Downtown Kingston gets a taste of jazz

Annual weekend event includes performances on porches and verandas around town

The What Cheer? Brigade came from Rhode Island to perform at the annual jazz festival.
The What Cheer? Brigade came from Rhode Island to perform at the annual jazz festival.

The usual peace and serenity of the Sydenham neighbourhood was pierced by the sound of cymbals and trumpets as they traveled into the streets on Saturday.

This outdoor music performance, appropriately titled Porch Jazz, is one of the regular events at the annual Kingston Jazz Festival.

I joined the group of jazz lovers at the Hochelaga Inn to hear the Skeleton Bones Quartet perform first, thinking every stop on the way would include smaller musical groups performing jazz standards on their veranda or porch of choice.

But I was wrong — the stand out performance of the Saturday afternoon event came from the group that performed in between each of the porch stops. As we were walking along Sydenham St., the What Cheer? Brigade, hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, dominated the middle of the street with their loud tunes.

There was no way to miss this group of 18 musicians holding their instruments and wearing black on a sweltering hot afternoon.

Though the brass and drum band was a group of misfits with numerous piercings, tattoos, mohawks and ripped clothing between them all, their musical style was upbeat and inspired those on the street to dance along as they were walking from one location to the next.

For jazz connoisseurs who were accustomed to a more structured jazz experience, the rest of the weekend provided formal indoor performances showcasing jazz artists from far and near.

This year’s festival is the first to expand its horizons beyond North American acts.

“We want to try to bring in a bigger spectrum of the top artists really. That is, to get the best players in the world to come to Kingston,” said City of Kingston Cultural Director Brian McCurdy.

On Saturday night, Swiss jazz trio Homburger/ Guy/ Niggli played at the Baby Grand Theatre as part of the festival. They also performed at the Ottawa Jazz Festival the next day.

The band’s visit was funded through the government of Switzerland’s Arts Council and was made possible because they were playing more than one gig while away from home.

“We were approached by the Ottawa Jazz Festival to partner in having them perform,” McCurdy said.

The trio is known for their eclectic mix of bass, violin and drums and their use of improvisation during their performances.

This weekend marked the second year the Kingston Jazz Festival has run since it took a break in 2010. The festival was previously run through the Kingston Jazz Society alone, but due to financial challenges, McCurdy said the festival came to a temporary halt.

Last year the festival returned for the first time since its hiatus, with brand new sponsorship. It partnered with Skeleton Park Music Festival, another event that showcases local Kingston talent, to hold a jazz event later as part of the Skeleton Park Festival line-up.

“It was timing. They have a whole weekend of events falling at the exact same time,” McCurdy said. “So we tried to work together to sort of have this jazz slot from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Saturday.”

McCurdy added that Kingston can hold its own amongst bigger jazz festivals like the ones in Toronto and Montreal.

“Kingston is much more intimate — you’re not going to be trampled by crowds,” he said.

— With files from Leanne Gardner

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