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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2017

John Kelman By

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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Canada
June 23-26, 2017

Amongst the most significant challenges that face any festival is, as the gray and no-hair crowd continues to age, finding ways to cultivate and grow a younger audience. But when you're a Canadian festival, another major challenge is a simple fiscal fact: most artists—even those coming from farther afield like Europe and Asia—expect payment in American funds, and with the Canadian loonie currently resting at about 75 cents to the US dollar, it has become a serious challenge to ensure that programming continues at the same (or better) level as it was when the two currencies were closer to par.

Thankfully—and, given that the majority of its revenue comes, rather than from ticket sales, from private and public sponsors, including various arts initiatives on municipal, provincial and federal levels—the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, now in its 37th year, continues to exist, bringing a program that not only appeals to hardcore, longstanding jazz fans, but to a younger audience as well. One of the best steps the festival took was a few years ago, when it expanded from its use of the downtown Confederation Park (abutting the beautiful Rideau Canal) to also include a second open space across the street, part of City Hall. There, the festival began a new, late night series (shows starting at 10:30PM, when many of the older crowd are heading home) called the OLG After Dark series, in a large tented structure called the Tartan Homes Stage, where acts more specifically aimed at—but by no means exclusively—the younger demographic that is so important.

Since first starting the series it has grown into one of the festival's more popular series, and with acts this year including The Lemon Bucket Orchestra, Robert Glasper Experiment, Nomadic Massive, Kandace Springs and more, it's sure to continue bringing in that so important younger crowd. And with a Youth Pass that is only $99 for the entire 11-day event (for folks 25 and under), it's not just an affordable way to catch a lot of music at the After Dark series, but also to see shows at the multitude of other venues used by the festival.

Beyond the After Dark series, the Great Canadian Jazz Series and Concerts Under the Stars—both of which take place in the larger, outdoor TekSavvy Main Stage in Confederation Park and represent a longstanding double bill that shines a spotlight on popular and up-and-coming Canadian acts as they open for the main events that takes place, for the most part, at 8:30 each evening—provide an appropriate space for big ticket items (in name, not price) like, this year: Serena Rider; Kenny Rogers; Joss Stone; Maceo Parker; Caravan Palace; the late Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra featuring Carla Bley; a night of blues with Rory Block, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters and Canada's legendary Downchild Blues Band; and Feist.

Now, if the relative lack of jazz names in the Concerts Under the Stars series seems like a problem, fear not. While the festival made the necessary decision, in 2011, to open up its programming in the park, in order to bring in the large crowds that would help subsidize the vast array of jazz artists performing in other venues, it continues to easily pass the litmus test described in a 2011 All About Jazz article, When is a Jazz Festival (Not) a Jazz Festival?; simply put, those who want a "pure" jazz festival still have one, with far more jazz performances, each and every night—ranging from big names to lesser-knowns—than any jazz fan could possibly hope to see.


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