Vancouver Jazz Festival 2022 ends on a high note

The Jazz Festival comes out on top after the COVID restart.

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The 2022 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival wrapped up on Sunday. After resisting COVID lockdowns and limitations for two years, Nina Horvath, the executive director of the jazz festival presenter Coastal Jazz and Blues Societysays the event was a winner.

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The organization is the largest not-for-profit music broadcaster in British Columbia

“I think it really reaffirmed to us that there’s no substitute for live music, and I’m really happy about that,” Horvath said. “The numbers were a bit slower than previous years, which is consistent with what we’ve heard from other industry presenters. If you wanted to use food and beverage sales as a metric for weekends free jazz at the Vancouver Art Gallery and David Lam Park, they were pretty much the same.

Attendance in 2019 was estimated at 600,000. Horvath says she expects around 200,000 less than that for 2022. While the free events were about on par, there is still some resistance among the public 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 haven’t totally gone back to having live shows on the radar yet,” she said. “Even before the week before we launched, there were people saying they didn’t know we were back. It’s hard to know what to say to that with this all over town, but I think it’s just looking for things to go out and do that might have been turned off in people’s brains over the last couple of years.

Given that COVID is still going strong and there are well-documented travel issues, only three dates for this year’s event have been canceled outright with no substitutions. Unfortunately, one of them was headliner Buddy Guy. The 85-year-old blues legend has been forced to cancel dates due to health concerns unrelated to COVID.

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

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A notable change this year was a reduced number of venues, as partner clubs from previous festivals were not involved. However, new programming at Ocean Art Works on Granville Island kept the nightlife vibe going. Co-produce late night DJ sessions with First Nations Full Circle Performance attracted a newer, younger demographic. Horvath notes that supply chain issues challenge venues, broadcasters, artists and teams in the live music industry.

“A lot of the usual sources of rental gear sold off their inventory during the pandemic to stay afloat, thinking they might just re-order when things pick up,” 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 have been able to negotiate instruments and other gear from a variety of sources.

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

“We will be working with people whose expertise is seeking sponsorships and they will be there for next year’s research,” she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic about how it will turn out because we have a great product to sell. That’s not to say it won’t be a lot of work, and we could still put in something without a title sponsor next year if we had to. It’s not the goal, but we’re 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 hires in key positions. Horvath says further organizational changes are expected.

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