History & Vision


The Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) was founded in 1994 by friends who sought to present creative improvised music in Guelph. Our many successes include: presenting hundreds of ticketed concerts of local, national and international artists; producing a free outdoor concert series in the downtown core recently expanded to Friday and Saturday of the Festival weekend; convening an educational colloquium in partnership with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) at the University of Guelph that examines improvisation within a cultural and social context and is free and open to the public; winning the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (2010) and being named as a finalist the previous two years; receiving the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts (1997, 2000, 2001) for continued growth and innovation; the GJF in the Schools and GJF in the Community programs, interactive workshop series lead by world-class musicians exposing students and adults to music making and improvisation; developing our GJF Around Town program that encourages local restaurants and bars to participate in the Festival by presenting jazz bands in their establishments.

Throughout its history, the festival has presented virtually all of the major figures in creative improvised music, while keeping its commitment to featuring Canadian artists from near and far. Notably, the festival has commissioned new works, including Passages (2000), a multi-media jazz opera with improvisation, music composed by Jesse Stewart, and libretto by the late Paul Haines, Québécité (2003); a second jazz opera composed by D.D. Jackson with libretto by George Elliott Clarke; In Place of Wishes (2004), a fairy tale for children of all ages by Robert Pennee, and, to celebrate GJFs 20th anniversary (2013), a work for solo drum and string quartet composed by Jesse Stewart and performed by him and the Penderecki String Quartet.

In 2017, Scott Thomson was named to replace Ajay Heble, the GJF’s founding Artistic Director. In 2018, the festival celebrated its 25th Anniversary.


  • Winner, Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, 2010
  • Finalist, Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, 2009
  • Nominee, Festival of the Year, National Jazz Awards, 2009
  • Finalist, Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, 2008
  • Finalist, Events Producer of the Year, Jazz Journalists Association, 2008
  • Winner, Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts, 2001, 2000, 1997


Guelph Jazz Festival presents music that invites listeners to experience the world anew.


Guelph Jazz Festival invites listeners to be inspired by and engaged with creative music. The Festival strives to present  music that reflects the world in which we live and to make it accessible to the broadest possible audience through concerts, educational initiatives, and free programs.


  • We actively cultivate a wide range of community partnerships
  • We encourage artistic collaboration, teamwork, and volunteerism
  • We provide access with affordable ticket prices and free events


  • We deliver educational programs for young people
  • We engage learners of all ages
  • We inspire lively discussion


  • We encourage bold artistic ventures
  • We commission new works


  • We consider creative music within a global context
  • We celebrate artistic variety and human diversity