Bringing down the wreckhouse

Tara Bradbury
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Everyone sees Jill Barber’s music a little differently. Last summer, the Vancouver-based singer/songwriter toured the country on the folk festival circuit; this year it’s all about the jazz fests.

“I don’t mind how people see me, as long as I’m seen,” Barber said, laughing.

The Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues Festival in St. John’s is on Barber’s itinerary this summer, along with major events such as the Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa jazz fests. She’ll play a show — including music from her entire body of work, she said — at the Holy Heart Theatre with her six-piece band Thursday evening.

It’s not exactly her music that’s jazzy, Barber said; it’s her musical style.

“I take a lot of influence from old-time jazz music, standards. I sing all original music, but I write very much in the tradition of jazz standards. I feel like, with the last record, the jazz community really came on board with it, and that’s really great from my perspective. Broadens my audience, for sure.”

Barber’s come a long way in a very short time. Less than 10 years ago she was an acoustic folk artist playing coffeehouse stages, then she won the Female Artist Recording of the Year award for her debut album, “Oh Heart,” at the 2005 Music Nova Scotia (where she then lived) awards, as well as nominations for Female Artist of the Year and Folk Recording of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards. She won two out of her four ECMA nominations in 2007, and a year later, was nominated for the Juno for New Artist of the Year.

Barber released her fourth album, “Mischievous Moon,” this year, with the goal of creating a record that sounded like an old-time movie soundtrack.

“We really went for high drama on it,” she said. “They are songs that I wrote either on my own or co-wrote as simple little songs that have been embellished with instrumentation.”

The album’s lush orchestration translates well onstage, Barber said.

“It really comes alive; it’s very animated. We have a lot of instruments to play with onstage and I feel like we’ve never been in better condition as a band. We work incredibly well together and I think that comes across and we really fill in the sound. We take a lot of pride in presenting these songs.”

This is the 10th year for the Wreckhouse International Jazz and Blues festival, founded by jazz musician Kirk Newhook as a non-profit organization with the name Atlantic Jazz Initiative. The goal was to produce an annual music festival and year-round events promoting jazz, blues and world music in this province.

The organization and festival were rebranded in 2008 to become more provincially relevant, while “international” was added to the title to reflect the calibre of musicians who take part in the event. Organizers say audience sizes have increased by 400 per cent in recent years.

This milestone year will see an exceptionally large number of world-acclaimed musicians performing, including blues/East Indian fusion artist Harry Manx, Sisters Euclid, Dutch Robinson, Kenwood Dennard, Jimmy D. Lane and Jaffa Road.

Local musicians taking the stage at venues around the downtown area — including the Masonic Temple, Majestic, Rocket Bakery and Rock House — include Mary Barry, Superpickers, Bill Brennan, Jenny Gear and Sandy Morris, Curtis Andrews and Patrick Boyle.

Narrowing down the local artists to take part wasn’t an easy task, said Sean Panting, the festival’s executive director.

“Variety is what we were looking for,” he said. “We have some world music, with Forgotten Bouzouki and Dzolali playing, and we made sure straight-up jazz is well-represented with Johnston and Lear and The Dogberries. Because we’re bringing in Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People, who like to take it outside, we felt like we had to find somebody locally who was a good match for that, and not really worry about whether or not the person was jazz. Having Mark Bragg and the Claws on that bill seemed to be the perfect fit.”

Panting, himself a longtime musician, isn’t playing any gigs, but might drag out the guitar for the late-night blues jam to be held at the Fat Cat Blues Bar on George Street July 15.

July 16 will see a collaboration between the Wreckhouse festival and the Nickel Independent Film Fest presented at Rocket Bakery on Water Street. During last month’s Nickel festival, filmmaker Roger Maunder facilitated a Super 8mm workshop for filmmakers who had previously screened films at the Nickel, who were provided with a camera and film stock and had one day to shoot their films, editing in camera. Three filmmakers — Jody Richardson, Kenneth J. Harvey and Elsa Morena — were then paired with musicians — Brad Jefford, Rozalind MacPhail and Robot Scout (Chris Driedzic) — who had one day to work out a score for the short film. The score will be played and recorded as the film is screened at the Wreckhouse festival, and later edited into the film.

“The thing about Wreckhouse is that we’re not so slavishly devoted to jazz or blues or whatever. We’re a festival that’s about giving people an opportunity to see world-class performers,” Panting said.

“The Wreckhouse offers you an opportunity to see world-class musicianship up close, and to see the kind of artists that don’t get brought in for other sorts of events. It’s a festival for music lovers.”

A festival pass, allowing holders to enter all shows during the event, apart from Barber’s, is $100. Tickets for Barber’s concert are $30.25. Both, as well as tickets for other individual events, are available for purchase online at


Organizations: Holy Heart Theatre, Juno for New Artist of the Year.Barber, Wreckhouse International Jazz Rocket Bakery and Rock House

Geographic location: Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa George Street Water Street

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page