Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2009: Jimmy Cobb

Paul Nolin:
Tour Guide on the Inside

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The weeks preceding a festival the size of the Groove-FM Jazz Winnipeg Festival are intense—last confirmations for artists, tiny adjustments to the scheduling, fine-tuning promotion and ticketing and volunteers. Paul Nolin, the Executive Producer of Winnipeg’s annual big jazz bash, is pretty relaxed when I stop in to talk to him early in April.

I’ve had a sneak peak at the Mainstage line-up so I know the acts are pretty remarkable, and they cover a broad style range, from heavy-hitters Branford Marsalis and Kenny Werner to the New Orleans-style Dirty Dozen Brass Band, to bluesman Buddy Guy, to R&B legend Al Green. “It’s all about good music,” Nolin says. “A festival is about discovering good music regardless of the style labels.”

Audiences will have some new places to discover good music this year. Two of the evening series will take place in new venues: Le Garage, a lively club on Provencher, and The Rachel Browne Studio at the Crocus Building in the Exchange District.

Nolin is excited about this development. “Le Garage has really been a place to go over the past year with lots of music. Ray Beaudry is doing a great job making a scene there, and the room has a lot of soul.” The Rachel Browne Studio might be a little harder for people to imagine, but Nolin is confident that the experience will win them over. With cabaret-style seating, a grand piano, full production support, and light bar service, it is shaping up to be a winner. “One of the things I’ve learned in my travels to New York and Texas,” Nolin says, “is that perfect venues don’t exist anywhere. But if you put great music and good audiences in place, the rest takes care of itself.”

Nolin is excited about the talent that will be heating up these Jazz Festival Club stages. Highlights? “Brandi Disterheft is coming through with her sextet. Her CD is terrific, and it’s always exciting to see a talented young woman standing behind a double-bass.” He’s keen about Monk’s Casino, a German group that’s a favorite of his Vancouver counterpart. Another European musician that will really connect with Winnipeg audiences is Jeanette Lindström, a singer from Sweden; Nolin is pairing her up with Jill Barber, an East Coast singer with roots in folk whose new CD features wonderful old-style torch ballads. Nolin is excited about welcoming back trumpeter Miron Rafajlovic who has been on tour with Cirque du Soleil this past year. “He’s a great entertainer with an aggressive edge,” Nolin says, “I like aggressive!”

Who else is traveling on the Canadian jazz festival circuit? “The Shuffle Demons—they’re a Toronto institution. Gypsophilia, a Halifax band, has this Django Reinhardt thing going on—people will really like that sound. Jean-Christophe Béney is a great sax player from Montreal who appears on the Effendi label. Oh, and John Stetch released a recording with his TV Trio—they do a whole series of TV theme songs, and it’s novel but he’s also such a solid player that the pieces stand on their own.”

The newly-renovated West End Cultural Centre is a festival venue this year. Kenny Werner, a festival headliner, will be there on Canada Day. José Gonzáles, a musician with a folky, subtle Latin-tinge vibe, will play there—he was through last July and packed the Park Theatre. One of the big shows at the WECC is the Bad Plus, a perennial favorite—they’ve released a new recording with singer Wendy Lewis who will perform with them.

The Pyramid stage is more varied this year, as well. It opens with African singer/guitarist Vieux Farka Touré (son of the legendary Ali) who does a kind of world-blues fusion. The Pyramid line-up also includes Alice Russell, a British soul-style singer. The Sea and Cake and Land of Talk are more to the rock-roots end of the spectrum. “The King Khan and BBQ Show is gonna be sloppy debauchery,” Nolin says, “and Keys N Krates is a project we’ve been chasing for awhile now.”

One of Nolin’s pet projects this year is Samuel James, a blues player with a rich guitar sound, who’ll appear at Times Change(d). Matt Anderson, a great roots rocker who recently won big at the East Coast Music Awards, is on that stage line-up as well.

Of course these are the visiting acts. The festival also draws on the dozens of high-level jazz musicians who live and work here in Winnipeg. That list goes on and on—and it continues to grow every year as more new artists show themselves to be ready to take the stage. “Winnipeg has a great musical base,” says Nolin, “with really strong players across a whole range of styles. It’s not surprising really since we have very eclectic audiences here too—people who are game to hear a lot of different stuff, as long as it’s got real character.”

The whole week winds up with a free weekend at Old Market Square. Friday night is all Latin, and after that it’s all soul and R&B. The Montreal band Beast is programmed in both nights, and we’ll hear Blue King Brown, and the UK band Heavy. “Everything wraps up with Moses Mays and a load of local talent,” Nolin says. He promises a “big sweaty party—with no mosquitoes!”

Charlene Diehl is also a festival organizer, but her charges are the unruly writers of THIN AIR, Winnipeg’s annual literary festival in September.

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