Andrew Killawee, this year’s chairman of the board for the Halifax Jazz Festival, is unequivocal: “Jazz is one of the best things that’s happened to Halifax.”
The upcoming festival (July 12 to 16) does promise to showcase some real gems: bright and emerging artists like indie god Andy Shauf, plus established musical favourites like Blue Rodeo. There will be a little something for every music fan: “we want everyone to come out,” says Killawee. “That’s the strategy behind the programming.”
Dr. Lonnie Smith, for instance, is a legendary jazz organist who has played with the likes of Etta James, Gladys Knight, and Dionne Warwick. He’ll be playing in St. Matthew’s Church on July 13.
“We’ve also been lucky to attract certain artists before they shoot to even greater stardom,” said Killawee, citing St. Vincent as an example, who performed in 2014. “I feel like that artist is Anderson Paak this year.”
Paak first recieved critical acclaim after his putting out his brilliant 2013 record, Cover Art. The record sought to redress past wrongs by transforming songs from The White Stripes, Postal Service, The Beatles, and Neil Young into soul, hip hop, and R&B ballads. The songs were a commentary on a long history of white musicians using their privilege to earn mainstream success for singing black songs, when the original writers languished in obscurity and never saw a dime for their work.
.Paak recently collaborated with Dr Dre, Schoolboy Q, and Flying Lotus, and has become a true artist to watch.
Throughout the festival, there will be a moving stage set up to showcase the work of black and native artists as part of Canada 150. The stage will move among Bedford, Lower Sackville, the North End, and Cherry Brook.
The jazz festival also puts on a creative multidisciplinary workshop, and teaches music to children in schools. “We’ve got a world-class faculty teaching jazz and arts lessons that wouldn’t be taught in schools otherwise,” says Killawee. “I am proud, really proud of what we’ve put together. There are over 450 volunteers working to pull this thing off. We’ve worked really hard.”
Festivals like this are important for building the next generation of fans. “I grew up going to the jazz festival every year, playing the piano and the trumpet,” Killawee recalls. “As a kid, having a touring jazz quartet play—just knowing that this is their living, that they’re professional musicians—that’s so inspiring. It’s also such a great chance to highlight local knowledge and expertise, and our local artists.”
Reeny Smith, for instance, is a Halifax native who continues to perform in the St. Thomas Baptist Church choir in North Preston. She comes from a long line of Nova Scotian gospel legends, including Wallace Smith Sr. and Jr. and Carson and Murray Downey. Her star has been on the rise after winning the 2016 Music Nova Scotia African Canadian Artist of the Year award and opening for Grammy Award Winner Lisa Fletcher at the Rebecca Cohn. She’ll open for Paak on the main stage on July 15.
What is Killawee most looking forward to, now that the organizing is nearly done?
“I’m going to take a week off my job this year and actually go the festival!” he says. “It’s free to go in [during matinee shows], free to sit down and listen to awesome music, easy to get food, and the lines aren’t too long. I think you should go too.”