While we cannot gather for a 2020 Festival this year, we can still celebrate what the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival means to our community. Festival Tales showcases stories and memories from people who love our Festival—artists, volunteers, audiences, staff, donors, and community members.

This is a collection of those stories that are about memorable encounters with some of the incredible artists who are at the heart of our Festival.

This story from about 18 years ago comes from Scott Aitken, a local artist:

I remember walking on a Saturday in between seeing some of Ken’s amazing improv groups that were formed to be seen for free! Free music! Experimental, improvised free music from players who are living their lives immersed in this! As a younger man in Vancouver, it was very metropolitan.

Lo and behold, there was the wonderful bassist Wilbert de Joode, sitting in the sun and eating sushi! I stopped and gently interrupted his moment alone, feeling shy and sheepish for bothering him. He was not having any of that, and invited us to sit and chat. I remember marveling at him—his hands! Those cool glasses and that handsome jawline with his short cropped salt and pepper haircut…. a true European musician! Hipness and cool personified. I told him how much I’ve enjoyed his playing during the festival and loved his unique instrument (Italian I think and halfway between a cello and a double bass).

For those of you that don’t know, he’s self taught and extolled the values of being a lifelong learner—as most musicians are. That’s the fun and most humbling part of playing improvised music. I’m self taught as well but had some early classical training that I promptly forgot, well before picking up the double bass several years after moving to BC. I was renting a student one. We talked about getting the right instrument and more importantly about listening to music you are not just playing but also engaging with as a listener in the audience! The ideal of being an engaged and present audience with the music you’re creating—being willing to be humbled by it as a force as it passes through you and each player you’re with in that moment… Very spiritual and profound insights to my young and impressionable mind!

Sitting there in the sun it was like hearing confirmation about this beautiful mirage in the horizon now coming into focus. His experience and kind words of encouragement allowed me to this day approach all my creative practices in this way.

Seeing Tony Wilson play for the first time; marvelling at the sheer power of Torsten Muller’s full on commitment to the moment; Peggy and Ron’s amazing group Talking Pictures; playing a short duet in class with Han Bennik at 2007 VCMI…. the moments stack up! Needless to say I’ve also become a lifelong listener to the wonderful community of jazz musicians that we are so grateful to have in British Columbia and in the world that have come to our amazing festival!

Photo by Sara Anke Morris

Community member Michael Ford shares an encounter that inspired his son:

I took my 12-year old son Griffin to see the Julian Lage Trio on June 26, 2018 at Performance Works on Granville Island. Griffin, a budding musician himself, was transfixed throughout. We were both so impressed by Julian and his band that we stuck around after the show until Julian came back on the stage after pretty much everyone, but a handful of fans, were gone. Julian came up to us, shook our hands and had a short conversation with my son. We will always remember the night as a father-and-son moment, and another important influence on my son’s musical life, to be added to his music education trip to Cuba, along with his Beatles tribute band with three of his buddies, which they call The Boytles. Thanks to the Jazz Fest and to Julian, it was a night to remember!

A heartening story from one of our regular volunteers, Bill Brooks:

While working backstage at Pyatt Hall during the 2019 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, one of the acts that came in was Laila Biali, the Vancouver-born pianist and singer. During my career I have met and dealt with many artists, famous and not so famous. Some were gracious and acknowledge the existence of other human beings, some were conceited and pretended that anyone not immediately important to them was invisible, and some were just Assholes with a capital A.

Laila was so warm and genuine—it was a total breath of fresh air. Time to move the piano? Place the bench? Re-arrange a music stand? She asked so nicely we would have carried the piano on our shoulders.

Somehow during the sound check Laila managed to learn everybody’s name: mine, the sound tech, the front of house people, everybody. Conversation was a breeze, sound check was like a party, all good. The performance that night was wonderful and intimate—exactly the kind of experience I signed on for as a volunteer. At the end of the concert, I was just blown away when she made her closing remarks she thanked us all by name in front of the audience.

May she have a long and wonderful career.

A memory from Marioka Ball about a show that has really stuck with her:

I have many wonderful memories of the Jazz Festival but the one that stands out from the rest was Kenny Wayne. The concert was called An Old Rock On A Roll. His singing and piano playing had St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church a-rocking and a-rolling. Those of us lucky enough to be present had the most amazing and fun time listening to the “Blues Boss” and his band. I bought a CD and Kenny Wayne kindly autographed it, I am listening to it now and smiling as I write this letter. During these difficult times this CD has never failed to lighten my mood and has me dancing in my living room. Thanks for the opportunity to tell my story.

And former volunteer Sarah Bennett on how meeting an artist led her to discover (and love) his music:

I volunteered for seven years in the 90s. For several of those years, I handled the media room at the Listel on Robson Street and had the opportunity of meeting the wonderful saxophonist Ernie Watts and his wife. Absolutely one of the nicest people you could meet. I started really following his music and was blown away with his skill and musicality. Saw him after this at Cory’s Cellar on Broadway and he brought the house down! A wonderful memory.