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My Summer in Italy

Steve Lacy

With a modicum of media buzz and no corporate sponsorship, the Guelph International Jazz Festival has emerged in recent years as a vision-driven festival that can close the Canadian season as emphatically as Victoriaville opens it. Reaching the 10-year mark with its 2003 edition, the Guelph festival is positioned to take the great leap forward in terms of scale and reach. The premiere of D.D. Jackson’s tour-ready jazz opera, “Quebecite,” the festival’s first major venture as commissioning producers, brought the packed house at the gleaming River Run Centre to its feet. The festival’s main indoor venue for free events was always aggravatingly over-capacity, and its mid-sized auditorium for daytime ticketed concerts just barely accommodated the turnout.

Just about anywhere else, the decision would be automatic: invite some deep pockets to the dance and expand. But not in this Ontario university city of about 100,000, whose progressive stripe is reflected in everything from the bookstores to the recycling regimen and the grassroots campaign to keep Wal-Mart out. Residents exude a heightened sense of civic franchise, suggesting they would frown upon a too cozy relationship with politically incorrect corporate interests. Their commitment to the festival is quite distinct from those of hardcore fans, who make up the festival’s other major constituency. For many residents, the jazz festival is roughly equivalent to a harvest festival or homecoming weekend, an annual event that is as much, if not more, about community as it is about music.

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