Award-winning musician returns to JazzFest

·2 min read

Medicine Hat Jazz Fest favourite Laila Biali is taking the stage once again as the week-long festival kicks off.

Biali, a JUNO award-winning jazz musician and host of CBC Music’s Saturday Night Jazz, has taken part in numerous Medicine Hat Jazz Fests throughout her 20-year career.

“There’s nothing quite like it,” Biali told the News. “More than any other festival, it’s this beautiful combination of world-class technical support and wonderful settings in which to perform. But then at the heart of it all, is this really remarkable community and family spirit.”

Biali is grateful for festival organizers, particularly executive and artistic director Lyle Rebbeck, for creating such an atmosphere. She’s also grateful to audiences for their enthusiasm and willingness to engage.

“Medicine Hat is a very special place,” Biali said. “I mean, I love the music, but that’s not what drives me. It’s actually the exchange which happens (between musicians and the audience). Especially in live performances.

“To me, the mission is to connect with the audience … And I would say my goal as a jazz musician, performer and recording artist, is to present audiences and listeners an expression of jazz, which also ties in lots of other genres.”

Originally trained as a concert pianist, Biali is known for her fusion of jazz and pop, as well as other genres of music.

“I really believe jazz is for everyone,” she said. “It’s just a matter of finding the right expression of it. There are myriad expressions within the genre. (So) we really want to bring in listeners who otherwise typically wouldn’t choose or gravitate towards jazz.”

Biali also hopes to spark interest in younger audiences through her School Show, taking place Wednesday.

“I want to get them excited about music and show them music is welcoming,” she said. “A lot of people think, ‘I like to listen to music, but to learn an instrument is going to require a lot of work. And it’s a discipline.’ And it is those things, but it’s also incredibly fun for people of all ages. You’re never too young or too old.”

Cheering Biali on is her own 12-year-old. Biali’s husband Ben Wittman will also be there to support her, by accompany on drums. Also joining them will be Edmonton native George Koller on bass.

“This will actually be our trio’s debut in Medicine Hat,” Biali said.

Hatters can catch Biali, Wittman and Koller performing from 7-9 p.m. today on the Esplanade Terrace. School Show performances are scheduled from 10-11 a.m. and 1-2 p.m. Wednesday. All audience members must be accompanied by a student.

Tickets are available on or at the Esplanade box office.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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