Chelsea McBride, Eric Alexander among headliners helping flavour JazzYYC’s Summer Festival as it gradually grows

When you go to the ice cream parlour, you don’t go straight to vanilla.

If you’re smart, you have a taste of everything with those tiny wooden spoons and then you settle on what you like and indulge — be it one huge scoop, two or three.

Welcome to JazzYYC’s Summer Festival. Or rather artistic producer Kodi Hutchinson’s philosophy behind it.

“I’ve always tried to take the view of booking more than just one flavour of jazz,” said Hutchinson, a tireless and talented jazz artist and promoter of music in the Alberta scene, during the lineup launch at the Performance Hall in the National Music Centre’s Studio Bell on Monday.

“I understand people have different tastes, so we really want to try and find those different tastes here. So there’s traditional jazz, there’s contemporary jazz, there’s groove-based music, there’s Latin jazz, there’s music that you could say is on the fringes of jazz — it’s always steeped in jazz, but we’re just looking at all of the different flavours that we can bring.”

Which is why this year’s fest, which runs June 14 to 17 at various locations around Calgary, features something for everyone — even those who might be intimidated by the very word “jazz.”

Some of the highlights this year include: a 19-piece orchestra led by Toronto bandleader Chelsea McBride called the Socialist Night School; NYC saxman Eric Alexander and his quartet, which features his octogenarian mentor, pianist Harold Mabern; pianist John Roney, who will be recreating Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert; Juno-winning contemporary jazz artist Allison Au from the Big Smoke; young Vancouver phenom Maya Rae; the big, big, rich southern gumbo-style of The Heavweights Brass Band; and Havana-born ivory tickler Hilario Duran and his Afro-Cuban sounds.

And that’s just scratching the surface and hitting the Mainstage shows — which this year will take place at Studio Bell’s Performance Hall and Mount Royal Unversity’s Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts — as well as the Canadian Series in beloved Inglewood venue and good friend of jazz, the Ironwood.

There are also: the Late Night shows at Lolitas, including Parc X Trio and the Penny Sanborn Trio; performances by Melody Diachun and Grammy winner Yuri Honing Acoustic Quartet at new Stephen Avenue Walk venue Junction; a jam at Kawa with the John Roney Trio; new late-night jam sessions at the Ironwood with Roney and eight-piece outliers Frisson.

There are also some other additions to this year’s Summer Festival, including a Public Workshop Series at the Ironwood and Memorial Park Library, and, in celebration of the fact that so many of the bandleaders this year are female, a Woman In Jazz Forum.

(Notably the fest is also offering a special Sisters In Jazz ticket package, which gives you entry into the concerts by Au, Diachun, McBride’s Socialist Night School and Rae for $100, or $75 for students.)

These modest new elements to the event four official years in are heartening, because they’re an indication that JazzYYC is doing it right — growing, building and learning from past failed fests by not overreaching and living within their means.

“The big thing, and my mandate from day one, was we all live in the shadow of festivals past and we never want to repeat that in our festival,” Hutchinson says.

“So we’ve always gone from a measured approach in growing things very carefully and slowly, and being fiscally responsible. So we really gauged it off of our ticket sales and make sure that you know, ‘OK, can we handle this? Can we make sure that we’re bringing what the community wants in a way that’s (measured).

“A lot of people would like us to go much faster than we have, but we just look at it from the point of view of, ‘What’s sustainable? How can we make this a long-term thing?’ We want this festival to outlive ourselves, we want to make sure that it supports the community, the players here in Calgary and Alberta, as well as bringing some top talent to the city.”

And making sure it’s accessible to all, getting it in front of locals and growing that audience.

That means that JazzYYC’s Summer Festival will also still include two of its free, family-friendly components — the Mall Lunch Series on Stephen Avenue and, of course, the trademark Sunday JazzWalk, which takes place at myriad venues, shops and locations throughout Inglewood.

The lineup and stops for the walk are yet to be announced, but, well, it sums up the festival itself  in one day — grab a small spoon and sample every flavour.

“That’s my goal is just to make sure that whatever I put in there really gives a broad sampling,” Hutchinson says. “You know, you could walk in one place and hear one type of music and walk into another place and go, ‘Wow, this is totally different?’ … So that people who maybe have never listened to the music can walk in and decide, ‘Hey, you know what? I like this.’

“My favourite thing is when I meet people who don’t know jazz, whenever I meet people who say, ‘I don’t like jazz,’ I always respond with, ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t like rock ’n’ roll because I don’t like the Rolling Stones.’ It’s like saying you don’t like of type of thing, you don’t like everything. And I feel with jazz because people aren’t as exposed to it they just don’t understand all of the different styles that are out there and there might be something they really love.

“I’m just hoping that I can put that in front of them and we can, at JazzYYC, really build an audience of people who maybe aren’t regular jazz listeners but are open to hearing something new.”

JazzYYC’s Sumer Festival takes place June 14-17 at various locations in Calgary. For tickets, festival passes and the full schedule of events please go to their website here.