“I believe that one has to be a bit of a pioneer,” says Howard Rees, the driving force behind the 1st Annual Belleville Jazz Festival. “If you do what you believe in, there will be people who will support it and more people who will learn about it. My goal is to add to Belleville’s cultural landscape, and to help grow the city as a tourist destination.”
Belleville Downtown Jazz Festival organizer, Howard Rees (Toronto-born, New York-trained jazz pianist with deep ties to Bay of Quinte Country) reached out to the City of Belleville, Bay of Quinte Tourism, the Quinte Arts Council, and the Belleville BIA who embraced his vision with enthusiasm. Based on earlier success directing festivals in the Distillery District of Toronto, and a vocal jazz collaboration with the Hastings Prince Edward School Board in 2019, Howard felt the time was right for a Belleville Downtown Jazz Festival this September 2-4, 2022. Howard has reached sponsorship agreements with Karlo Estates, Wellington, Lakeland Multi-Trade, Cobourg and Bay Mazda, Belleville, to support the festival. He partnered with Long & McQuade to provide musical equipment.
Rees started playing piano at five, finished the conservatory program at twelve, and soon after joined a rhythm & blues group that played at school dances. He was introduced to jazz by listening to a friend’s older sister’s record collection. He started going to jazz clubs in Toronto as a teen. “What drew me to it, I think, at the beginning, was the fact that everyone on stage looked like they were having so much fun.”
Rees led a trio at Yuk Yuks in its early days, playing sets between comedians like Jim Carrey and Jay Leno. After saving a little money, he moved to New York to study with jazz master, Barry Harris. Harris had lived with Thelonious Monk, played with Charlie Parker, and was Bud Powell’s protégée. “They were originals,” says Rees. He stayed in New York for ten years and built what was to become a life-long friendship & working relationship with Harris.
Once back in Toronto, Rees founded Howard Rees’ Jazz Workshops which, at thirty-eight, is now Canada’s oldest independent jazz school. In 2022, you can often hear Howard and his Jazz Trio performing around the Quinte region at the JM Parrott Art Gallery, The Belleville Club, Karlo Estates, The Lavender Farm, Wellington Park and Consecon.
See pics below for details of this year’s Belleville Downtown Festival Line-Up!