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2022 Vancouver jazz festival ends on a positive note

The jazz festival comes out on top after COVID reboot.

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The 2022 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival wound down on Sunday. After weathering COVID lockdowns and limits for two years, Nina Horvath, the executive-director of jazz festival presenter Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, says the event was a winner.

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The organization is the largest not-for-profit music presenter in BC

“I think it was really re-affirming to all of us that there is no substitute for live music, and I’m really happy about that,” said Horvath. “Numbers were a bit slower than past years, which is on track with what we’ve been hearing from other presenters across the industry. If you wanted to use food and beverage sales as a metric for the free jazz weekends at the Vancouver Art Gallery and David Lam Park, they were pretty much the same. That was nice to know.”

Attendance in 2019 was estimated at 600,000. Horvath says she expects about 200,000 less than that for 2022. While free events were pretty much on par, there is still some resistance among audiences to attend indoor concerts.

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Nina Horvath, executive director of Coastal Jazz.  Handout
Nina Horvath, executive director of Coastal Jazz. Handout Photo by David Cooper /PNG

“Honestly, people aren’t totally back into having live shows on the radar yet,” she said. “Even leading into the week before we launched, there were people commenting that they didn’t know we were back. It’s hard to know what to say to that with it plastered all over town, but I think it’s just looking for things to go out and do maybe turned off in people’s brains over the past two years.”

Given that COVID is still going strong and there are well-documented issues with travel, only three dates at this year’s event were canceled outright without substitutions. Unfortunately, one of these was headliner Buddy Guy. The 85-year-old blues legend was obliged to cancel dates due to non-COVID-related health concerns.

Horvath notes that losing six or so performances out of 200 doesn’t stand out compared to pre-pandemic years.

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One noticeable change this year was a reduced number of venues as club partners in previous festivals were not involved. However, new programming at Ocean Art Works on Granville Island kept the nightlife vibe going. Co-producing late night DJ sessions with Full Circle First Nations Performance drew in a newer, younger demographic. Horvath notes that supply chain issues are challenging venues, presenters, performers and crews across the live music sector.

“So many of the usual sources for rental gear sold off their inventory during the pandemic to keep afloat, figuring that they could just reorder when things picked up again,” she said. “Unfortunately, they are now looking at months, sometimes years, to restock due to global shortages. We are very fortunate that our veteran staff are very well-connected with the local music scene and were able to negotiate instrument and other gear from various sources.”

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While the festival is on solid financial footing, this is the final year with title sponsor TD. Horvath admits that it will be a lot of work to find a new backer as companies reassess what they want their involvement in arts and cultural events to be in a post-pandemic landscape.

“We are going to work with some folks whose expertise is looking for sponsorship and they will be there going into the next-year search,” she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic as to how it will go, as we have a great product to sell. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a whole lot of work, and we could still put something on with no title sponsor next year if we had to. That’s not the goal, but we are prepared for it if it happens.”

The 2023 event will be the first to take shape with the brand new board of directors, as well as other new key position hires. Horvath says more organizational changes are expected.

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