Are Canadian jazz artists being left out of the spotlight?

By KRYSTLE CHOW
Published as an Arts Editorial in Centretown News.
Sept. 30, 2005

The Ottawa International Jazz Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is just beginning its winter lineup.

On its website, organizers tout the festival as having the “biggest loyal audience of any event in eastern Ontario” and boast about the big-name acts the festival has brought to the Ottawa stage.

But have we forgotten our homegrown talents in the quest for bright lights and big box office hits?

Among the seven acts scheduled for the winter season, only one is Canadian – the Rosemary Galloway Quartet – while the others are a mix of European and American performers.

Typically, there’s been a bit more of a focus on Canadian artists during the summer festival – which is the event of the year for organizers – through their Great Canadian Jazz Series.

However, apart from one or two notable exceptions, the main attractions still seem to be the international acts.

Why is this? Do we simply have no interest in local jazz performers, or is there a real lack of good Canadian jazz?

The festival’s executive director, Catherine O’Grady, attributes their programming choices to the existence of an already vibrant local scene, supported by the festival and the network of Canadian musicians.

On the other hand, however, smaller venues like The Bayou or Café Paradiso might not have the time and money to bring in international names. This is where the Ottawa International Jazz Festival works their organizing magic.

“We believe we can afford to show significant artistry and support local artists at the same time,” O’Grady says, adding she feels it’s important to showcase a diverse range of work that will appeal to a broad audience.

So, is our domestic talent being fully nurtured and cultivated?

It still seems like there are American and South American jazz performers arriving in the international scene by the truckload, while Canada struggles to make a name in popular jazz for itself by offering up a Michael Bublé or a Diana Krall every so often.

It’s curious why we flock to see Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock, but know very little about Jillian Lebeck or John Geggie.

While it’s true there are only a few truly exceptional performers who can break out into the international markets and find success, it’s also an issue of marketing and promotion, and getting our jazz musicians out there so people know who they are and what they’re about.

That’s where the American music industry excels, and at least some of our focus should be on promoting our local talent as well.

It’s been argued jazz has always been an intimate affair, one that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need a spotlight.

But it’s still interesting to note the recent surge in the popularity of jazz, and wonder whether local performers are getting a piece of the action.

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