The Jazz Room launches fifth season with a few surprises

Waterloo Region Record

By Valerie Hill

WATERLOO — Five years ago, the idea of opening a permanent venue for jazz in Waterloo seemed an impossible dream.

“It progressed from impossible to it’s going to be possible and now this is happening,” said The Jazz Room’s co-founder, Stephen Preece. His organization, The Grand River Jazz Society, has launched its fifth season at The Jazz Room with two solid months of music featuring 40 performances and a few surprises.

“Our community is getting a lot more sophisticated in terms of what they want to hear,” said Preece, who says proudly sales were up last year, from the previous year’s 6,500 tickets to last season’s 7,000 tickets sold.

This year they have added monthly Sunday matinees, a time slot Preece said he was surprised audiences seemed to want.

For jazz lovers who might not have time to attend concerts in the evening, Sunday afternoons are the perfect alternative so organizers will make these concerts special.

“We’ll bring in bands we have a special affinity for,” said Preece.

Looking at this new season, it’s a mix of old and new as well as many different styles.

“It’s nice to hear some favourites but we always like to change it up too,” he said. “Nov. 8 is the Christian Howes Band. He’s become an institution, he’s a phenomenal violinist.”

On Nov. 21, Alex Dean’s Three Baritone Band will add a unique sound with three baritone saxophones.

“They’re all phenomenal players,” he said.

The word “phenomenal” pops up a lot when Preece describes performers The Jazz Room has managed to attract but given there are so few jazz venues in the entire country, it’s not surprising. Jazz musicians yearn to play here.

Unlike typical bar venues where music is often just background, The Jazz Room, located in the Huether Hotel, is concert style where audiences come to listen to the music. Beer and food are secondary as are conversations.

Last year was their first CD release party, music recorded live at The Jazz Room. It was not as successful as they hoped, but perhaps that was because the recording was a little too experimental for most tastes.

The Dave Wiffen Quartet will be this year’s recording artist, performing Sept. 18. Preece is certain audiences will warm to Wiffen, a local artist and teacher who he says performs “listenable” music.

“It’s going to be jammed-packed, he’s a very popular player,” he said. “It’s a mixture of old standards and his own music.”

The season will also include a touring musician from France, the Zerafa Sandro Quartet Oct. 22. Preece said they are hoping to be a venue for international touring musicians in the future. And never let it be said The Jazz Room takes itself too seriously.

On Oct. 31, they will feature a dress up Halloween party with the Trinidadian-born trumpet master who goes by the name of Brownman, performing the entire Michael Jackson album, “Thriller,” in a jazz style. Preece calls Brownman “fun and gregarious” and they plan to move tables aside to make room for dancing.

The Jazz Room will feature weekly concerts until a couple of days after Christmas, wrapping up with the Alysha Brilla Sextet.

“Alysha is a local favourite, she’s really fun,” said Preece, who noted that December will be about the vocalists, starting with the Joni NehRita Band on Dec. 4 to Brilla on Dec. 27 and a whole lot of singing in between.

Presenting such an ambitious season is possible because of community support and now they have achieved charitable status, donors will receive tax receipts.

“We’ve got a new corporate sponsor too — Eigenworks, a tech startup,” he said, adding “I’d like to see others in the tech world step up to sponsor arts and culture.”

Valerie Hill writes on arts and can be reached via Twitter @HillRecord.

The Jazz Room

Dave Wiffen Quartet CD release concert

Sep. 18, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $15

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