Benny, Broads, Bebop and more

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Sat Jun 28 3:51pm

A logistical complication (i.e. my computer was locked in the media trailer overnight) means that this is an afternoon post rather than my usual morning post - so it will cover the past 36 or so hours at the festival.

As I wrote in yesterday's post, day 9 started bright and early - I had to be on the square at 7:30 am for a Weather Network segment. Despite the early wakeup, the spots were fun, and local musician Brownman played along nicely. Around 9 am I retreated to a local coffee shop for breakfast and wrote the post you have all, of course, already read intently.

The noon hour show yesterday on the mainstage featured Ross Wooldridge and the Galaxy Orchestra, and their show "Benny meets Artie." They play authentic transcriptions of big band music from the swing era and they do so extremely well. They were swinging - I especially enjoyed the blend and balance they achieved on stage - and the packed house appreciated each tune.

The afternoon included catching up on work for my other job, ice cream, and a nap, among other things. With the series at KAMA wrapping up on Thursday, unlike the previous four days, there was nothing compelling me to leave the square.

At 5 pm the great duo of Mike Herriott (trumpet) and Sean Harkness (guitar) took to the acoustic stage. They play a mix of standards and originals; one musical colleague, hearing them from afar, was surprised to see only two musicians on the stage - Sean covers off the bass notes too. Mike (showing my trumpet player bias) is a powerful lead trumpet player but on display yesterday were his excellent soloing chops - beautiful lines on trumpet and flugel horn. The only drag was once again dealing with sound bleed from the mainstage sound check - something we'll have to figure out for next year.

A bit more free time meant grabbing some dinner and having drinks with colleagues before the 8 pm mainstage show. At 8 pm Andrew Craig and the Soul Nannies kicked off the evening concert with a high energy set of soul and funk. Barely breaking between tunes, they quickly moved through an impressive repertoire - Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and other familiar names which my day 10 brain have not retained. The audience was grooving in their seats (and later, apparently, on their feet dancing).

My next stop was the Roy Hargrove Quintet at the Jane Mallett Theatre. An enthusiastic audience cheered every tune, seeming to relish the opportunity to see Roy in action in the quintet format. I kept waiting for the solos to stretch out, to catch fire, but in the 30 minutes I saw of the show I didn't get that; maybe I was missing something - the crowd roared with approval after every solo - or maybe the music got incendiary after I left.

I wanted to be sure to catch some of Bobby McFerrin's set on the mainstage; I managed to get there shortly after it started. It was a more mellow show than I might have expected, but each tune grooved nicely. Some highlights: Bobby's two a cappella duets with his daughter, during which they both seemed to be having a great time; an impressive audience participation bit during a gospel tune; seeing/hearing Bobby play piano; and the group's take on "Anthropology", during which Bobby showed off his soloing prowess. The audience was happy to go along for the ride, cheering enthusiastically whether the tune was a slow burner or more of a rocker.

I left after about 45 minutes to hear some of Broadsway's set at the Hard Rock Cafe. The reviews about the trio - Heather Bambrick, Julie Michaels and Diane Leah - have been excellent, but I had not yet seen them in action. An intimate crowd was hanging on every word when I arrived or, at least, as best they could. We chose the Hard Rock Cafe because of its proximity to the World Pride activity at Yonge-Dundas Square…without realizing just how loud that activity would be. The Broadsway ladies were gracious about the thump-thumping intrusion, and were in fine form musically and with their witty banter. I know Heather and Julie's singing well enough; I was especially impressed with Diane Leah. I had heard wonderful things about her and, based on what I saw last night, they seem all to be true.

My last stop of the night was the Jazz Bistro for some Oliver Jones Trio. The hardest working once-retired musician I know, the almost-80-year-old Jones still sounds fantastic. (Though he did threaten, during his afternoon interview on JAZZ.FM91, that he might retire again "in the next few years".) His command of the keyboard remains impressive; bandmates Eric Lagace (bass) and Jim Doxas (drums) helped to keep the music swinging. They ended the night with a moving rendition of "Hymn to Freedom"; when the audience demanded an encore Oliver play a solo medley. With Eric and Jim looking on, Oliver romped through "Lush Life", "Solitude", "Mood Indigo", "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" and "Caravan". Following the show, I ended up having a lovely chat with Jim Doxas - it's always a treat to connect with visiting artists beyond just the quick hello and goodbye.

After some (but never enough) sleep, today got off to a great start with the Youth Jazz Showcase: the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, the Yoshihiro Murakawa Quartet (from Sapporo, Japan), the National Youth Jazz Combo and the Anthony Fung Quintet (from Berklee College in Boston, but whose members hail from Korea, Japan, Puerto Rico and Canada) each presented excellent sets of music. Audience size varied over the course of the Showcase, but the tent was always at least half full, and response to each group was warm and enthusiastic. Similar to the Big Band Slam, the Youth Jazz Showcase is one of my favourite events each year - an opportunity not only to hear emerging jazz talent at various stages of development, but also to hear what jazz sounds like when played by musicians from other parts of the world. It was a treat to feature the Showcase on the mainstage this year; I hope to see it there again in 2015.

So here we are. Day 10 of 10. There is still lots of great music to explore:

The full listing is here.

And I say, one last time for 2014, see you on the square!