Bill King is a jazz columnist and co-host of Soul Nation on JAZZ.FM91. This piece was originally published by FYIMusicNews.
For 22 years, the TD Markham Jazz Festival has been a fixture of Ontario’s suburban jazz landscape. Situated on the dividing line between Unionville and the broader city of Markham, the region is idyllic for a summer music festival, with a robust nightlife and an almost Disneyland appearance. It’s a place where people can stroll on a warm evening and enjoy the local amenities, as well as listen to regional jazz artists.
It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the hard-bop band Kollage. The group was initially founded by drummer Archie Alleyne, who passed in 2015, and is now led by pianist Stacie McGregor; she has assembled her own unit in honour of the jazz legend.
The festival takes place Aug. 16-18, featuring Michael Kaeshammer, Tia Brazda, John Finley, Heather Bambrick, Brandi Disterheft, GUH, Jay Douglas, Elena Kapeleris, Heather Bambrick and more, plus an opening-night party on Aug. 14 with soul/funk aggregate Oakland Stroke.
I caught up with artistic director Sarah Kim Turnbull and board member Mark Lemieux for a few words on the upcoming event.
I’m guessing the festival is ready to roll and you’re feeling good about it.
Turnbull: We are ready to roll and very excited.
Let’s get to the music and hear what we can look forward to. I know you have Juno Award-winning saxophonist Allison Au booked, and bassist George Koller.
Turnbull: We’re excited about that. That’s George Koller and the Secret Space Program. That’s an album that George put together, and he’s leading the band and will be singing, which we don’t normally get to see George do at the front of the stage. We’re pretty excited about that. We’ve got some great up-and-comers, as well — the Lauren Falls Quartet and Virginia MacDonald’s group are coming. MacDonald is a clarinet player and has put together a fabulous band. She’s a young woman and an up-and-comer in the scene and just knocking everybody’s socks off.
And you’ve got Meghan Parnell and Bywater Call, which I love.
Turnbull: That’s at our McKay Wine & Beer Garden stage. It’s a really beautiful setting, down the stairs behind the McKay Art Gallery under a big willow tree, and we know they’ll just rock out. It’s a great band. They’ve got seven pieces with a horn section — a big, big sound.
What’s the number of stages?
Turnbull: We have three stages. We’ve got our Millennium Bandstand where we present our headliners. We’ve got a stage at the Varley Art Gallery, and then we’ve got the McKay Wine & Beer Garden stage as well.
Helping out is board member Mark Lemieux. How long have you’ve been part of this, Mark?
Lemieux: I’ve been involved for roughly three years now, and I’ve been contributing in a marketing and social-media sense. I get involved with Sarah Kim as far as talking about artists to invite and some of the musical themes of the festival. I love contributing and seeing jazz continue to flourish and develop in the Markham Jazz Festival and throughout the GTA.
We can go back 22 years. I was there at the beginning when jazz promoter Hal Hill sort of conceived the idea for a festival in Unionville with Colin Smith and others who saw Unionville as a prime location for mounting a jazz festival.
Turnbull: It’s such a unique environment that lends itself to a festival setting. We close the street where we’ve got vendors up and down next to street performers. It’s a romantic place. I think it has more ice cream shops per capita than just about anywhere. It creates a comfortable and inviting environment to wander and explore music.
Lemieux: As I mentioned, we have three main stages and a whole bunch of other activities going on in the town as well as a free walking tour of the historic Union Village. We have a free tour of the Varley Art Gallery, for example, and offer free parking from the Markham Pan Am Centre up to our location, which is a short hop. That shuttle also is a two-minute walk from the GO station. It allows jazz lovers from across the GTA to come up and join us. The GO station makes the difference and we also have the shuttle bus. It’s been used. We’ve been welcoming people from across the GTA since those facilities have been instituted.
You also have bassist Brandi Disterheft, a performer who’s well-known in Toronto jazz circles who’s been living in New York for the past decade.
Turnbull: She’s an old friend, and I’m excited to have her perform. We lost her to New York. It’s always exciting when she comes back to Toronto. She released a new album last year and is such a force in the community. She will close out our Millennium Bandstand on Sunday afternoon.
And a big opening at the Markham Museum?
Lemieux: It’s going to be a great night. It will be at the Markham Museum garden area for an open-air concert. Oakland Stroke, a 10-piece band led by Lou Pomanti. It’s the sound of horn bands from the ‘70s — some Tower of Power; Earth, Wind & Fire; Blood, Sweat & Tears; Chicago, and a few surprises I’m sure Lou and the band have in store for us. We’re looking forward to that. It’s our only paid concert. Throughout the whole weekend — so, we’re talking about 25 to 30 shows — it’s all free except for this one Wednesday evening concert. That helps pay the bills for the rest of the whole weekend. We’re looking forward to that in more ways than one.
Turnbull: It’s a bit of a shakeup for us to have a big party outside. We felt we’ve often done more intimate indoor shows, and we wanted to invite the community, invite the broader public to come and join us.
Tickets are available at markhamjazzfestival.com.