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Victoria's Jazzfest shines a spotlight on emerging artists

Free 40th anniversary party at Bullen Park a family-friendly highlight of this year’s TD Victoria International Jazz Festival
Booker T. Jones will perform Friday at the Royal Theatre to open the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival. SUBMITTED


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

When: Friday, June 21-Sunday, June 30

Tickets: Various prices through or 250-386-6121

The annual TD Victoria International Jazz Festival has been a fixture of the summer concert calendar in Victoria for the better part of four decades, amassing thousands of performances by a collection of international artists during that span.

That record-setting stretch makes the festival known as Jazzfest the longest continuously-running music festival in the city, and one which has left an indelible mark. “Quite a few of the acts started out as emerging artists in our festival and have gone on to achieve international recognition,” said Daryl Mar, the executive and artistic director of the Victoria Jazz Society, which produces the event.

“Many are making a very good living by playing music, which not a lot of musicians can do.”

Yet more acts will be added to the aforementioned tally over the next 10 days. Jazzfest is hosting more than 250 musicians in 54 bands through June 30, with acts from Canada and the U.S. being paired with performers from Australia, Norway, Sweden, Cuba and Venezuela and other countries.

Mar said he’s constantly looking for new acts to promote, and through conversations with fellow Canadian jazz festival producers, he settles on line-ups that strike a balance between upstart and established names. There will be upwards of 60 performances at nine Jazzfest venues this year, with headliners — including Booker T. Jones (June 21), Ziggy Alberts (June 23) Veronica Swift (June 25), and Morgan James and Take 6 (June 26) — booked into the Royal Theatre and McPherson Playhouse.

“I always narrow it down to what I’d like to see in Victoria,” Mar said. “I like emerging musicians that may not have any recognition in Canada, but have some in Europe or the U.S. I try to zero in on a handful of those artists, and have them in the festival alongside bigger names. I have some personal preferences, and while they may not be the biggest sellers, it is real music to me.”

Dozens of other performers, including ex-Snarky Puppy keyboardist/vocalist Corey Henry (June 24), three-time Grammy Award nominee Lakecia Benjamin (June 26), and three-time Juno Award winner Hilario Duran and his trio (June 28), will be on stage for sets at Wicket Hall and Hermann’s Jazz Club. More than 30,000 people are expected to attend Jazzfest, which means many attendees will discover a new favourite at some point during the proceedings.

Mar is certain that will be the case, having booked Diana Krall — winner of a combined 12 Juno and Grammy awards — when she was a relative unknown. Her first appearance at the festival was in the late ’80s, long before she had broken through in the U.S.. “The first gig she did at the festival was at [the former] Italian restaurant called Cecconi’s,” Mar recalled. “She did a two-night stand there.”

Adventurous music fans will have ample opportunities to sample what Jazzfest has to offer, from free programming at Cameron Bandshell in Beacon Hill Park and Fathom Lounge in Hotel Grand Pacific to clinics and workshops in the Archie Browning Sports Centre. Nine stages are in play, with the one in Esquimalt’s Bullen Park offering considerable bang for the buck.

Funk & Soul in the Township is active for three ticketed evening events and two extended days of programming. There’s also a 40th anniversary celebration there on June 27, featuring Busty & The Bass (who were nominated for breakthrough group of the year at the 2024 Juno Awards), Blasé Blasé, and Downtown Mischief.

The concert is being presented free of charge despite the considerable costs for the festival. Mar said that was a goodwill gesture to the township. He is committed to making music in the Esquimalt park a continued success, and only chooses acts for the space which are groove- and family-oriented.

“We’ve been around for 40 years, but we still need to introduce audiences to what we’re doing,” he said. “So we’re putting real music in there. Where else in Victoria do you get a show from a live music festival, with a beer garden, on a huge, grassy field, that is very family friendly — and absolutely free?”

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