The TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival starts this week and we sat down with Artistic Director Michael Falk to talk about this 11-day celebration of jazz and jazz-related music, and what to look forward to this year.

To sum it up, this year there’s more to see than ever before! More free acts on the Cube stage in Old Market Square, more heavy hitters and touring acts offered on the free stage, more ticketed shows as part of the theatre series, and just a wide range of jazz and jazz-inspired acts for the jazz lover as well as newcomers to the style. Falk says it’s some of these great acts on the free stage that will give people a chance to be introduced to some fantastic new artists.

“In the past there haven’t been a lot of touring acts on the Cube, we’ve done mostly locals. This year we had a bunch of opportunities to bring in some heavy hitters. So, we’ve got a band from Argentina, a band from the Netherlands. There’s a bunch of really hot American acts, some big brass bands, we’re bringing in a couple of big bands from Minneapolis,” he says.

“It’s exciting to give more away for free and give people an opportunity to see some stuff and develop an audience for those artists and that style of music and give our audiences a really great treat, because it’s something you don’t normally get in Winnipeg, especially for free.”

But it’s not just the free stage that’s expanded. The theatre series, held at venues like The Burton Cummings Theatre, Pantages Playhouse Theatre, Knox United Church, and the West End Cultural Centre, has grown as well.

“There’s a theatre show every night of the festival right now. And we’re doing more interactive, creative little shows like an air saxophone competition, a Twin Peaks night – where we’ve got acts pulling out songs from David Lynch’s films and the tv show,” says Falk.

And they also have the club series which runs throughout the week at the Good Will Social Club and dinner and a show at the Kitchen Sink. This dinner and a show format is something that Falk says is modelled after a classic Jazz club.

“You eat a great meal, see a show, hang out in an intimate venue, and experience really great artists up close and personal.”

And although the theatre and club series have individually ticketed prices the Jazz Fest offers some amazing packages that make taking in the festival accessible for every budget.

“We’ve got a three-show pass, a five-show pass, and a seven-show pass. We also have a Good Will Club pass so that you can just hang out at the Good Will all week for 60 bucks and see all the shows. So, for 100 bucks you can grab three shows. You can pick two that you know you want to see and take a chance on a third one.”

Never been to Jazz Festival before? It’s a lot more accessible than you may think. According to Falk the music they bring in can span from improvised free jazz to really accessible mainstream jazz, with bands that span many styles including hip-hop, R&B, indie rock and soul, and blues – that all have their roots in Jazz. And even some bands like the Flaming Lips, who Falk says really isn’t jazz at all but has some similarities that make them fit anyway.

“As a festival we’re pretty open minded about what we program. This year we’ve got the Flaming Lips, they aren’t a jazz band. But they fit because they are a celebration of art and music and excitement and freedom of movement, expression, and improvisation. So, there’s a similarity to the ethos of jazz in that regard.”

With 30 ticketed shows and free programming at the Cube, there is lots of opportunity to take in some exciting music and explore something new. And don’t forget to check out the free late-night jam at the VG Lounge at the Fairmont Hotel where touring artist and locals jam together!

For more details on this year’s Jazz Festival, visit their website.