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Jazzing things up in the midst of the February blahs

Larry Larson and his Jazz Guys are at The Registry Theatre Friday night as part of the Winter Jazz Festival lineup. [Submitted]

We’ve already had the seasonal part in spades, but this weekend the musical portion of the Winter Jazz Festival gets underway. The combo offers up six acts across three venues.

The shows set for February 7-10 mark the fourth annual festival, which this year expands beyond the Jazz Room and The Registry Theatre to include First United Church in Waterloo, itself a longtime purveyor of musical offerings.

From its opening with the Steve McDade Sextet to the final notes of the Sir John A. Macdonald High School Jazz Band, the festival offers up a cross-section of jazz talent, says Stephen Preece, founder and president of the Grand River Jazz Society, which in turn launched the Jazz Room in Waterloo.

The six shows, the most to date, indicate a burgeoning jazz scene in the area, he says.

“It’s a real testament to our community that we can put on a festival of this magnitude,” said Preece, noting the region has plenty of talent who’ve blossomed onto larger stages, nationally and beyond.

“We’ve really got an expanded stock of amazing bands and players for a community our size.”

A combination of people who appreciate the music, more venues and more musicians taking advantage of the opportunities has ramped up the jazz scene here. The opening of a club by members of the jazz society really helped to bring it into focus, Preech suggested.

“I think the Jazz Room has really galvanized a local scene,” he said, noting the King Street, Waterloo venue was a long time in the works.

“It had a long percolation – we were talking about it for 10 years before we actually opened,” he laughed.

Working with The Registry Theatre, which for years has been offering a jazz series, is a good fit, he added. Even when offering shows on the same night, the relationship is “symbiotic,” not competitive.

“The festival helps us cumulatively get the word out, to make a bigger splash,” said Preece, noting that more venues provide more outlets for musicians and audiences. “I think there’s room for even more things for people to do.”

For the Winter Jazz Festival, things get going February 7 at 8:30 p.m. at the Jazz Room with the Steve McDade Sextet. Considered one of the country’s great trumpet players, McDade has a long résumé that includes working with the likes of Manteca, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass and the Stratford Festival Orchestra. He’ll be joined by a who’s who of Canadian jazz musicians: Mark Eisenman (piano), Kelly Jefferson (sax), Rob Stone (trombone), Pat Collins (bass) and Terry Clarke (drums).

The following night, the Jazz Room welcomes Glenn Buhr and Margaret Sweatman with Penderecki String Quartet at 8:30 p.m.

An internationally known composer, Buhr  is also a jazz pianist and a singer/songwriter. He has also developed a reputation as creator and performer of unique remixes of classic rock and popular songs, giving them all his own peculiar compositional voice. Margaret Sweatman is an award winning novelist, playwright, lyricist, librettist, and singer whose work with Buhr includes their Broken Songs project. They are joined at The Jazz Room by the world renowned Penderecki String Quartet featuring Jerzy Kaplanek and Jeremy Bell (violins), Christine Vlajk (viola) and Katie Schlaikjer (cello).

Also on that Friday night (February 8), Larry Larson’s Jazz Guys  take to the stage at The Registry Theatre for an 8 p.m. show. Long a local favourite, the KW Symphony principal trumpet makes his annual jazz concert appearance at The Registry. The sextet features Larson on trumpet and flugelhorn,  Paul Shilton (piano), Dave Wiffen (saxes), Dave Thompson (guitar), Matthew Lima (bass) and Dave Campion (drums).

The Robi Botos Trio is at the Jazz Room on Saturday night. Botos is considered one of Canada’s finest new-generation jazz pianists. Originally from Hungary, he came to Canada in 1998 as a refugee, eventually meeting, and becoming friends with his keyboard idol Oscar Peterson. A virtuoso in his own right, he learned to play piano on his own, with no formal training. He’ll be joined by Mike Downes (bass)  and Larnell Lewis (drums) for an 8:30 p.m. show.

Back in Kitchener, Mary-Catherine Pazzano sings Bernstein at 100 in a performance that gets underway at 8 p.m. With her classically trained voice, Pazzano projects the full gamut of emotions, which makes her the ideal choice to celebrate the Leonard Bernstein centenary season, singing from the likes of West Side Story and On The Town. She’ll be joined by pianist and music arranger Don Buchanan, Pat Collins (bass) and Steve James (drums), plus special guests Jason Hunter (sax) and Ben Bolt-Martin (cello).

The music shifts to the First United Church for a Sunday matinee (2 p.m.), as  the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band  and Sir John A. Macdonald High School Jazz Band bring some youthful enthusiasm to the proceedings.

More information is available online The KW Jazz Room and The Registry Theatre websites.

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