I had the fortune of checking in with former artistic director Jim Galloway for anecdotes about his time with the festival (1986 – 2008) and the scoop on the performers he is interviewing for the Ken Page Memorial Trust Inside Track series this year.
Q: What is the strangest thing that has happened to you while working on the festival?
A: One act came into town… we were driving along Queen St… and his road manager says, ‘Stop the car, I have to say hi to this beautiful woman.’ He jumped out and we never saw him again, not even at the actual show, so I’m assuming he made out O.K. with her.
Q: What are some of the best bookings you’ve made?
A: Oh, there are so many… One of the most satisfying things in the early years was that we had the funding to present Johnny Griffin for free at City Hall, and Charles Lloyd another time. Musically they were great, but just the fact that the shows were open and free was amazing.
Q: Let’s talk about the interviews you’re doing for the Inside Track this year. How do you get something new and interesting out of somebody like Bill Frisell, who has been interviewed hundreds of times?
A: I think it helps that I’m a musician interviewing them, so I might think of some things that the average person might not. Houston Person and I have been friends for a long time. We worked together recently in Texas, so that’ll be easy… Roberta Gambarini is… a real musician. She knows the music. And a great singer. I’ve known her for a long time. William Carn has subbed into my big band. John Medeski I don’t really know, but we’ll find common ground somewhere.
Q: Are there any other bookings that stick out in your mind?
A: Sun-Ra. Oooo. The rehearsal in the afternoon was a disaster. I was there with [a friend], and I looked at him and said, "I think we need a drink." At night, it came together. They always had robes and all this stuff on… I looked at this guy playing a tambourine or shaker, and I thought, isn’t that the bus driver? [laughs]
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced with founding the festival?
A: We had surprisingly few screw-ups… There had been a previous musical event in Toronto that folded and left a trail of debt… For the first couple of years, we didn’t have the right reputation. I had to convince people to come. Now they want to come.
Q: You’ve been on the scene in Toronto over an extended period of time. How would you say it’s changed?
A: It’s gone steadily downhill. And if you consider the number of world class guys that used to come to The Colonial, The Town Tavern. You didn’t even bother having to see who was in that week, you knew it was a good jazzer. Some nights you would hop from one to the other. Ben Webster, I went every night. Are you kidding? And now it seems… we’ve largely lost the young audience.
Q: Do you think the festival can play a role in restoring the scene?
A: I don’t think you can bring the scene back. All the major festivals across Canada have had to broaden their base and include acts that 20 years ago you never would have considered for a jazz festival. That’s the making of the business. It’s been a necessity. When the festival started we didn’t have that kind of pressure to sell tickets. It’s there now. I think the day will come when we have to drop the word jazz. Just music festival. It’s not possible to sell pure jazz for 10 days and make a profit. That’s the sad thing.
Q: Are there any younger guys on the jazz scene that you think are worth keeping an eye on?
A: I’d put Roy Hargrove in that category. The festival used to have really good after hours jam sessions… You couldn’t get him off the bandstand. Now there’s a real jazz player. And he knows the tradition. And if you’ve ever heard him sing a ballad, it would grab you right there [heart]. He’s got a knowledge that, to my mind, you’ve got to have. He’s a fiend. He’s always got a horn with him and you know he’s gonna play. He can’t help it. Also, pianist Rosano Sportiello. He blows me away every time.
Q: What’s one show that you are really excited about this year?
A: Roy Hargrove and Roberta Gambarini. That’s a good bill.
Q: Your fondest memory from the festival?
A: I have so many nice memories. I had L’Orchestre Nationale de Jazz over from France and I remember enjoying the band and being stretched out on the grass listening to Gil Evans. Those types of things stay with you.
The Inside Track, sponsored by the Ken Page Memorial Trust, is taking place at 12:30PM every day from June 23rd to July 1st at Nathan Phillips Square.