The 416 Festival was created in 2001 by Glen Hall (saxophone), Jason Hammer (bass), and Ron Haskin (radio). They saw a need, at that time, for a unique music festival that would feature a diverse cross-section of the Toronto improvised music community, particularly what is known as non-idiomatic free improvisation, and those working outside the jazz/free jazz traditions. This music was being created in Toronto in gathering like the Toronto Improvisors Pool, for many years. They found that there was a strong interest in producing such a festival and many musicians willing to get involved. The next year, 2002, the festival became a regular annual event in November. In 2004, Glen Hall and Larry Rossignol collaborated to organize a ‘fringe’ jazz event (his efforts produced the extremely ambitious, but short-lived, Distillery Jazz Festival). The ‘416’, as it has come to be called, has persisted mainly through the willingness of musicians, to come together to celebrate Toronto’s improvised music’s extraordinary diversity and a small but dedicated, and growing, base of fans.
Musicians are selected for the festival primarily from the local Toronto improvising musicians scene. AIMToronto (http://www.aimtoronto.org/) was founded by many of its current member performing in the 416 Festival and wanting something more frequent; Somewhere There (http://www.somewherethere.org/) also grew out of this improvising musicians scene, as a way to provide an on-going venue for improvising musicians to perform more than once a year at 416’s traditional venue, The Tranzac (http://www.tranzac.org/). Enquiries are also made to ‘unearth’ musicians who are still creatively active but who are maybe not performing regularly. New artists are welcomed to the existing community; whether they be young musicians just starting out (3 Blind Moils, Ptarmigan, The Tiny Orchestra) or more established musicians ‘in hibernation’ (Nobuo Kubota, Tanya Gill).
The 416 Festival has noted for its generational diversity; from musicians in their late teens to those in their 70s. In order to provide the wider perspective, since 2003, a panel of changing curators (musicians, series organizers, journalists, radio programmers) was established; each year, new curators are asked to program one night each of the festival so as to ensure the maximum range of diversity. While ad hoc musical groups are welcome, special consideration is given to existing solo performers/duos/groups who are working on establishing a repertoire-based performance practice.
As additional sidelight, twice since its founding, 416 Festival has mounted short series ‘off season’ to coincide with late lamented International Association of Jazz Education (IAJE) Conferences in Toronto.
Last year, 2014, for the first time, the 416 Festival partnered with the Music Gallery, to co-present a special 100th birthday tribute to William S. Burroughs, called Rub Out the Word, written by musician, composer, and Burroughs scholar, Glen Hall. It was presented at the Music Gallery on November 7, 2014, by an 11 piece ensemble featuring spoken words by Ron Gaskin, and improvised visuals. It was the most substantial, high-profile event that the 416 Festival has presented to date, and extremely wellattended.
We intend to pursue more events like that.