Skip to content

Local artists eager to perform live anew

The 34th SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival kicks off on Saturday at the TD Mainstage Bessborough Garden
Dan McNeil
Dan McNeil and the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra will be presenting the music of R&B legend Stevie Wonder.

SASKATOON - Performers like Wide Mouth Mason and the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra can’t wait to once again perform live in front of music-loving crowd when the 34th SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival kicks off on Saturday at the TD Mainstage Bessborough Gardens. The jazz fest will be held from Aug. 7 to 15.

Wide Mouth Mason will be playing with fellow home-grown group The Sheepdogs to open up the jazz fest, which was cancelled last year due to health restrictions imposed by the provincial government to lessen the impact of COVID-19.

“They can expect three musicians who are very excited to get back to doing the thing they love most. There will be some old, some new, and some random. But all of it will be full tilt,” said Safwan Javed, who together with Shaun Verreault form the Juno Award-winning music duo

Javed added that they used the COVID-19 pandemic to spend quality time with their families.

“We’re all fathers. So, we’ve been trying to improve our parenting skills.”

The hardest part, however, has been having music events cancelled.

“The hardest part about the pandemic has been the inability to play gigs. This was the longest stretch we’ve gone without playing a gig. I don’t think we realized how critical playing and attending live concerts is to our overall well-being.”

Javed said that since the lockdown they have been practicing individually at home.

“We often go back to some of the methods we used in earlier years [like] playing along to other tracks, sight reading, etc. But we’ll also get together in Saskatoon the day before the show and rehearse as a unit.”

SJO Artistic Director Dean McNeil got busy with academic stuff being a professor of jazz at the University of Saskatchewan while other members continued to practice and hone their craft at home. SJO will be taking the stage on Tuesday, Aug. 10, performing the music of Motown legend Stevie Wonder. They will have Heidi Munro (vocals), Todd Martin (vocals, amp, and harmonica), and Mark Dejong (saxophone) as guest artists.

McNeil said they have been planned to present the music of the R&B and Rock Hall of Famer in the spring of 2020, but events got cancelled due to the pandemic.

“It was kind of a convergence of a few different factors … So, we were sitting on this idea and then we started talking to the jazz festival on what music that we might want to perform in this concert coming up, Stevie Wonder was a logical fit.”

“Stevie Wonder has sold 100 million albums won 25 Grammy Awards. He's won an Academy Award for Best Original Song (I Just Called to Say I Love You, 1984 for The Woman in Red). He’s got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, [inducted to the] R&B, Rock and Roll, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. There’s a universality to his music. Of course, it came out of Motown Records.”

This will be the first time in more than a year that SJO will be playing. That’s why McNeil said it is fitting to feature the Wonder’s music, which spans generations.

“I know very few people actually don't love Stevie Wonder's music and there's a very kind of authentic and joyous human quality to his music that is timeless.”

“This will be the first time that we played together as an ensemble in a year and a half. It just seemed like a perfect fit to feature all the wonderful musicians in our community through the SJO to feature some great guest artists, and really the star of the show in some ways is the repertoire itself, the music of Stevie Wonder. Some of the repertoire that we're playing is going to be the same kind of style and same type of arrangement as the original and then some of the music will be quite different, jazz orchestrations. You're taking his music and reinterpreting it for style, that kind of thing.”