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The joy of live music

Needless to say, these past few months have been challenging. At home we’ve done our best to settle into some sort of routine, which works better some days than others. But music is usually a constant. Whether I’m working in the basement or hanging with the family, we usually have some sort of music playing. I’m doing my best to keep track of new releases, and to catch up on recent releases or older recordings – I’m currently aiming to listen to every album on the Polaris long list.

But live music? Well, that’s obviously been lacking. So it was a treat to be in the JAZZ.FM91 Long & McQuade Performance Hall last Friday for the debut concert of our TD Toronto Jazz Festival Summer Concert Series. We kicked off the series with Ted Quinlan’s quartet – Ted on guitar along with Brian Dickinson on piano, Kieran Overs on bass and Ted Warren on drums. I’ll admit it was a bit surreal – no more than 10 people allowed in the building at once; everyone wearing masks; and no audience. But within just seconds of the band launching into their first tune, the current strange circumstances disappeared and I was reminded of the importance, the vitality, the emotional sustenance of live music.

When I was in high school, I thought I would be a music teacher. I had a passion for music, and was lucky to have some excellent and inspiring teachers (thank you Ken Hazlett and Jerry Dmytryshyn!). But as I started to play more in a variety of settings, the joy of performing music with others, of working together to create art, started to outweigh my interest in classroom teaching. And as I gained more experience in jazz, I was drawn in by the freedom of the music, the possibility for spontaneity, the challenge of improvisation. Without overstating things, I was reminded of what drew me to jazz as soon as Ted and the band started playing last Friday. I was surprised at how moved I was on an emotional level to hear live music again after so many months without – in an email exchange with Ted after the show, he echoed that feeling, saying “I expected it to be emotional and it was. I thought that it might feel little weird to play after so long, which wasn’t the case at all.”

At some point after I graduated from U of T, I was at the Faculty of Music and, just for fun, checked the jazz notice board on the main floor. One of the faculty members (I forget who) had posted an open letter of sorts to the day’s cohort of jazz students. The thrust – some heavy-hitting jazz musician had recently been through town, and the faculty member was dismayed at the lack of attendance by students. Part of the letter said, essentially (and I’m paraphrasing loosely), “you never know when you might get to hear these kinds of musicians again, so best to take advantage of the opportunities when they come along.” I was reminded of that letter, and of that sentiment, last Friday, because it rings especially true now: until things are back to normal, we simply don’t know when we’ll next be able to experience live music, in person.

In a city as busy as Toronto, I think it may be easy to become complacent about the amount of live music happening year-round – to take it for granted. I will include myself in that category – there is only so much I can get out to concerts, but too often I’ve been guilty of thinking “oh I’ll just see them next time.” When things get back to some sort of normal, I’m going to work on that. We have some of the best musicians in the world living in this city, and some of the best musicians in the world regularly pass through. Listening to an album is one thing, but to be in the audience as the musicians create the sounds – oh that’s how that drum pattern works…or holy smokes I didn’t realize that was even possible on that instrument…or wow it looks like they’re having so much fun up there – is something that cannot be duplicated on record. I can’t wait to hear it again in person, and to once again experience the joy of live music.

In the meantime, I invite you to experience the joy of live-to-air music. The TD Toronto Jazz Festival Summer Concert Series continues tomorrow (July 10) with the Don Thompson Trio – Don will be joined by Reg Schwager and Neil Swainson. Tune in to JAZZFM91 live at 5 pm, and get complete details here.

Josh

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