Brunch with Ken Pickering at Joe Fortes

Brunch is a favourite past time shared by many and should be an extraordinary experience, one that you will cherish. Vancouver has some wonderful places for brunch. Each of the places I visit is unique for what is offered along with the type of service and selection of dishes. I am on a journey around the city to find these extraordinary places and, at the same time, I will be joined by a notable personality who may be a Film Producer or Director, Musician, Arts Festival Director, Actor or other well-known individual for Brunch at restaurants in and around Vancouver.

For my twenty third brunch in this series, I was joined by TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival Artistic Director, Ken Pickering at Joe Fortes Restaurant  in Vancouver talking about Jazz, music and more!

Ken Pickering

Ken grew up in Vancouver, finished high school in 1970, in about 1972-73 he went to Europe and visited the Berlin Jazz Festival which excelled his interest in jazz. He was one of the founders of Black Swan Records, in 1985 the Coastal Jazz & Blues Society was formed, headed by founders Executive Director Robert Kerr, Artistic Director Ken Pickering, and Media Director John Orysik. Coastal Jazz laid its foundation and incorporated as a non-profit society in 1986. Coastal Jazz has produced year-round concerts and the annual Vancouver International Jazz Festival since that time, presenting an extensive program of traditional, contemporary, and evolving forms of jazz, blues, world, creative, and improvised music. The TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival is the largest music festival in British Columbia, and heralded as one of the leading jazz festivals in the world.

Have you always had an interest in music? And what piqued your interest?

My father played guitar, loved Jimmy Rodgers and I heard this when I was a kid. At 15 years old, I saw Down Beat Magazine which was jazz music. There was a record store on Robson, I heard lots of music there, great concept – “listen before buying”.

How did you end up opening Black Swan records years ago?

In 1975 I started the store with Jack Schuller, we opened the store at 1pm at first while we both worked at Canada Post in the mornings. Ran the store for 15 years, I sold my shares in the store in 1990.

How long have you been involved with the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival?

Started in 1985, Robert, Me and John were the main founders of the festival and the society. In 1986 we knew the expo was coming with many musicians coming to the city.

How has the music direction changed with the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival over the years since you began programming the festival?

In essence the core vision is still as it was. Doing more indie and cross over stuff now. We have gained a reputation for our style of artists we book internationally.

Have there been any musical surprises good and bad over the years with groups that you have booked for the festival? And if so tell us both the good and bad?

On the good side of things, in 1986 Ornette Coleman had a band “Prime Time” we never thought he would come and he did and it was a legendary show.

On the bad side, in 1987 Carmen McRae (she was a tough cookie) – it was raining and the driver took her to the wrong theatre by mistake, she wanted to leave and head home to LA, but we talked her into staying and doing the show.

If you could estimate the number of concerts you have seen how many would that number be?

Thousands – I have been to so many over the years.

What do you look for when booking musicians into this TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival?

  • Quality, music that stands apart from the pack.
  • Musicians that develop a voice of their own.
  • Good representation from all different scenes.
  • Try to find the balance in themes etc

If you could tell me about 3 of your favourite concerts of all time which ones would those be?

1)    1986 – Ornette Coleman concert

2)    Thelonius Monk in Seattle years ago

3)    Sonic Genome – an 8 hour concert with 60 musicians for the Cultural Olympiad in 2010

Is there a Jazz Artist or two that you have wanted to bring to Vancouver for the Jazz Festival and have yet to do so?

Paul Motian (drummer who passed away already)

Where was your most recent musical trip?

Bremen, Germany to attend the International Jazz Conference “Jazz Ahead”

Where is your next musical trip?

Kongsberg, Norway in July to attend their jazz festival.

What is your favourite food?

Salt Cod (Bacalao)

What are your favourite restaurants for lunch in Vancouver?

1)    Terra Breads

2)    Pronto on Cambie

3)    Milano Coffee

What are your favourite restaurants for dinner in Vancouver?

1)    Pied a Terre

2)    Les Faux Boirgeois

What are your favourite restaurants outside of Vancouver?

1)    Pylos – East Village in NY (best Greek)

2)    Lupa Batali – in Village, NY

3)    Les Trois Petits Bouchons in Montreal

Dungeness Crab Cake & Joe’s Classic Caesar

Grilled Duo of Fresh Fish

Dessert Trio

Ken had the Dungeness Crab Cake ($16.95) – basil lemon aioli and Joe’s Classic Caesar ($11.95)- crisp romaine, focaccia croutons, grana padano parmesan along with a glass of wine. Richard had Grilled Duo of Fresh Fish ($25.95) – Steelhead Trout & Halibut. Ken and Richard both shared  Dessert Trio ($14.95)- tahitian vanilla crème brulee, tiramisu, molten center chocolate cake, brandied cherries, biscotti, vanilla gelato.

What do you do in your off time?

  • Cooking
  • Walking the seawall

Who are your Mentors?

1)    Rod Heinz (just passed away, hard core listener and fan)

2)    Brian Nation

3)    Bill Smith

4)    Marc Vasey

Who inspires you now?

1)    My wife

2)    Jan Ole Otnaes

What are your favourite Jazz cities in the world outside of Vancouver?

  • New York
  • Amsterdam
  • Berlin

How far in advance do you plan your festival?

The peak is October to the end of February, but it is ongoing, I am presently booking into 2013.

How many musicians approach you for the festival?

I get thousands of musicians approach me every year from all around the world to come and perform in our festival.

Tell me about the 2012 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, what are some of the highlights that we should know?

1)    Janelle Monae

2)    George Benson

3)    Francois Houle 5 + 1 (Int’l ensemble of Cdn, USA & Swiss musicians)

4)    Spectrum Road

5)    Jill Barber

6)    Entire Innovation Series at Ironworks

7)    Spotlight on French Jazz

8)    Made in the UK

I understand the opening weekend is relocating from Gastown to Robson Square for this years TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, what are some of the benefits associated with this move?

Moving into the most iconic central location in Vancouver. We have wanted to be here for the past 2 decades. Thanks to the Olympics & Cultural Olympiad, the political climate of our city the way it is now is what has made this move happen. Opportunity for a coming of age to Vancouver.

Has Social Media played a significant role in the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival yet? And if not, how do you plan to embrace it into the future?

Absolutely, in my role as Artistic Director of the festival I have embraced Social Media, from twitter to facebook, on the festival and personal platforms. The gains made in terms of public awareness of our activities are enormous. For example – trending on twitter this has all allowed us to bump up our ‘voice’ to the online discussion element.

What’s next for you or what’s on the horizon?

The festival then the trip to Norway


Style: A La Carte

Attire: Business Casual

Time: Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 3pm

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House

777 Thurlow Street, Vancouver


For Reservations call 604.669.1940

Stay tuned to my next guest Interview along with the next Brunch in and around Vancouver.

By: Richard Wolak

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