Heather Gibson, the newly appointed producer of NAC Presents and the current executive director of the Halifax Jazz Festival, has a greater familiarity with jazz than her predecessor. But it's unclear if she has the mandate and will take the opportunity to present jazz on Canada's National Arts Centre (NAC) stages which will represent the breadth and quality of Canadian jazz musicians.

Will the appointment of Halifax Jazz Festival's Heather Gibson as the Producer of NAC Presents lead to more real jazz on NAC stages this season? ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Will the appointment of Halifax Jazz Festival's Heather Gibson as the Producer of NAC Presents lead to more real jazz on NAC stages this season? ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Citing her extensive and relevant experience, the NAC enthusiastically announced her appointment today. "We are so fortunate to be welcoming Heather Gibson to the National Arts Centre where she will help us deepen our relationship with Canada’s best singer-songwriters,” said Peter Herrndorf, the President and CEO of the National Arts Centre.

Gibson takes her post on September 20, in advance of the formal October 13 launch of NAC Presents.

The series is the only NAC series which can present jazz at the NAC, although a few jazz performances were part of the Orchestra's performances in recent years. NAC Presents announced the first half of its 2016-17 season in May, with relatively few jazz-related performances. More concerts will be announced in October. Based on previous years, the 31 shows listed on July 20 are half of a normal 60-show series.

This fall at the NAC, listeners will be able to hear hear Diana Krall, and a young jazz trio from Montreal, and the return of Petr Cancura's Crossroads series – plus several other jazz crossover shows. But the scheduled concerts nowhere near reflect the diversity of jazz in Canada, both in styles and where musicians are from, or its quality and popularity – or what listeners just heard at Gibson's own Halifax Jazz Festival.

Shows already announced for the 2016-17 NAC Presents are mostly repeats from previous years, and primarily singer-songwriters. On the jazz-related front, they include:

  • the innovative Montreal jazz trio MISC (formerly Trio Jérôme Beaulieu), which received several standing ovations at its NAC show two years ago (November 4);
  • improvising throat singer Tanya Tagaq, who has repeatedly sold out NAC shows (November 26);
  • the Sultans of String, in a fiesta of holiday music from around the world, with singer Rebecca Campbell. They sold out a well-received jazz/Indian subcontinent show in the Fourth Stage this spring (December 20);
  • Brazilian-Canadian pop/jazz vocalist Bïa (October 22);
  • Petr Cancura's Crossroads series continues, with Kathleen Edwards (November 24), Lynne Hanson (January 14), Justin Rutledge (May 27, 2017), and a fourth Ottawa singer–songwriter to be announced in October. Petr Cancura “will create new arrangements that showcase the singer-songwriters’ songs with a jazz twist added by a special live 'house band'” (jazz musicians John Geggie, Roddy Ellias, Greg Ritchie, and Petr Cancura).
  • The NAC Orchestra, which had featured some impressive jazz shows in its Pops series and its Roaring Twenties event this year, also has significantly cut back on jazz for 2016-17. The Pops series will include an orchestral recreation of the jazz-heavy score to the classic Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman film Casablanca, and the Quebec ensemble ECM+ is presenting a “Generation2016” concert which features four experimental Canadian composers, some of whom, like Taylor Brook, verge into jazz and improvised music.
  • Diana Krall, who has regularly sold out Southam Hall, will be the featured artist at the NAC Gala on October 22.

NAC Presents started five years ago this September. The series was originally described as an “all-Canadian performance series [which] will showcase some of this country’s most exciting, vibrant and innovative artists... NAC Presents will lead audiences on a journey of discovery through a diversity of genres, languages and styles.”

That announcement also referred to the Geggie Jazz Series (unknown at the time, this would be the final year for that series). “Also as part of the NAC Presents series, the Geggie Jazz Series curated by Ottawa double-bassist John Geggie returns to the Fourth Stage with six spectacular evenings featuring the finest jazz musicians from Canada and around the world, including Susie Ibarra, Ron Miles, David Occhipinti, Joel Frahm and Joe Sullivan to only name a few.”

NAC Presents was described differently in today's announcement of Gibson's appointment, with no apparent opportunity for any jazz musicians to be heard on Canada's national stages.

“Heather will lead a team from the NAC to program more than 50 concerts per season dedicated to established and emerging Canadian singer-songwriters. Now in its 6th Season, NAC Presents is designed to attract a younger audience to the National Arts Centre.”

Heather Gibson replaces the retiring Simone Deneau, who was the producer of NAC Presents since it started in five years ago.

She has extensive experience curating and presenting music, including currently heading the Halifax Jazz Festival. The 2016 Halifax Jazz festival presented primarily local and Canadian jazz musicians playing everything from intimate vocals to big band swing to experimental jazz. On its main stage, however, five of the six evenings presented non-jazz concerts.

Gibson was also co-founder and producer of the Halifax / Wakefield singer-songwriter “In the Dead of Winter Music Festival”. In 2009, she and her partner opened Halifax’s live music venue The Company House, which presents mostly pop and comedy performances, according to its June-August 2016 calendars.

She has volunteered as the Chair of the East Coast Music Association,and as a member of the board for CAPACOA (The Canadian Arts Presenting Association), The Khyber Centre for the Arts, and The Western Roots Artistic Directors.

    – Brett Delmage, with files from Alayne McGregor

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