Is perhaps what you’ve been saying to yourself this past week, waiting impatiently for my final festival post. (Also possible: I’m giving the impact this blog has on your daily life far too much credit.) Well wait no longer – here it is!
In the week since the festival ended, I’ve had some time to reflect on not just the 12 days of the festival, but on life in general; on what it means to be doing what I do on this rock hurtling through space and time.
Just kidding. I’ve spent a lot of time with my family and, apart from a sprained ankle (playground injuryâ€¦yes, reallyâ€¦), it’s been wonderful to have a bit of down time after an extremely hectic few months. Here now are my thoughts on the final few days of the 2015 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.
Rain. I try to be a positive person overall, but given last Saturday’s weather, it’s difficult for rain to not be the first thing that comes to mind. If you’ll pardon my French (?), the weather last Saturday, frankly, sucked. Thanks to some fancy footwork from the technical crew at Nathan Phillips Square, we were able to save some of the shows (moving them from the Outdoor Stage to the tent), but not all – one show was cancelled at the Square, and two in the Distillery. Not ideal by any stretch. However, despite the blustery, unpleasant weather, last Saturday’s evening programming was a smash success.
With no 6:30 show to attend, I took advantage of some extra free time to have a civilized dinner with two festival colleagues. You know – real plates, cutlery, chairsâ€¦that sort of thing. We don’t do it often, so it’s always a treat to actually sit and chat. From the restaurant I made my way over to the Jazz Bistro to catch a good portion of Freddy Cole’s first set. I had seen some of his Friday night show, so I knew what to expect; from my perch at the bar on the second floor (all of the seats with a view of the stage were sold out) I enjoyed, just as I had the night before, Freddy’s delivery and piano playing, and the tasty (and tasteful) playing of his band. I also enjoyed the attention being paid by the audience members: they were rapt, appreciating every note, laughing at every joke, enjoying every musical nuance. We don’t get someone like Freddy Cole though Toronto often, so I was glad to see he was given such a fantastic reception.
The only other official stop to be made that night was the main stage tent, where Gary Clark Jr. and his two bandmates put on an impressive show. The tent was packed and felt more claustrophobic than usual – given the weather, the side flaps were all closed (a relative rarity), and the audience felt extra sardine-ish. I feel as though this was a slightly rowdier crowd than we had seen the rest of the week, but whatever edgy energy the audience possessed was directly almost exclusively towards the stage in the form of hoots, hollers and rousing applause. With only three musicians on stage, the band made an impressive amount of music: blues, soul, funk, southern rockâ€¦they put out an enormous amount of energy, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the response they were getting from the crowd. I admit to not having a lot of blues in my record collection, and I enjoyed this show: stripped down, without bells or whistles – this was simply good music, played well. The crowd stood, demanded an encore and got three – if memory serves correctly, two with Gary Clark Jr. alone and one with the trio. An excellent conclusion to the main stage concert series.
We had made the decision earlier in the night to cancel the late night jam session – we were worried primarily that the weather would scare off musicians and audience members alike – so after Gary Clark Jr. wrapped up I was a bit at loose ends. It was nice to hang a bit in the backstage compound, but tear down happens very quickly on the last night. (It’s actually impressive to see how quickly the tent is taken down and furniture is carted off.) With the weather still rotten and the reality of having nowhere to sit imminent, I made my way over to The Rex Hotel to catch the final set from the Chris Tarry Group. I hand’t heard the band for a couple of years, and was quickly reminded why I enjoy them: fantastic, technically advanced playing; complicated but interesting compositions; and five big personalities on stage. Dan Weiss was particularly mesmerizing (what he’s doing at times is several large steps beyond me) but it was a treat to hear everyone play, and a nice way to wrap up a rainy Saturday.
Last Sunday I got to spend a bunch of time with my family, but by 5 pm it was time to head out again. My first stop was the Jazz Bistro, where a party was in full swing (ha!) to celebrate the 200 or so volunteers who help make the festival tick each year. I don’t get to know the volunteers well over the course of the festival, so the Volunteer Party is always a nice opportunity to say hello and, more importantly, say thanks.
From the Jazz Bistro I was off the The Rex to catch a set from Michael Bates’ Northern Spy (Michael on bass with Michael Blake on tenor sax and Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums). Michael is a former U of T classmate of mine, and I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with him over the past several years. Plus – he’s sounding great on the bass, and Northern Spy is a fun band (I heard them play at Winter Jazzfest in New York in January). When they were done, it was my turn to be in the spotlight as a performer: at 9:30 pm, my big band, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, launched into the 7th edition of the Radiohead Jazz Project. Once or twice a year, we put on a show featuring arrangements for big band of Radiohead music; it’s usually a double-bill with local Radiohead tribute band Idioteque. These shows are a blast: in the audience we see big band lovers and Radiohead lovers, and it’s usually packed; last Sunday’s show at times featured a lineup out the door. We usually get pretty good crowds when we play The Rex – and they’re always appreciative – but these Radiohead shows are the once or twice a year that we actually get to feel like rock stars: the ovation at the end (we finished with Karma Police, of course) was perhaps the loudest we’ve experienced yet. The post-show hang was just as fun – it was another late night, but so worth it. After ten days in a more administrative role, my performing self was happy to be replenished.
Although the bulk of festival programming wrapped up last Saturday night, we had one last show: Jamie Cullum, June 29th at Koerner Hall.
This was my first live experience of Jamie Cullum. I’ve certainly enjoyed the music I’ve heard on the radio, and whenever I hear him in a DJ role on his radio show (broadcast locally on JAZZ.FM91) I find his commentary (and choice of guests) interesting. Last Monday’s show featured Jamie with four of his own musicians, plus a big band made up of some of Toronto’s top players. I was expecting schtick, and schtick there was; it took me a while to get into it for all of the jumping around on stage, removing layers of clothing, faux-conducting of the band, etc. But it was hard to resist the energy emanating from the stage. Jamie Cullum is a fantastic entertainer, and the audience was with him every step of the way. And, as a bonus, he’s an excellent singer and can get around well on a piano. By the end of the show, he had us all on our feet, and most of us (minus slight curmudgeons like me) jumping in place. His solo encores reinforced that he is the complete package – all he really needs to impress is a microphone and a piano. That said, the rest of the musicians on stage did an outstanding job at keeping the energy at near-pandemonium levels all night. I hope the audience noticed the quality of that big band: they sounded fantastic, and these are musicians we can see and hear in Toronto all year round. As a trumpet player, I was blown away (again, as usual) especially by Jason Logue’s lead playing: so solid, and so tasteful. I had a chance to say hello to Jamie backstage; in addition to an outstanding performer he is gracious and down-to-earth. All in all, a top-notch ending to the 2015 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.
So there you have it. I’ll be taking a bit of a break now – an actual vacation, believe it or not – but will be back soon enough to writing posts. I’d like to spend a bit of time mulling over what emerged as a theme or two at the festival (and in these blog posts), exploring those further; and then soon enough it will be time to look forward to the 2016 edition – our 30th anniversary.
Thanks for reading again this year and, if you were in the audience this year (or supporting us in other ways from afar), thanks for helping to make the 2015 TD Toronto Jazz Festival so much fun.