Cedar Walton was supposed to play in Calgary tonight. Chick Corea was supposed to play on Friday night, followed by Ben E. King on Saturday night. But none of that will happen now because C-Jazz, the local organizers of the Calgary Jazz Festival, have abruptly pulled the plug on the annual event.
Is it possible the shows will still go on? Likely not. The last time a Calgary jazz festival was forced to fold-in 2006-an angel was waiting in the wings. The angel was the now troubled C-Jazz, which had been formed six years earlier when Jazz Festival Calgary became too big for its boots. Jazz Festival Calgary had been launched in 1980 with some 75th anniversary grant money from the provincial government. As Jazz Festival Calgary expanded, with more and more focus on international acts, C-Jazz emerged as a local organization dedicated to promoting Calgary jazz artists. With a grassroots rallying of citizens and performers, C-Jazz was able to save the 2006 jazz festival and keep it going until now.
Much the same thing happened in Edmonton. When that city’s famous Jazz City crashed in 2005, after running successfully for twenty-five years, jazz fans across the country were shocked. Jazz City was one of the longest-running international jazz festivals in Canada. If it could fail, who would be next? The answer, of course, was Calgary.
The Edmonton Jazz Society was the saviour that resurrected Edmonton’s jazz festival. It had been running the Yardbird Suite jazz club for several years, and it was ready and waiting to launch the new Edmonton International Jazz Festival when Jazz City went down. The new festival started modestly-with a focus on Edmonton and other Canadian talent-and built slowly with the help of Jazz Festivals Canada. Its headliners this year include Chick Corea — who will thus be able to salvage something from his now-shortened Canadian tour — Nikki Yanofsky and John Pizzarelli.
Jazz City and Jazz Festival Calgary both died because of money woes. The C-Jazz folks now find themselves in the same boat. They don’t have the cash flow to cover the day-to-day expenses of the festival, and there’s no angel in the wings ready to bail them out. Has their festival, like its predecessor, gotten into trouble because it became too big for its boots? Perhaps. It has come a long way from its Calgary-oriented roots over the past four years, regularly featuring such big names as Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis and Allen Toussaint. Great for Calgary jazz fans, but not so great for C-Jazz’s bottom line. Last year’s festival left C-Jazz with what the Calgary Herald today describes as a “significant deficit.” A scaled-down version of the festival for this year would seem to have been the right way to go. But when the board members looked at the books this past weekend, even that option became impossible. Too bad.