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Celebrating 30 Years of Musical Magic: The Guelph Jazz Festival

The Guelph Jazz Festival

For three decades, the Guelph Jazz Festival has been a testament to the power of music, diversity, and community spirit. In conversation with Scott Thomson, the Artistic and General Director of the festival, we learned more about the remarkable journey, evolution, and what attendees can look forward to in its 30th anniversary edition!

In the Beginning

Founded in 1994 by a group of friends led by Dr. Ajay Hedley, a professor in the English department at the University of Guelph, the festival started as a small grassroots event with primarily local and regional appeal. Over the years, it has grown into an internationally renowned four-day extravaganza of jazz and creative improvised music. With a diverse range of venues, including River Run Center, Royal City Mission, and even Market Square, the festival has evolved into a dynamic showcase of music and culture.  

Looking at Thirty

One of the festival’s highlights is the free live music in Market Square. During the festival, Carden Street is closed off, creating an atmosphere of celebration. Attendees can enjoy a wide variety of musical acts, from traditional Brazilian percussion to Serbian brass bands to African percussion. The Market Square experience is not just about the music but the entire atmosphere, complete with a licensed bar and food vendors.

The festival hasn’t been immune to the challenges of the times. In response to public health measures, the organizers innovatively presented smaller concerts in municipal parks outside of the downtown core in 2021. While returning to a pre-pandemic structure, they retained these park concerts due to the strong connections made in these neighborhoods. This year, they’ll even offer preview concerts in the parks, offering a taste of the festival’s magic before the main event.

Curating the festival’s lineup is a delicate art and Thomson is committed to showcasing the cutting edge of jazz and creative improvised music. He aims to blend different styles and traditions, bringing together everything from traditional South American music to hip-hop, electronic dance, and contemporary classical music. The goal is to keep the spirit of jazz alive, even if the music doesn’t resemble the classics. Context and complementarity play a pivotal role in creating an unforgettable experience for festivalgoers.

Over the years, the Guelph Jazz Festival has seen countless memorable performances. Scott highlights the versatility of the musicians and the audience’s influence on the concert experience. One standout moment was when the Natural Information Society played two contrasting concerts in a seated setting as well as a dance party at Market Square, showing the power of context and collaboration. As the festival enters its next chapter, the goal remains to celebrate its 30-year history while tuning in to the evolving music scene. Scott emphasizes the importance of change and adaptation, ensuring that the Guelph Jazz Festival continues to inspire and delight audiences for years to come.

How to Attend and How to Help

The Guelph Jazz Festival’s 30-year journey is a testament to the power of music connecting communities and cultures. With a diverse lineup, innovative adaptations, and a commitment to keeping the spirit of jazz alive, this festival promises an unforgettable experience for music lovers of all kinds. Don’t miss the chance to be a part of this musical celebration in downtown Guelph. Tickets for the 2023 Guelph Jazz Festival are on sale through the River Run Centre. Experience the magic with a pass for all ten-ticketed concerts during the festival! The pass is $200 (general admission) and $150 (students, seniors, and under-waged). 

Get involved! The Guelph Jazz Festival thrives on the energy of volunteers, and they welcome individuals interested in contributing to this vibrant event. Various roles suit different schedules and interests, and signing up is easy through their website. 


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