While the Jazz Alley Showcase happening in Alberta Avenue is not entirely new, it brings a fresh vibe to a successful jam session series started a year ago.

That series was a pilot project Gus Butcher launched in collaboration with Arts on the Ave.

“Gus is a friend of mine. He organized monthly jazz jams at The Carrot last year,” explained Zack Lim, program lead for the Jazz Alley Showcase. “We thought we should continue that, but in the format used at Kaleido [Festival].”

So they moved the concept into the back alley. Located in the lane just south of 118 Avenue between 94 Street and 93 Street, the bi-weekly sessions feature a 45-minute set from an emerging or established jazz ensemble. A jam session with whoever wants to participate follows.

Lim, in his final year majoring in music composition at MacEwan University, has all six weeks of the licensed events booked. They continue until the Kaleido Family Arts Festival in September.

“It’s nice to see familiar faces, but people just walking by in the area are also dropping in,’ said Lim of the attendance so far. “We tell them, this is a free event, any donation is appreciated. Come and sit down, bring your dog and enjoy the music.”

What the audience hears are the sounds of local talent.

“All bands are active Edmonton musicians in the jazz scene,” said Lim.

The series started June 19 with Bold Quartet, which includes Lim on piano and Butcher on guitar. Its four members—like many of the line-up for Jazz Alley Showcase—came together while studying in MacEwan’s music program.

One prominent talent is Dan Davis, who teaches at MacEwan. A traditionalist who infuses modern stylings into his sax playing, he heads up Jazz Alley Showcase on Aug. 14.

Many of the artists excel in other genres as well. One of note is Joel Jeschke, who brought Evil Twin to Jazz Alley Showcase on July 17 and who also drums with Whale and the Wolf, who won Rock Recording of the Year at the 2018 Edmonton Music Awards.

“People can expect to see quality here,” stressed Lim. “I hired them because of quality.”

After the Alley Showcase’s last set, the Front Porch Series will round out a celestial cast of musical talent on the Avenue. In the third year of this successful program, described as a fiddle party on a porch, singer-songwriters, blues, jazz, and folk artists will be spilling their tones into the residential greenery at this year’s Kaleido Festival.

The original idea emerged from the interface of a Ted Talk about how community arts festivals are revolutionizing in reflecting and engaging community. The Ted Talk led to the festival team discussing what neighbourhoods in the Alberta Avenue area have to offer.

“We brainstormed on a unique part of our community, our housing stock . . . and how much of that stock had verandas, porches, balconies,” explained Christy Morin, Arts on the Ave executive director. “We thought, why not use it for performances and engage the community?”

This year, Kaleido organizers want to expand the Front Porch Series. They’re still seeking homes from 90th to 94th street within two blocks of the festival. Interested homeowners can contact The Carrot at 780.471.1580 and ask for Allie or Leah or email program@kaleidofest.ca or contracts@kaleidofest.ca if they want to offer their porch as a venue.

Lim, who’s played at Kaleido Festival for three years now, hasn’t been involved with the Arts on the Ave organizational side until this summer.

“I think the work they do is fantastic,” he said. “It’s how we bring community events and members together. It’s community building.”

The Jazz Alley Showcase continues Aug. 14 and 28. Shows run from 7-9:30 pm. Cost is an optional donation of $5 at the door; 18 and under is free. For more information, visit thecarrot.ca/events.

The Front Porch Music Series happens during Kaleido Festival, Sept. 14-16. For a schedule of performances, go to kaleidofest.ca

Featured Image: The Jazz Alley Showcase takes place in the alley south of 118 Avenue between 94 Street and 93 Street. | Christy Morin