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Victoria Jazz Fest steps into the light, adding two outdoor venues

Adding a ‘big grassy field’ to mix has been on organizer Darryl Mar’s list since he started the event 39 years ago.

TD Victoria International Jazz Festival

Where: Royal Theatre, Bullen Park, Beacon Hill Park, and more

When: June 24 through July 3

Tickets: $32-$76.50 from rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121

Darryl Mar has endured more changes than most festival producers in Canada, having spent 39 years at the helm of the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival. But that doesn’t mean the longtime the executive and artistic director of the Victoria Jazz Society is immune to the twists and turns of the industry.

Not by a long shot.

Mar has learned a few keys to survival, however — such as changing course when it’s a luxury, rather than a necessity. Mar has reshaped this year’s edition by using two new venues in which to showcase a diverse range of acts during the 10-day run.

“We’re quite excited about the chance to come out of the pandemic by giving the festival a new look,” Mar said.

“We’ve got to remain dynamic. We can’t just sit here and go back to the same old template every year. This has really given us an opportunity to increase our audience and make the music much more accessible to the general public, so they can discover what this festival really is — which is more than just jazz.”

Cameron Bandshell in Beacon Hill Park — widely considered one of the most under-used event spaces in Greater Victoria — and Bullen Park in Esquimalt, which is home to the annual Esquimalt Ribfest, are both in play for the festival for the first time ever this year. The latter is gaining momentum as a top-tier venue, and Mar wanted to ensure his programming for that space had some electricity to match.

Cutting-edge funk acts Ghost-Note and the Louis Cole Big Band open the new venue on Sunday, with the capacity for an audience of 3,500. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and Cha Wa (July 2), and Ludic and The Suffers (July 3) are the other concerts of the genre-pushing troika that will appear as part of the Funk & Soul in the Township program.

Mar said was contacted by Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins about bringing JazzFest to the municipality, which gave him the opportunity to cross an item off his programming bucket list. “A big, grassy field is something I’ve wanted ever since I started this festival,” he said. I’m getting too old to spend my days standing on concrete.”

The festival suffered a blow two weeks ago when its top headliner, blues icon Buddy Guy, cancelled his festival-opening performance, set for the Royal Theatre on Saturday night, for health reasons. The show was already sold out, Mar said, which made a difficult year even tougher. “That was a big blow to us. That hurt us a bit financially. But that’s showbiz.”

The festival has plenty to offer, in any event. Gregory Porter (who performs Friday), Ranky Tanky with Lisa Fischer (June 28), and Cécile McLorin Salvant (June 30) are set for Royal Theatre, while GoGo Penguin (June 27) and Samara Joy and the Brubeck Brothers Quartet (June 29) are slotted into the McPherson Playhouse.

Several other venues will be enacted throughout the festival. The Hilario Duran (Friday at Hermann’s Jazz Club), Laila Biali (Friday, Hermann’s Upstairs), and Les Filles de Illighadad (July 2, Victoria Event Centre) will be looking to turn heads during the 39th edition, which covers the most ground — stylistically and geographically — of any installment to date.

“We’re not leaving the city [for Esquimalt], we’re just expanding our footprint,” Mar said. “We’re still using our downtown [Victoria] venues, which will always be an integral part of our festival as long as I’m here.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com