And so here we are, on the last day of official programming at the 30th anniversary TD Toronto Jazz Festival. I’ve had a fantastic week, and look forward to wrapping things up today with some excellent music and one more late night jam…
To kick off Day 8, I came down to the square with my family – a most welcome visit. I’ve really only seen them for a few minutes each morning during the festival, so I enjoyed having a bit more time to catch up. We explored the Toronto sign, got treats from our fantastic publicity team, and took in some very swinging music – Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band under the direction of Martin Loomer. The Wee Big Band has a long tradition of performing at the festival, and we’re happy to have them back each year. They play the music which makes up in part the foundation of the big band tradition: lots of Duke Ellington, plus a variety of other composers active in the swing era. The band sounds outstanding every time, but I felt like yesterday they kicked it up even one notch more. Such a pleasure to hear the roots of big band music live on stage, performed by some of Canada’s top musicians.
What followed was supposed to be the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, but unfortunately the weather had something else in mind. We try to push through rain whenever possible, but as soon as lighting enters the equation – as it did yesterday afternoon – we take no chances. It was a drag – with a tight production schedule, there was no way to move the show into a different venue, so we had to cancel. We look forward to trying again next year.
Once the rain subsided I made my way over to The Rex Hotel, where David Gilmore and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (in town for the Youth Jazz Showcase I’m checking out while writing this post) were getting ready for their 3 pm show. I found a perch at the back of the bar and, for the next 90 minutes or so, wrote yesterday’s blog post while listening to some very impressive playing. David Gilmore is a seasoned pro and an excellent guitar player; it is a compliment therefore to the students that at times I forgot I was not listening to an all-pro ensemble. They played interesting arrangements, with clarinet playing many of the melodies in unison with David’s guitar; voice was also incorporated into the arrangements – at times she was featured out front, at times she played the role more of an instrument in the ensemble, adding a unique texture. A good reminder of why Berklee has earned an outstanding international reputation for jazz education.
Back on the square, I introduced Kalabash to a large crowd for our Afterwork concert on the Outdoor Stage. Their mix of jazz with Cuban and Caribbean sounds was well received by the enthusiastic audience. Colleen Allen sounded great on saxophone, clarinet and flute; I especially enjoyed hearing Gareth Burgess on steel pans – his soloing on the pans was impressively fluid, flying around the pans with ease. It felt appropriate to have on stage a group which incorporates a variety of cultures, especially on Canada Day.
At a certain point an espresso was required, so I figured that was a good excuse to go check out Brownman’s Akoustic Trio on our new Second Cup stage. The trio was holding nothing back, and a good crowd had gathered to listen. The stage is well-positioned to catch walk-by traffic, especially after a Blue Jays game, as was the case yesterday evening, and the music drew many a pedestrian’s attention. I’ve heard – and worked with – Brownman on several occasions, so I knew to expect his fiery trumpet playing; I was impressed especially with Julian Anderson-Bowes on bass and Tyler Goertzen on drums – along with Brownman, they created some great grooves, exploring new and creative directions for jazz standards.
At 8:30 pm, Michael Franti not so much “took” the stage as “exploded onto” the stage. For nearly two hours (I caught the first hour or so), he had the audience on their feet with his folksy, rootsy rock. What made the show particularly special for those in attendance, though, was Michael’s engagement with the audience. Most of the artists who perform on our mainstage do a great job of interacting with those in attendance. But with Michael’s show last night, any concept of a “fourth wall” was eliminated. He spent a good portion of the hour I saw literally playing from within the crowd – he had requested that an additional platform be built in the audience and, thanks to wireless technology, he was able to play guitar and sing from everywhere in the tent, even venturing outside for short stretches. He invited audience members to join him on stage, made sure to stop and give out hugs on his musical walkabouts, and generally fostered a feel-good vibe throughout. I enjoyed seeing how much fun the crowd was having, and was especially glad to see whole families in attendance – kids as young as 5 were having a ball.
Around 10:00 I made my way over to the Jazz Bistro to catch the closing set of “Music from Born to be Blue” featuring David Braid on piano, Steve Wallace on bass, Terry Clarke on drums and Kevin Turcotte on trumpet. The quartet was playing music David used in creating the soundtrack to the recently released Chet Baker biographical re-imagining called Born to be Blue. These are A-list Canadian jazz musicians, so it was no surprise that they sounded fantastic. And I’m a big fan of Kevin’s playing (it’s his trumpet on the soundtrack, and I studied with him at U of T). But what set apart last night’s performance, in my mind, is how much they sounded like a cohesive unit. Often, when playing standards, there is a tendency to leave things like beginnings and endings a bit loosey-goosey, at times leaving the performance sounding a bit unrefined. Last night, it was clear the arrangements were carefully rehearsed which enhanced, rather than taking away from, the playing – there was still lots of room in each tune for creative, extended solos. David added to the performance with anecdotes from his creative process when assembling the soundtrack, each of the musicians was at the top of his game, and the ensemble had a well-deserved capacity crowd for both shows.
My final stop of the night was, once again, The Rex for the late night jam. By now, jam host Chris Gale has established a solid rhythm to the jams: he plays a couple of tunes with the house band then, after a very short break, invites the jamming to begin. Again last night there were many local musicians on hand to join in the fun, the hang was good, and the music was still going strong when I called it a (relatively early) night (morning?) at 2 am.
From duo (Julian Fauth and Ken Yoshioka at the Hilton) to big bands, Day 8 featured music in configurations large and small. Some quick Day 8 stats:
Amount of rain which fell between 1:58 and 2:10 pm, on a scale of 1 to 10: downpour
Number of hot dogs, total, consumed by my kids while watching yesterday’s Lunchtime concert: 1.5
Number of mini-donuts procured: zero. That may have to change today.
So what’s on today? The Youth Jazz Showcase has wrapped up, then we’ve got shows at the Hilton, Second Cup, Distillery and Mill Street Beer Hall patio. Raoul and the Bigger Time play at 6:30 on the Outdoor Stage; Alfredo Rodriguez plays solo piano shows at 8 and 10 pm at Jazz Bistro (8 pm is sold out); Joe Jackson is on the mainstage at 8:30 pm; and the Hot Sardines swing into the Horseshoe Tavern at 10 pm.
I usually sign off with “See you on the square!” And that does apply today. But I’ll also extend another information – join me at The Rex late tonight for one last Festival jam. Let’s make it a party!
See you on the square!