Israel Asper was a passionate jazz afficionado. He had a vision of creating a jazz series in Winnipeg modeled after the one at the New York’s famous 92nd Street Y. In 1999 he approached the Rose and Max Rady Jewish Community Centre, one of the many organizations housed in the Asper Jewish Community Campus, with the idea of partnering to bring jazz greats to Winnipeg to perform.
The idea was an immediate hit with jazz fans and The Asper Foundation Performances Jazz Series was born. The Berney Theatre at the Campus was swinging from fall to spring with top notch musicians from Winnipeg and around the world. For the 2000-2001 season, The Asper Foundation updated the Berney Theatre with a state-of-the-art sound system and a Steinway concert piano, donated by Mark and Zita Bernstein and family, and launched a subscription campaign for the series.
In 2003, the series was named the Cool Concerts in celebration of Winnipeg’s first jazz radio station, 99.1 Cool FM and COOL TV, Canada’s first television channel devoted exclusively to exploring, reflecting and presenting the world of jazz in all its diversity. In 2005, the series was renamed the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances.
Today, the series continues to be one of Winnipeg’s premier year-round jazz events, featuring international jazz greats like Oliver Jones, Joe Lovano, Kurt Elling, Christian McBride, Houston Person, Stefon Harris, Kenny Barron, Wycliffe Gordon, Cyrus Chestnut, Marcus Printup, Anat Cohen and many more. Since the series’ inception, sold out concerts of almost 70,000 people have attended 348 performances of 118 acts with over 400 international jazz artists earning consistently excellent reviews from audiences and critics.
Speaking on the success of the series, Israel Asper said “We promised our subscribers that we would bring only the world’s finest jazz performers – and we did.” In 2008, jazz critic Michael Wolch said, “The Asper jazz series has been one of the success stories of the city’s arts community over the past several years.”
to view an April 2018 interview with series Producer Bev Aronovitch by Michael Wolch on the announcement of the 2018-2019 season. For a listing of Winnipeg Free Press articles and reviews related to the jazz series since its inception, please see here
On November 26, 2018, The Asper Foundation and the Rady Jewish Community Centre announced that Charlene Diehl will become Producer of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances on January 1, 2019. For more information, see here