Worst Festival Ever!

Just when I think the local jazz festival can’t get any worse, any farther from their mandate or be any less competent, they lower the bar.

Last year it was the famous ‘pay musicians in exposure’ debacle that the Musicians Union had to step in and correct. The year before, they are shoehorning a guy, with zero jazz knowledge, into the directors chair (after the predecessor booked it out of town at the last second). We all remember the ‘listening party’ to introduce the die hard folky to the most basic elements of jazz.
In all of that we learned that the guy who hates and/or knows nothing about jazz, hired solely for his booking acts ability, knew nothing about the union’s performance trust fund and thought nothing of taking advantage of musicians.

30th Anniversary of Jazz Winnipeg

This year (and through the winter ‘series’) we learned that Mr. Capo loves any meta descriptors and any act willing to put on the lipstick a rouge. The 2 touring jazz acts got away with ‘just’ playing music. Local acts, jazz or not, were paired with multi-media, lights, dancers or art installations. Visuals over music. Style over substance.

Less is not more, it’s less.

One big thing to notice, is that it is 5 days shorter. It is shorter because they can’t afford to keep it the same length. That is why they tried to low ball musicians with exposure gigs last year. The previous director left mid booking after years of claiming it was making money. Now it is half the length.

I have repeatedly said it is too long and too large. I would make it smaller by narrowing its focus back to jazz. Unfortunately, getting rid of pop, rap and DJS was not in the cards. So, the festival that ‘has to book commercial pop acts to make money’, continues to lose money while focused on commercial pop acts, decide to shorten the festival rather than edit out the non-jazz.

So, half the length with the same percentage of jazz (30%).
Bottom line, less jazz than before.
When you factor in the that the big weekend at Old Market Square is probably still financed by the city of Winnipeg (part of a campaign to attract people to our downtown) you have Jazz Winnipeg, with its full time staff and charity/not for profit/music/arts status funding, putting on very little music.

Time For This Joke to End

Guess what? This formula doesn’t work. It has never worked. But playing with donations, grants, sponsorship and various forms of other peoples money, doesn’t foster fiscal responsibility. Their autonomy from the Jazz Winnipeg Board of Directors “we don’t handle the booking side”, how far they have strayed from the stated mandate of Jazz Winnipeg and refusal to respond to any sort of criticism, doesn’t make them artistically responsible. It hasn’t for most of the last 20 years.

Opening Night, Jazz Festival

The biggest looming disaster is this multi stage, multi genre, multi media (meta descriptors abound) at the CMHR.
“The immersive concert experience”
“choose your own adventure night”.
“multitude of spaces”

Opening of the Jazz fest is a Tuesday after work.

A lot of it is jazz (or at least jazz relate-able) but they have their usual gong show programming. A mixing top notch international jazz that should have their own stage and venue (Brian Blade, Joshua Redman) top notch Canadians with art council touring money, locals you can see anytime for free and worse, people who never play anywhere but magically are risen up from their basement to share the stage with legit players.

On top of this tomfoolery is the price.
Oh you want a seat?
gets you one but if there are some left you can sit for your $100.
Not sure how that works. Do they canvas everyone to see if they paid the extra? Are they wearing badges?
On top of it, I am not even sure if it is rush or reserved seating.
It is only a seat in the main hall. You have to stand everywhere else.
Oh you’re a student on limit budget? $90 and no seat for you.
Want to pay less to only see one or two acts? Nope.
Oh and it is 7 HOURS LONG!!

Starting it off at 5 on a weekday is dumb. Either you work till 5 and can’t get there on time and grab a seat or you are life and death to make it for the first real international jazz act at 6:15. Maybe you work till 4 but still have to go home, change, eat, or all three.
Who is the target demographic here? The unemployed?
Clearly nobody, with a grasp of real life, thought this thing through.

After all that, if you are willing to pay that kind of money to see the 2-3 international jazz acts that night, they are hours apart. The 2 big names are 3 hours apart.

There is a lot of good and great jazz being wasted here.

Day 2 Jazz Fest

The Big Name? Noname a rapper and, in typical pop star fashion, had to cancel the week before. In the hospital? Nope just needs rest and “more veggies”.
The Free stage (the night dubbed root source) has local legend Ron Paley, Woody Holler (Western Swing), Ami Cheon (pop music). Liam Duncan ( pop folk) and Dirty CatFish (mostly pop tunes done brass band style).

Day 2 No Jazz For You

The big names? Common, another rapper with tickets in the $100 range! They are literally calling this guy the Jazz Festival Headliner. In what universe does this make sense?
Canadian blues/roots dude Colin Linden who, with his arts cancon money should have be on the free stage the night before (the one they were claiming as a roots night)

After that it is more of the same NO jazz. More rappers and DJs.
The one bright spot is the Bridge Performance Academy which takes disadvantaged inner city youth and teaches them music.

Day 3 Latin and Swing Friday

The big names? Galactic a funk/jam band from the states. Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, that does their own subscription of 6 shows over the fall and winter.
After that, it is a handful of Latin/World Music acts on the free stage night.

Day 4 Not A Lot of Jazz in Those Gym Mats

The Big Names? Canadian Content Pop Band Elijah Woods and Jamie Fine. And local boy made good, Curtis Nowosad.
Other than him, Malleus Trio and Aaron Shore there is no jazz on a Saturday Night.

Closing It Out

The Big Closing day of the 30th anniversary of Jazz Winnipeg, has a bit of jazz..

The Big Name is Bobby McFerrin. Love or hate him he is the real jazz festival headliner.

The traditional Sunday Afternoon show is again the Manitoba High School Honour Jazz Band

The “Free” stage has a bit of jazz too. Starts off with husband/wife/UofM teachers, Karly and Karl. Mixed in with God knows what is, Jakob Bro (who was just here…sigh) and Donny McCaslin of David Bowie’s last album fame who was just here last year.
Both artists should have their own stage or even double bill. ‘Beat scientist’ Makaya McCraven is a bit of a mystery to me. Seems to be of the Robert Glasper School of ‘melody??? What’s a melody?
But on either side of them is more pop/junk and such.

Jazz for Not Much

The Jazz for Lunch series has really taken a beating this year. Because the big, free, opening weekend, paid for with our city tax dollars, has been canceled and that money is probably funding the closing weekend , there is no P.A. set up yet.
Now to me, this is silly, a jazz group doesn’t need the monolithic Spinal Tap style sound reinforcement. This the type of gear that they usually have (more for the pop and dance acts). A purely instrumental act could get by with acoustic drums and horns with amplified bass, guitar, keyboard, etc. Vocal based groups could get by with that and a small P.A.
So, instead, they just have two lunch at the cube shows. Only one is jazz the other latin and both already have gigs in the festival, later that day.

Replacing it seems to be the duos they are putting in at Parlour Coffee. Does Parlour have jazz usually? Nope. Do they ever have live music? Nope. Just a random coffee shop that happens to be near the Jazz Winnipeg Office. Like the Cube Stage version now and since forever, all the acts are playing other shows at the festival.

RAW, money we don’t have for things we don’t need

So in an effort to try something new they have made a stage (going to make a stage) down in old St. Boniface. ( St. Boniface’s Parc Elzéar Goulet).
Again, full of meta descriptors like
“pop up”
“architectural and sonic innovation”
” truly exceptional acoustic design in a temporary space”

So, let me get this straight.
We don’t have the money for a week long festival.
We don’t have the money to have a purely jazz festival.
We can’t have a festival without pop music and booze to makes ends meet but:
we can find the money to build a custom designed venue from scratch????
With all the venues in this town that could host 80 people, we blow dough on an artsy stage down by the river?
This why this thing bleeds money. I mean, while this is money not spent on jazz, it’s not even spent on music!

Of course it is only 30% jazz. It is a ticketed events. You can pay to see pop/rap acts or local jazz you can see and hear earlier that day or anytime for free.

Local Jazz Musicians are sitting at Home For Winnipeg Jazz Festival

As mentioned, there are lots of acts playing twice. Usually once for free and once as a ticketed event. There are some musicians that have multiple gigs under 2-3 different banners.
The crime is, outside of Ron Paley and the WJO , most of the local Winnipeg jazz community is, once again, left out.
In a very blatant, and often repeated, display of ageism, Jazz Winnipeg heavily favours locals that are 20 something or within close age proximity. This is not new, but this year they are not even doing the Sunday afternoon ‘throw the old guard a bone’ bit. Better to have a millennial play 2-3 times rather that give a gig to someone who has devoted their life to jazz in particular and music in general but might be “GASP!” older.

30th Anniversary of Jazz Winnipeg is a Disgrace

This is the title I wanted but quoting/paraphrasing the Simpsons is more fun. If you can wrap your head around this; I do it for the fun of it. Other than JW stealing the ideas I have put forth in previous installments and using them for evil, I cannot change the actions of Jazz Winnipeg from the outside. The rest of us can agree, disagree, commiserate, etc. but, in the end we talk with our dollars.
I do this for fun. I like to write. I have a number of blogs writing about music, photography, recording, travel, fly fishing, etc.
Each year I do this, I get hate mail and comments from fake accounts. I read them all, publish none. Of course they are cowards, but it’s not like this is going to break out into the streets.
Who would bother?
Well, People :
with a vested interest in keeping this shit show the same.
with a job on the line.
who can’t really justify the actions of this arts charity
who can’t refute the facts.


There’s your festival folks. Shorter and shittier to celebrate 3 decades of decline. From a festival born out of a need to represent the full diversity of jazz, to a clown show celebrating the will of jazz haters. I’d like to say they are putting profit ahead of art but, these folks, and their recent predecessors, couldn’t sell water to a dying man in a desert.

2 thoughts on “Worst Festival Ever!”

  1. A very good article, well written. I wish JW and fans of would let people comment honestly without receiving backlash. Anyways… I have been going to the Jazz Festival for somewhere between 10-15 years, have paid for some concerts but mostly have hung at the Cube in the evenings and at lunch. I agree with many of your points, disagree with some, but mostly have questions. First, my biggest disagreement: that this festival should be just “real”/”true” jazz music (if indeed that is one of your opinions). I do like jazz music (have seen Chris Botti 3X) and would like to see even more, but I think if the festival was just jazz, the numbers/support wouldn’t be as strong. From what I can see, latin night is always the biggest party and well attended of any of the theme nights. This brings Wpg’s latin community down to the cube as well as other groups of people, and the mixture is beautiful. Last year I loved the brass band night, and in previous years I’ve thought the hip hop/RnB nights were pretty ok. Tons of people attend this festival every year who are not fans of real jazz, some are introduced to real jazz and become fans, and the rest support the non-jazz music. I am not in the know re the financial situation of JW, but I have a hint it is a struggle each year to bring in musicians, both jazz and non-jazz. All I can say is that I am floored to have the 30th anniversary of this festival reduced from 10 days to 5. I thought last year was good, having 2 free weekends at the Cube. I guess that is just too expensive to continue each year. I have some questions that you may or may want to answer, if you have any info. 1.) Moses Mayes used to close the free weekend/end of the festival for many many years. Of course they are not true jazz, but they had/have a large following, and they are local. A few years ago they didn’t participate in the festival, I asked them why, and they said schedule conflicts. That answer seemed fishy to me, since the WJF was very important to them. They haven’t played the festival since. Many people miss their live shows. What happened to Moses Mayes? 2.) Faouzia is going to be an international star soon, and many people got introduced to her (local artist!) at last year’s festival. Why wouldn’t JW do whatever it could to bring her back, even if it was a paid concert. She sold out 2 shows at the West End in March in hours, she could be one of the headliners at this year’s festival. Hey, I’m a fan. 3.) Why are there shows at the Cube at 11:00 p.m. on work nights? 4.) What happened to lunchtime concerts at the Cube all week long? 5.) Speaking of latin night, where is Papa Mambo this year? They are a crowd favourite (local artist) and have been playing for years. … Is it just me, or has the festival lost a lot of its…..excitement the last few years? I’m not sure what it is (maybe I’m getting old and grumpy, maybe I’m really missing Moses Mayes), but something was missing in recent years (last years festival was pretty decent) and this year I cannot get excited in the least, and I felt this way as soon as I looked at the schedule. I will be at the Cube this year for latin night, would like to be there on Wednesday and Sunday for the night concerts, but those nights are just too late for me, considering I have to work the next day. Oh well. BTW, where can I go to hear jazz, funk, indie RnB, chill or other good music (preferably live) that Winnipeg radio stations (shout out to the 2 college radio stations) never play. I would consider staying up late to go hear some good music once in a while. I do frequent the Palm Room lounge occasionally. Sorry for the long response. Again, thanks for your article, feel free to send me links on your articles re Winnipeg’s art/culture/music/food scene. Cheers.

    1. Thanks, first off for responding and secondly for doing it respectfully.
      I’ll try to answers your questions.
      1. Would I want it to be a “real”/”true” festival?
      Short answer yes long answer:
      It can be hard to understand where the line between being jazz and not being jazz is. It can be unclear where the line for jazz festival appropriate is. One line that is not hard to see is when it is clearly rap, rock, folk, DJ’s, etc.
      I believe that a not for profit/charity needs to stick to it’s mandate and not be focused being big, making tonnes of cash, being popular, etc. They have 2 revenue streams, charity (Sponsors, grants and donations) and Ticket sales. If they are not getting enough of that something needs to change. They tried the sell out route and it has failed. Time to try something else maybe something old. The first name in the organization is JAZZ, maybe it should be the first thing on their mind.

      Tons of people attend this festival every year who are not fans of real jazz, some are introduced to real jazz and become fans

      Statistically this has proven false. If it were true they could have jazz bands open for folk groups but they don’t.
      The larger point is that jazz festivals in general have rarely been pure events.
      Seems ok to anything and all in there. Pop to make money, blues and folk to appeal to the masses, world music for diversity, etc. But folk, blues, and Latin festivals/events don’t have jazz do they?
      Moses Mayes
      I have no idea but they are not very active these days. I know the JW gig was a big deal to them because they don’t/didn’t have many gigs to start.
      Clearly not jazz
      3.) Why are there shows at the Cube at 11:00 p.m. on work nights?
      Why did the jazz fest start at 5pm on a weeknight? Their target market is the unemployed?
      Papa mambo
      Last year and previous years he had a guaranteed gig. Last year he had 2 (one was trio bembe aka Papa mambo lite) so maybe it was time for a change?

      Bottom line. it is not the responsibility of an arts charity to pander and be popular. Jazz Winnipeg needs to take their charity money and spend it on Jazz. The free shows will attract people (the masses) because they are free. We can have diversity with the wide range of jazz musics out there. They can stay a float by managing their expectations.

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