25 years and still going strong with the Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Martha Wainwright

While the Vancouver International Jazz Festival has always been good at lining up top performers to play the festival, this year was an exceptionally good one. The fabulously entertaining Martha Wainwright and the incredibly talented Stanley Clarke were two of the extraordinary talents that wowed the crowds.

The first Saturday of the festival, walking into the Centre for the Performing Arts, the crowd was somewhat subdued as it slowly filled the velvet seats. For those of us who'd never seen Ms. Wainwright live in concert before knew the evening would be pleasant but had little if any idea just what an extraordinary experience we were in for.

The audience settled, the lights went up, and the opening act, Jose James and Jef Neve warmed us up with their captivating precision timing: vocals and piano in perfect accompaniment.

About an hour and a half later the stage was re-set and the magic began. Ms. Wainwright strolled on stage, and without missing a beat, grabbed the mic and burst into song: the first of a long list of French songs of the legendary Edith Piaf.

Ms. Wainwright blew the top off of the building with her renditions and wit. The crowd was alive and responsive, moving to the music and hanging on every hilarious word as she set up the next song.

In the latter half of her performance, Wainwright explained that the next song she was about to perform was one her mother had told her to sing and that she always listened to her mother. Then in a tender moment, having recently lost her mother to cancer, she asked no one in particular who she was going to listen to now.

The audience heaved a heavy sigh but Wainwright's quick wit broke the silence and threw us into fits of laughter once again.

She said that the song had been, “once sung by Doris Day and very dull in English.”

Soudain Une Vallee, otherwise known as Suddenly There's a Valley, is indeed pretty sappy in English but when Wainwright put her spin on it, it was so beautiful it made us cry. Tissues were passed to strangers and we dabbed our wet eyes between applause. Oh, Martha, Martha, Martha. There's something oddly pleasant about crying in public, whether it's from sadness or joy.

The evening ended, as expected, with a standing ovation and the buzz in the lobby afterwards was absolutely electric. “That was the best show I've ever seen,” said one red-eyed man as he left the building.

A few days later, and just when you thought it couldn't get any better, we returned to The Centre for what was to be one of the biggest highlights of the festival: Stanley Clarke and Hiromi Uehara.

For those who were there nothing more need be said. For those who weren't, be sure to mark this down in your calendars and make note of these artists for next year.

It was a jaw dropping show that commanded mid-performance ovations throughout. The crowd couldn't get enough of these people: jumping out of their seats after each solo.

The drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and keyboard player Roslan Siroda rounded off the band adding their own unique dash of flavour.

Clarke hasn't slowed down in his 30 plus years in the business. Still lightning fast and pulling out mind boggling melodies from his bass. Uehara is freakishly superhuman on the piano playing impossible riffs and drawing screams from the crowd.

Later on in the lobby, mingling with a number of musicians who'd caught the show, several just stood there shaking their heads while the ones who could talk spoke endlessly and at great speed about what they'd just heard.

The jazz fest rocked this year and with a little luck we'll get some of the same performers back on our stages next year. In the mean time, here's hoping someone at The Centre had the good sense to recorded some of those performances. That would make for a lot of very happy people.

To support the International Jazz Festival and keep our city rocking, check out www.coastaljazz.ca

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