City & Politics

Your guide to the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival

Gregory Porter.

While planning the 25th annual Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, organizers decided to keep things simple — present a diverse lineup of quality music while concentrating the activity in the Exchange District.

More than 80 acts are part of the festival, which launches this Thursday, June 12 with a weekend of free concerts showcasing a variety of local bands in Old Market Square. The festival runs until Sunday, June 22 when critically acclaimed indie-pop chanteuse St. Vincent gives a headlining performance at the Burton Cummings Theatre.

In between, festival goers will be able to take in a variety of different shows at venues like Union Sound Hall, the King’s Head Pub, the Rachel Browne Theatre, Cinematheque and the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe.

“We try to put together a lineup that’s diverse and appeals to the widest audience, while still following our mandate, which is to promote jazz,” says Paul Nolin, the festival’s executive producer.

Performers include jazz pianist and Marsalis family patriarch Ellis Marsalis, Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and Gregory Porter, whose 2013 album Liquid Spirit won this year’s Grammy for best jazz vocal album.

The Curtis Nowosad Quintet, Karl Kohut, the Keith Price Trio, the Ron Paley Big Band, Amber Epp and Monika Wall are some of the acts from Winnipeg’s jazz scene who will make appearances.


And outside of the jazz realm, the festival includes performances by buzz-generating hip hop acts like Shad, Killer Mike and Le1f, along with a handful of folk and electronic acts.

To commemorate the festival’s history, organizers have put together a retrospective of photos from the past 25 years. The exhibit will be on display in Old Market Square during the festival’s opening weekend, and then will move to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre for June 16 to 20.

Nolin says he felt a sense of pride looking through some of the photos in the exhibit.

“You’re so into it when you’re producing the festival and organizing things that you don’t get a chance to step back and say, Wow, we’ve had the Roots here twice, I got to hang out with Dave Brubeck backstage, we’ve had Wynton Marsalis, and that’s just on my watch,” says Nolin, who has been the festival’s executive producer for the past 11 years.

“After 25 years, we have a pretty deep history and we’ve had some big names come through.”

In addition to Porter and Shad, Nolin says one of the acts he is most excited about is Lady, a retro-soul act from Atlanta, Georgia fronted by Nicole Wray. The group performs on Thursday, June 19 at Union Sound Hall.

“If you’re a Lee Fields fan or a Sharon Jones fan, I think this group’s going to do it for you,” Nolin says.

The Jazz Winnipeg team made the conscious decision to concentrate the festival’s activity in the Exchange District to give it the feel of festivals like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, where music fans are able to easily walk from venue to venue and take in as much music as possible.

“You can venue hop and embrace what the festival is and should be, and that is an opportunity to explore and discover new music,” Nolin says. “It’s really what can distinguish this festival from any other Friday night in the neighbourhood.”


For more information, including the full festival lineup and ticket prices, visit