Twenty-two years in, the TD Markham Jazz Festival has been a fixture on the suburban jazz landscape. Situated on the dividing line between Unionville and the city of Markham, Ontario, the region is idyllic for a summer music festival, with a robust nightlife and almost Disneyland appearance. It’s a place where people can stroll on a warm evening and enjoy the local amenities, as well as listen to regional jazz artists.
It will also be a unique opportunity to celebrate the hard bop band Kollage, initially founded by drummer Archie Alleyne (photo above with bandmates – Don Thompson, Bob Mover, and Jake Wilkinson) who passed on June 8, 2015, and now led by pianist and one of the remaining members of the beloved quartet, Stacie McGregor – who has assembled her own unit in honor of the jazz legend.
A date is set – Friday, August 16 until Sunday, August 18, featuring an opening concert with soul/funk aggregate Oakland Stroke. I caught up with artistic director Sarah Kim and board member Mark Lemieux for a few words on the upcoming event.
Bill King: I’m guessing the festival is ready to roll and you’re feeling good about it.
Sarah Kim: We are ready to roll and very excited.
BK: Let's get to the music and hear what we can look forward too. I know you have Juno award winner saxophonist Allison Au booked. Bassist George Koller?
SK: We're excited about that. That's George Koller and the Secret Space Program. That's an album that George put together and he's leading the band and will be singing which we don't normally get to see George do at the front of the stage. We're pretty excited about that. We've got some great up and comers as well. The Lauren Falls Quartet and Virginia McDonald’s group are coming as well.
BK: More about her?
SK: Virginia MacDonald is a clarinet player and has put together a fabulous band. She a young woman and an up-and-comer in the scene and just knocking everybody’s socks off. We’re excited to have her on our Varley Art Gallery Patio.
BK: And you've got Meghan Parnell and Bywater Blues, which I love.
SK: Bywater Cal now. That’s at our McKay Beer & Wine Garden stage. It's a really beautiful setting and down the stairs behind the McKay Art Gallery under a big willow tree and we know they'll just rock out. It’s a great band. They’ve got seven pieces with a horn section it. A big, big sound.
BK: What’s the number of stages?
SK: We have three stages. We've got our Millennium Bandstand where we present our headliners. We've got a stage at the Varley Art Gallery, and then we've got the McKay Beer & Wine Garden stage as well.
BK: Helping out is board member Mark Lemieux. How long have you've been part of this Mark?
Mark Lemieux: I've been involved for roughly three years now, and I've been contributing in a marketing and social media sense. I get involved with Sarah Kim as far as talking about artists to invite and some of the musical themes of the festival. I love contributing and seeing jazz continue to flourish and develop in the Markham Jazz Festival and throughout the GTA.
BK: Your background is in marketing?
ML: I'm from a pharmaceutical marketing background. Again, I've been contributing my time to the jazz community and in the GTA for the last three years or so and now, in a marketing and general administrative role through not only the Markham Jazz Festival but also other organizations as well.
BK: We can go back twenty-two years. I was there at the beginning when jazz promoter Hal Hill sort of conceived the idea for a festival in Unionville with Colin Smith and others who saw Unionville as a prime location for mounting a jazz festival.
SK: It’s such a unique environment that lends itself to a festival setting. We close the street where we've got vendors up and down next to street performers. It's a romantic place. I think it has more ice cream shops per capita than just about anywhere. It creates a comfortable and inviting environment to wander and explore music.
ML: As I mentioned, we have three main stages and a whole bunch of other activities going on in the town as well as a free walking tour of the historic Union Village. We have a free tour of the Fred Varley Art Gallery for example and offer free parking from the Markham Pan Am Centre up to our location, which is a short hop. That shuttle also is a two-minute walk from the Union Go Station. It allows jazz lovers from across the GTA to come up and join us. The Go station makes the difference and we also have the shuttle bus. It's been used. We've been welcoming people from across the GTA since those facilities have been instituted.
BK: You have bassist Brandi Disterheft - a performer well-known in Toronto jazz circles living in New York the past decade.
SK: She an old friend, and I'm excited to have her perform. We lost her to New York. It's always exciting when she comes back to Toronto. She released a new album last year and is such a force in the community. She will close out our Millennium Bandstand on Sunday afternoon.
BK: A big opening at the Market Museum?
ML: It's gonna be a great night. It will be at the Market Museum garden area for an open-air concert. Oakland Stroke, a 10-piece band led by Lou Pomanti. It’s the sound of horn bands from the 70s - some Tower of Power, Earth Wind & Fire, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago and a few surprises I'm sure Lou and the band have in store for us as well - we're looking forward to that. It's our only paid concert as well. Throughout the whole weekend, so we're talking about over 25 to 30 shows all free except for this one Wednesday evening concert, August 14th. That helps pay the bills for the rest of the whole weekend.
We're looking forward to that in more ways than one.
SK: It's a bit of a shakeup for us to have a big party outside. We felt we've often done more intimate indoor shows, and we wanted to invite the community - invite the broader public to come and join us.
BK: And you've got a backup plan? This is not going to be defeated by rain?
SK: I've got to tell you there's a beautiful space in the Transportation Hall which is also on the grounds of the Markham Museum, and if it rains, we will move inside.
Tickets are available only online. We should mention at our web site, Markhamjazzfestival.com. So please get your tickets soon. They've been selling now for a few weeks and going at a good rate.
Other performers – pianist Michael Kaeshammer, singer John Finley, reggae/soul man, Jay Douglas, the jazz collective Kollage and Jazz.FM 91 singer,/radio personality Heather Bambrick.