And then suddenly, real life

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Sun Jun 29 4:09pm

It's always a bit strange to wake up the day after the festival ends and return to normal life. Nowhere in particular to go, no shows in particular to see, no media interviews to be done. I do find the end of the festival bittersweet: I can now return to a regular sleep schedule and hang out with my family; but I miss the musical wonderland that is the jazz festival and the great people - my fellow TDJ staff, musicians, jazz fans - that go with it. Here's my recap of the final day of the 2014 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

Following the Youth Jazz Showcase (see yesterday's post) the afternoon was relatively quiet. I caught up on a bit of work, went on a wild goose chase for some mini-donuts (how dare that coffee shop be closed for the long weekend) settling instead for some pretty good full-sized ones, and was otherwise happy to hang around the compound. I took in a bit of the Tara Davidson Trio, which was impressive. I've played with Tara a fair bit in larger ensembles, but haven't taken the opportunity to see her in action with her own small group. With Andrew Downing on bass and Fabio Ragnelli on drums (you know, not bad players), the trio swung their way through a variety of interesting original compositions, demonstrating why they are each so acclaimed as musicians. A musical treat to start off the evening.

During the sound check for Mehliana (the duo of Brad Mehldau on piano and Mark Guiliana on drums), I realized how excited I was to see the group in action. So by the time 8 pm rolled around, I was ready for the show to start. It was therefore a bit anti-climactic when the two musicians stepped on stage and, when Brad played the first notes on one of three keyboards he had at his disposal, nothing happened. A minor technical glitch which took only a minute or two to rectify…and then they were off to the races. I hesitate to use the word minimalist, but it perhaps best describes the melodies of the tunes they played. It was what happened in and around the simple, repetitive ideas which was so exciting - each musician provided some fiery solos. I felt Mark Guiliana especially put on a clinic on how to play drums - from simple beats to complex soloing, every note he played sounded and felt fantastic. A friend who was at the show wondered if we were witnessing one of the more important duos in music history - I think it bears some consideration…

Although I was enjoying the set by Mehliana, I did want to see the last bit of Bill Frisell's show, so off I went to the Jane Mallet Theatre. His show was titled "Guitar in the Space Age", and featured covers of the guitar music - mostly from the pop, surf and country genres - which influenced Bill's development as a guitarist. I caught the last ten minutes of the show, plus the two encores demanded by the audience. The show never really got raucous; there were no extended solos. But that's not really this group's style. What worked so well last night was the sort of country-tinged groove which carried through each tune - simple lines, played beautifully, with a deep pocket. The audience certainly appreciated the craftsmanship on display, and when I slipped backstage to thank the musicians for the show I was reminded of how humble and friendly they all are. That perfect package: great musicianship and all-round nice people.

Next up was a stop at the Hard Rock Cafe for Kelly and the Kellygirls. Despite a disappointingly sparse audience (disappointing for me and, clearly, for the performers), I enjoyed the 30 or so minutes of music I saw. Kelly spends a lot of time on his craft, and the effort comes across in his performance. Yes, it's kitchy, but the writing and arranging are creative, the whole band gives their all, it sounds great and it's pretty fun. I hope Kelly was able to relax into the show and enjoy himself. There are many reasons that audiences don't materialize but in this case, the quality of the performance was not at issue.

My final stop of the night (and, I guess, of the festival) was the mainstage for the end of the Stanley Clarke Trio's set. Stanley performed a few years back at the festival so I knew roughly what to expect. And last night, his fiery technique - and that of his young bandmates - felt perfectly appropriate as a festival-closing show. An uptempo, exciting, unapologetically flashy mix of jazz and funk. The audience loved it and, with the admission gates opened up to everyone for the encore, a nearly full tent gave the trio a huge ovation at the end of the night.

I enjoyed hanging out after the show with my jazz festival colleagues, beverage (or two) in hand - it was a nice way to decompress after ten quite full days of activity. But it's always a bit short-lived - the furniture suppliers are quick to pick up the couches, tables and chairs, and soon enough the comfortable green room compound was bare concrete once again.

A big thank you goes out to everyone who made this year's festival possible. My year-round colleagues at Toronto Downtown Jazz plus the plethora of contract staff brought on for the festival; the volunteers; the sponsors; and, of course, you. Whether you took in one concert or many, bought tickets or came for free, you were part of an incredible ten days. I know I had a blast - I saw excellent music every day - and I hope you did too.

Soon enough, it will be time to start all over again - the 2015 festival is, after all, less that a year away. I'll be back to my usual unusual blogging schedule in a couple of weeks; in the meantime, please keep supporting live jazz throughout Toronto. The festival may be over, but the outstanding music certainly has not stopped.



Thanks for an awesome festival. The Big Sam’s Funky Nation/Galactic and Roy Hargrove Quintet shows were great, as were the Les Petits Nouveaux and Denielle Bassels shows at La Revolución in the Junction. (It's great to see the TD Toronto Jazz Fest promote local musicians and local clubs like La Revolución (which is doing a great job supporting young local jazz and blues musicians). I should also report that the Galactic show generated one of the peak music-related experiences of my life. Near the end of the show, I moved from the back to the front to join the party on the floor near the stage. During the encore (a cover of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”), someone at the front handed singer Maggie Koerner a string of beads, the kind that are thrown from Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans. She hung them from her mic stand during the song, but at the end she pick them up and threw them into the audience . . . directly to me. Coincidence? Had she seen the gold fleur-de-lis on the purple “Rebuild New Orleans” t-shirt I was wearing and aimed for me? Was some 504-funk-voodoo thing at work directing her throw? We’ll never know. But however it happened she managed to throw those beads right to the one person who was probably the only New Orleans native in the whole audience. I immediately put the beads around my neck and blew Maggie a kiss. (I have also now left instructions that I am to be buried wearing those beads.) After the we went around back of the tent and talked a bit with Maggie, bass player Robert Mecurio, and trombonist Corey Henry, all of whom were great and happy to talk. All in all, a great festival -- thanks again!