Artistic Director Spotlight: Patti Brooks, Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival

The Sun Life Financial Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival has come a long way – from a small street event to the multi-day spectacle that features internationally renowned artists. We caught up with Artistic Director Patti Brooks to get insight into this amazing summer music festival.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how the Festival was formed and how it has become what it is today?

A: UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival started out with musicians playing Jazz on the streets in Uptown Waterloo.  In 1998, we took it to a new level, taking over the Regina St parking lot (beside City Hall) and growing it to a two day festival, free for all. Twenty-two years later, we are in the large parking lot at Waterloo City Hall and using Waterloo Public Square as a satellite stage as well as The Jazz Room.

Q: Tell us about your role in the festival and your process for choosing whom to present. Do you make the artist selections yourself or do you work with a committee? 

A: I work with a committee and we take a look at performing artists. We are sent over 200 submissions annually and yes, I do “go after” certain artists – Marcus Roberts is one this year that we pursued.  You can check out his 60 Minutes interview. Our production team, Sherwood Systems, has said that to have a 9′ Steinway piano on stage, for a free festival is unheard of, but that Marcus Roberts is worthy of it.  We do have a great team pulling this festival together, but we have two Artistic Directors, Jana Gordon and myself, who specifically look at the talent.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the Young Musicians Education Program? Have you seen any local acts develop from the program and grow with you?

A: Our Education and Outreach program is fairly new but has grown incredibly in the past 2 years under the guidance of Jackie Klue. Engaging youth into the Jazz/music scene and offering expert teaching is important to our festival and part of how we can give back to the community that supports us so well.

Q: How has the festival impacted the local Jazz scene?

A: The UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival has been embraced by this community; a great example is our title sponsor, Sun Life Financial.  Sun Life has been a sponsor for many years, but 3 years ago took on Title Sponsor, knowing that this festival is world class. They are very proud to be involved and show incredible community involvement. Sun Life has committed to another 3 years of Title Sponsor as of 2014!  We could not be more proud to have our festival associated with this local community partner.

Q: What can we expect from the Jazz Festival this year?

A: This year’s festival will shine brighter than ever with an incredible line up of Jazz of all genres – pure, funky, swing, crooners, latin – everything one could want to see and hear.  Our headline acts are Ivana Santilli, Marcus Roberts Trio, and PreHall Brass, closing with a funky jazz set with Dee Dee and the Dirty Martinis!  There are 20 performers in all – we invite you to check out our website for more information.

We are very proud and excited to have been recipients of an Ontario Trillium Grant which allowed us hire a Festival Manager for the first time this year. Iman Grewal is a wonderful addition to our team and the only paid person.  Our volunteer executive board work year round to make this festival happen and you do not want to miss it! We open on July 18 with Soul Stew and will go nonstop until July 20 with some of the best talent from the Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada and internationally.

Q: What’s the next step for the Festival?

A: We are a charitable organization which allows us among other things, opportunities to apply for grants and to engage the community in supporting our festival.  All performances are free and we work very hard to maintain that status for all our guests.  We are very proud in this economic climate to be able to bring this world class festival to our guests for free and we thank our community and granting friends for helping us to do that.

Please join us for this free festival on July 18-20, rain or shine.  Bring your lawn chairs!