Many of you will know by now that Paul Nolin, the muscle behind Jazz Winnipeg for the last dozen years, has packed up his family and headed to Alberta where he has taken on the role of Senior Events Manager for Banff and Lake Louise Tourism. We wish you well, Paul! Moving forward, long-time Jazz Winnipeg employee Lynne Stefanchuk becomes the interim leader of the team.
I caught up to Paul before he left to gather a few reflections about his time at the helm of the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival…
Looking back over your years, what moments stand out for you?
The human moments always stand out. Meeting sweet Dave Brubeck. He needed to protect his hands, so he did this thing he called “elbows,” which was basically a fist-bump with elbows. He was so gentle and kind. And fragile. I remember helping him down the hall backstage. And yet, when he sat at the piano, he was transformed. It was a great show.
I remember Wynton Marsalis popping into the Pyramid for a jam session. I got excited because I was about to give him a lift back to the hotel, just him and me. Then we bumped into a street guy in front of the venue who, I think, was intoxicated and injured. Wynton was like, “I’ll walk back, Paul. Give this guy a lift home. He needs a ride more than I do.” So that’s what I did. A little bummed at missing a short hang with him, but impressed by his generosity and thoughtfulness.
Al Green is one of the reasons I got into this. I was too star-struck to even approach him backstage a few years ago and kicked myself all through the night for not even saying hello. And then a pair of elevator doors opened at the hotel and there he was and we took a slow ride down together. I might have “accidentally” hit a few extra buttons.
Sonny Rollins was gracious and a gentleman. The hyperactive air conditioning at Pantages caused poor Steve Martin to freeze badly backstage. Questlove swore at me. Robert Plant had a few choice words too. John Legend’s security guy put me into a flop sweat. There have been many such stories over the years.
It’s all been fun, though. The good, the awkward, and everything in between. I’ll carry the past twelve and a half years with me forever. I don’t know what’s in store for me, but these could very easily be the defining years of my professional life.
What challenges do jazz festivals face in this country?
Jazz is the heart that beats for this festival and everything we’ve done. But like most other jazz festivals on the planet, we’ve had to diversify and step well outside traditional notions of what jazz is in order to build an event that excites and engages the community. I’ve taken some heat for that and for that reason, I’m pretty sure there’s a good handful of people who are happy to see me go.
Nicholas Payton proclaims that jazz is dead. I’m not prepared to go that far, but I do subscribe to what he does believe is alive and well—what he calls BAM, Black American Music. I’ll do a poor job of representing his sophisticated ideas, but as I understand it, he’s talking about how black music in all its forms is the foundation and life-blood of North American music and culture. I would tend to agree with that idea.
Alongside that, I am a patriot and am a big fan of the Canadian sound. I grew up during what I think of as being the peak Canadian Content era, when we were closer than we’ve ever been to a Canadian star system and when world-class Canadian music was a part of every playlist—on the radio and on the mixtapes in our Walkmans. That talent is still out there and in our own back yard. Our listening habits have changed, though, and I’ve always though of the festival as a small way of playing dj—or vj, like Erica Ehm.
At the same time, I believe in, and love with all my heart, great music. Whatever genre it is. And to an extent, I also reject the notion of rigidity with genres when trying to build an event. Good music, whatever its form, is one of the most exciting things in the world. My great passion—and my great luxury—with this job has been to try and share that with as many people as possible.
What will you miss about the jazz community as you leave?
It’s all about the people. In terms of the music community there are too many to name. There are the OGs like Ron Paley, Janice Finlay, Gilles Fournier, Daniel Koulack, Richard Gillis, Walle Larsson and so many others who have always been warm and supportive. The U of M folks—Steve, Anna-Lisa, Quincy, Derek—are relatively speaking new to the scene but always gracious and kind. Watching the students come up over the years and seeing what amazing talents they’ve become or are becoming. So many great people making even better music.
With each year at Jazz Winnipeg, my fondness and appreciation for our volunteers has deepened. People take their vacations during the festival so that they can volunteer around the clock for us. There are truly some special people quietly doing so much work. It’s humbling.
The Jazz Winnipeg staff past and present. Lynne, who has been with me for twelve of thirteen festivals. Tyler is like a brother. Dawn, like a kid sister. Alasdair, who started as a kid and has become a truly impressive man. Jodie, Dee Dee, Chantal, Mike, Lyle, John. You, Charlene, though not technically staff, you may as well be! They’re all family to me.
And these are just the names that come to me as I type at midnight. There have been so many people over the years who have made this so meaningful.