Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2011: Rufus Reid

Jazz at Aqua:
Must be Something in the Water

Written by:

A year ago, bookstore owner Kelly Hughes didn’t know much about jazz. Now the performance space upstairs at Aqua Books is one of the busiest jazz venues in the city, and George Colligan is shaking things up as the store’s first Songwriter-in-Residence.

For those of you who haven’t visited Aqua Books yet, it’s a cheeky update to the dusty old second-hand bookshop. As well as thousands of titles, you’ll find quirky fridge magnets and tshirts, and the occasional piece of vintage furniture. The main floor is also home to EAT! Bistro, featuring the inspired (and affordable) food stylings of Kelly’s wife, Chef Candace. Up the stairs are Aqua’s gathering spaces: a small room for groups of a couple of dozen people, a big “angel room” with surprisingly good acoustics, and several studio spaces for Aqua’s various artists-in-residence.

Aqua Books identifies itself as one of the busiest performance spaces in western Canada, and the stream of readings, concerts, lectures, discussions, films, plays, and special events at bears out that claim. Many of those performances feature jazz, and the laid-back atmosphere is a good fit for both musicians and audiences.

The March-April jazz line-up includes one more outing in the “feat.” series. On April 9, the Curtis Nowosad Trio teams up with Michael Petkau Falk, the indie/folk musician who is the guiding light these days at West End Cultural Centre. Aqua is also introducing a new series, Mondo!Musica, showcasing jazz with a world flavour. First outings include the Marco Castillo Trio (March 5), Richard Moody and Amir Amiri (April 19), and the Oceanic Ensemble with Steve Kirby and Sassan Mirkhani (April 28).

George Colligan has been busily creating songs and hooking up singers since the start of February. He holds down the keyboard for another showcase of new songs on March 12 with the second installment of “Two Hands, Ten Voices.” It’s a great opportunity to hear George’s compositional creativity and the vocal stylings of several of the city’s fine jazz singers. George is offering a songwriting workshop on March 5; check the Aqua Books website to find out how to take advantage of George’s mentoring talent.

Also on the roster in March and April are concerts by the George Colligan Trio, the Bert Johnson Trio, the Paul Balcain Trio, and the Helen White Quartet. Rounding out the list are a couple of recitals by senior Jazz Studies students and an evening featuring student ensembles from the U of M, as well as a lecture by Owen Clarke about the history of the blues here in Winnipeg.

It’s worth noting that Kelly Hughes is always on the go, so quite possibly another event or two with a jazz twist will take shape. The Aqua Books website,, is the go-to place for all the details.

A bookstore makes an unconventional club, but Winnipeg audiences aren’t married to convention. A lot of people have already discovered that a meal at EAT! Bistro followed by concert up in the angel room makes for a perfect evening. You might want to join that club…

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