A lot has changed over the last seven years for Chris Ferguson and the Steel City Jazz Festival. After returning from a trip to the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival Ferguson and Emily Milko thought why doesn’t Hamilton have something as cool as that. They’d begin the Steel City Jazz Festival and in the process get married and more recently added a new son to the burgeoning family. As such, Ferguson has never relied more on his Hamilton jazz friends, musicians and promoters but the team brings another edition of the fest to the city this week with five nights, eight shows, dozens of performers and hundreds and hundreds of jazz fans.
“Theodore’s just two months old so I’ve been mainly home with the baby listening to a lot of music but we’ll be getting him out to more shows soon,” quips Ferguson on what’s been taking his time away from jazz fest activities. “Last year, we had a great turn out and all of the performances were so good. Musically, I was blown away last year and financially, we always get by with what we have and do our best. I’ve always done this with the help of a lot of people but with the new baby, I relied more on people like Judith Sandiford of the Artword Artbar and Simon Wheeldon of the Jazz Connection Big Band. They’ve both been involved in years gone by because of their connections to the local and touring jazz communities. They did more work organizing the acts for this year’s festival and one might say it has more of a Hamilton focus.”
The Steel City Jazz Fest features on Nick Maclean Quartet ft: Brownman Ali at the Artword Artbar and George Grossman’s Bohemian Swing ft: Brandon Walker at the Corktown on Thursday November 7, Jason Logue Sextet at the Artword Artbar and Blunt Object at the Corktown on Friday November 8, Waleed Kush African Jazz Ensemble at the Artword Artbar and Jazz Connection Big Band with Smordin Law Artist in Residence Jason Logue at the Pearl Company on Saturday November 9 and the ECJ Quintet at the Artword Artbar on Sunday November 10.
“The ECJ Quintet features Mike Malone who has played many years of the festival and also someone who was interested in doing more with us,” says Ferguson. “He’s been a part of Haimlton jazz for decades as a teacher, arranger, trumpeter — his band will be a mix of younger and veteran players performing a great selection of jazz standards. It’s special for us that Mike plays the last show for us and that’s the last show we’ll be doing at the Artword Artbar. That’s another change that has happened. The Artbar was a strong partner with us and it’s going to be a real loss to our local community on a whole but especially to the jazz community when they close their doors this month. But I’m hopeful that when one venue closes that others might open up.
“Jason Logue is a trumpeter and faculty member at Mohawk College and our Smoridn Law Artist in Residence for this year’s festival so he’s playing a couple of shows with his sextet and I believe playing his originals,” adds Ferguson. “The Jazz Connection are a Hamilton bassed band that has been with us from the beginning and always draw a great crowd. And an interesting player that ties it all up is Paul Benton who opens up the festival for us. I was on his website and he’s got some of the media articles written about him. Even when I started this festival, I didn’t know that Paul had run a jazz festival in Hamilton in the early ’90s and the people who played at that festival? Mike Malone and a very young Mohawk student Adrean Farrugia who has been a huge part of the festival and many, many shows — even more than we've booked him for because many artists want to play with him and end up inviting him on stage to play with them. He’s that good. It was really special to see our opening night artist not only has that connection to jazz in Hamilton but also there are these links to an earlier history of jazz in Hamilton that connect the festival we’ve done for the last seven years.”
Ferguson’s passion for music is tangible and our conversations often stray topically into a variety of musical styles discussing the past and future of music in Hamilton. While his personal life has turned his focus away from giving music his full attention temporarily, Ferguson will be coming back assuredly when time allows. For this year’s festival, he’s expecting another great turn out and is excited about adding to the legacy of live music in Hamilton.
“If you’re someone who enjoys live music you should really come out to a show at the Artword Artbar while you still have the chance,” says Ferguson. “It’s a really unique listening environment that I’ve ever been to — a small intimate space where audiences consistently come just to listen to music seriously and respectfully. Judith and Ron are some of the most passionate supporters of the arts and if they invited someone to play there, that’s a reliable vote of approval.
“But anyone who is a fan of jazz obviously should come to any of our shows,” adds Ferguson. “Or if you’re not a fan but still amenable and curious about it then I think shows like George Grossman or the Jazz Connection offer shows that are high energy easy to get on board shows so you might want to check those out. I’m very happy to be doing shows at the Corktown as they’ve got a long history supporting jazz in this city. There are shows that span a lot of different styles of jazz and offer great performances regardless of style but if you like jazz, we hope you come out.”
The Seventh Annual Steel City Jazz Festival happens from Thursday 8 through Sunday November 10 at the Artword Artbar, the Corktown Pub and the Pearl Company. Click on steelcityjazzfest.com or for tickets. www.bruha.com/event/5048