SEATTLE — Jazz aficionados scanning the schedule for the 26th Vancouver International Jazz Festival, which kicks off Friday, will no doubt have noticed the event has changed.
Though the spree has in no way abandoned its focus — jazz from the avant-garde to the traditional, plus ancillary genres blues and world music — it has scaled back in size and shaken up its sprawling mix of venues. The festival also has consolidated geographically, eliminating programs in the East End.
Old hands used to hitting the Western Front for an intimate, challenging show at 5:30 p.m., grabbing a quick bite on Commercial Drive then cadging a ride to downtown venues like the Orpheum or the Commodore Ballroom may wonder if the festival directors have tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. But there is an overarching concept in the works here, says festival artistic director Ken Pickering.
“Trying to sell tickets to 60 concerts is an outmoded concept,” he said in a phone interview last week. “Most festivals now offer a pass into a site. That’s the road we’re trying to go down, in baby steps.”
The first step was to offer the “Hopper Pass” (no longer on sale), affording entrance to 60 concerts over the festival’s 10-day run. Though only 300 Hopper Passes were printed this year (and not all of them sold), Pickering sees this as the wave of the future.
“The pass needs to become the main vehicle,” he said, predicting that as many as 4,000 eventually could be sold, with single-ticket sales available only on the day of show.
Consolidating programming in downtown houses such as the Vogue Theatre (returning after a multiyear absence) will essentially make Vancouver’s downtown core “the site” of the festival, like the fairgrounds is at Monterey or the Gorge area, at Sasquatch.
Other forces are at work behind these changes. Ticket sales and corporate support are down. The festival is operating 25 percent below its top level of $4 million-plus of just five years ago. The recession has affected sales — and, ironically, for producers who love hockey as much as the next red-blooded Canadian — the Canucks vying for the Stanley Cup also hurt the festival.
Yet with all the distraction and challenges, Vancouver is still one of the best jazz destinations in the world. Devotees of the avant-garde will be delighted to see sinewy German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann with his power trio Full Blast; Norwegian pianist Havard Wiik in duo with Vancouver clarinetist Francois Houle; electro-jazz nine-piece Jaga Jazzist, also from Norway; the great African-American drummer Andrew Cyrille; British saxophonist Trevor Watts paired with pianist Veryan Weston; and drummer Tyshawn Sorey and Vancouver-raised band leader and composer Darcy James Argue, both of whom have become critical darlings in New York.
For a taste of New Orleans, the festival offers Trombone Shorty. New Orleanian Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra also are on the bill, as are the great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia and Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura.
For those on a budget, the festival still offers the bargain opening and closing weekends — free concerts in Gastown Saturday and Sunday and in David Lam Park on July 2 and 3.
VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
Friday through July 3, various venues in Vancouver, B.C.; free-$68. For tickets to the Vogue Theatre: 604-569-1144 or www.voguetheatre.com. For all other tickets: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.
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