearl Company starting at 8pm (16 Steven St). Online tickets are available now.