Gibsons trumpeter Harry Busby is first to arrive at the outdoor gig at the Sunshine Coast Resort on Saturday afternoon of the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival.
He's worried. It's a spectacular setting on tiered patios overlooking the harbour, but for the first time in its eight years of existence, the Jazz Festival and its various resort venues have been shrouded in rain clouds; the popular outdoor concerts could be reduced to soggy puddles. "We had a great show last night at the Pender Harbour Hotel," says Busby.
Recently renamed the Grasshopper Pub, the hotel is being renovated and the performers of the Bayou Jazz Band played among yards of pink insulation and bare light bulbs.
"It didn't matter at all," said Busby, who enjoyed the full house of fans. But this outdoor business makes him sweat. Rene Worst arrives, picking his way down the steep steps, carrying his bass. He casts a frown at the gloomy sky before taking his instrument out from its wraps. On keyboard, Ron Johnston alone seems unworried, affecting a jaded, way cool jazz musician stance which he will hold well into the third song when he'll riff a stunning turn on the piano, then break into a shy smile. John Nolan will be on drums; in fact, he's the musician that has gathered this quartet together. They get underway; the jazz riffs and flows, sometimes bops, has a few Latin moments. Occasionally, rain sprinkles and the clouds drift among the treetops like cigarette smoke in a seedy bar. The audience holds firm. By intermission, all is right with the world. The sun appears, as does surprise guest, vocalist and pianist Jennifer Scott, usually to be seen at Irvine's Landing Pub.
"Okay, so we've just been fooling around," said Wow! Jazz Orchestra leader Jack Fulton 45 minutes into their set. "Now we're going to get serious."
The fluffier songs such as Sweet Georgia Brown gave way to complex tunes and dance standards featuring some stellar turns on sax from Tom Keenlyside and Jack Stafford. As the genial Fulton pointed out, Keenlyside was playing the baritone sax that day, as opposed to his soprano, alto or tenor sax.
"You've got 15 pounds more sax than at the other performances," he joked to the packed community hall.
In this, the Jazz Festival's eighth year, they know by now how to fill a room in downtown Madeira Park. All the better that the concert was indoors from the spitting rain, and it was free, sponsored by the Vancouver Musicians' Union. The Wow! Jazz Orchestra also featured Worst on bass, Bill Coon on guitar, Al Wold on sax, Tom Shorthouse and Brad Turner on trumpet. This crew epitomized what is so successful about the festival: the eclectic combination of musicians, each of them skilled in their own right, taking measure of each other's talents and delivering in front of an appreciative audience. Many of the events at this three-day festival are free. That alone should bring in the audiences but does not account for the army of loyal fans that arrive from the city every year.
Like the couple from Vancouver who are attending their fifth festival and know more about Pender Harbour than do some residents. While we are waiting for the Slo Cat, the harbour foot ferry, to moor at the wharf, the visitor shows me the $5 suit that he purchased at the Bargain Barn that morning. His wife shows me her purchase, a fabric, stuffed fish from the craft tables. They are keen to go to John Henry's Marina for the next event expecting that they will find their favourite chili vendor, Big Bill.
"Mmm, chili, pickles," says the visitor. But when we arrive, it is too late for outdoor vendors, and the Daryl Jahnke Trio are playing under cover of the porch. This is freeform music, contemporary, eclectic; quite a few local musicians can be spotted in the audience following the music's twists.
Jahnke has been playing since 1981, mostly Latin and jazz. The trio is accomplished, but the crowd energy is not there. Reports of a great concert at Duncan Cove Resort by the same Tom Keenlyside are filtering through and some of the audience decides to move on.
The Sunday concert at Lowe's Resort featuring five groups for $15 draws fewer spectators than in years past. Too bad, it's a great line-up. Shining through the other able musicians is the Gabriel Mark Hasselbach Quartet. The U.S. born, Vancouver artist is joined by Diane Lines on keyboard and vocals, Stephen Dick on drums and Laurence Mollerup on bass. These guys are so smooth the notes billow like silk across the crowd. The trumpet master himself, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, can't miss with Wade in the Water a piece that sounds as if it's been composed especially for trumpet, and also with tunes from his CD Gabriel's Horns. My personal favourite of the day is Sibel Thrasher. I've heard her sing gospel, loved her in Ain't Misbehavin', a role she has reprised a thousand times on stage in Vancouver. Recently, she was inducted into the B.C. Hall of Fame and left her mark on the Walk of Fame on Granville Street.
At the festival, she is joined by Doug Lowe on keyboards, John Nolan on drums and David Saye on bass. The consummate performer knows how to work a crowd; she sings all the favourites: Summertime, It's a Wonderful World in which she gives an excellent impersonation of Satchmo, and the Billie Holiday song about the child that's got his own. You'd have to be dead from the knees up not to respond to this show. The Sunday afternoon concert closed with the Aaron Hardie Quartet led by the alto sax player himself. They were fast, up-tempo with a bit of smooth on the ballads and a touch of blues. A nice mix from Chris Gestrin on piano, Karlis Silins on bass and Antonio Dipasquale on drums. These are just young pups, youthful musicians in the field of jazz, and it gives we old fogeys cause to rejoice for the jazz festivals of the future.