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Nanaimo International Jazz Festival goes online with help of Canadian Heritage grant

Video concert series from Harbour City Theatre to be unveiled in February
Nico Rhodes, Lucas Smart, James McRae and Kosma Busheikin (from left) recorded their set for the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival’s online video series at the Harbour City Theatre this week. (Photo courtesy François Savard)

With this year’s Nanaimo International Jazz Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, organizers have shifted gears and will instead present an online concert series recorded at the Harbour City Theatre.

The week the festival association announced that filming is now underway for a series of concert videos featuring jazz artists from Comox to the Cowichan Valley. The videos will be published online this February.

The concert series is possible with the help of a $76,600 grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage, which NIJF association past president Andrew Homzy said is the greatest sum that’s ever gone toward the support of jazz in Nanaimo.

“That’s the largest single grant that we ever had,” he said. “It was very exciting.”

Homzy said early this year everything was in place for the NIJF to proceed as normal. A grant application was sent to Canadian Heritage and the performers had all been chosen. The international headliner was to be the Brubeck Brothers Quartet paying tribute to their father, renowned American jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, who died in 2012 and would have turned 100 this year.

“We were ready to sign the contracts,” Homzy said. “And then COVID hit.”

The festival association held out hope that it would still be possible to present the NIJF in September, but by the summer the decision was made to postpone the event until 2021.

“We were feeling in despair about the whole thing,” Homzy said. “And then in early July, I got a notice from Canadian Heritage saying that our grant was approved from them. And furthermore, that because of COVID, they were going to allow for special conditions and that they would allow us to do a virtual festival.”

Current NIJF association president Greg Bush said Canadian Heritage was “very accommodating considering the situation.”

“They kept loosening up the criteria so that we could do this over the internet,” he said. “They wanted to see it take place, I guess.”

Performing from Nanaimo are the Lucas Smart Quartet, the Gerry Barnum Quartet, the Narissa Young Trio, the Keanu Barned Trio, the Marty Steele Trio, the Shalema Gantt Trio and Nico Rhodes. Also taking to the stage are the Aaron Amar Trio from Comox, the Brock Meades Trio from Cowichan and Diana Braithwaite and the Chris Whiteley Quartet from Duncan.

Homzy said the grant required that all artists be local, which in this case means residing anywhere from Comox to Cowichan, and that the performances be free to the public. He said they will all be performing pieces by local and Canadian composers.

“This is the first time that anything like this has ever been done,” Homzy said. “I think our little festival, we’ve been innovating and things that we’ve been doing are just unprecedented and I think that needs to be celebrated.”

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