The hits keep coming

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Sun Jun 21 4:52pm

First - the Festival doesn’t often overlap with Father’s Day, but this year’s calendar being what it is, I can officially say: Happy Father’s Day!

So - where did I leave off yesterday? Oh yeah - Groove & Graffiti. I think our first ever collaboration with Manifesto was a great success. The music featured a live rhythm section, rappers and singers (with backup singers!) performed by emerging and established Toronto artists and a couple of out of town guests. Hearing real musicians perform hip hop and r&b grooves - too often they are handled by synthesizers, drum machines, etc. - is a treat, and yesterday’s grooves were very much in the pocket. The audience was diverse, but whether they recognized the musicians on stage or were hearing this music live for the first time they were enthusiastic and appreciative throughout the 90-minute performance. One never knows what exactly will be the final product of a first-time collaboration; I think it’s safe to say all involved were pleased with the result!

I took advantage of some down time to catch up with a friend (and learn more about the behind-the-scenes of the wine industry), then had official emcee duties at the Outdoor Stage (during which I made a funny gaffe - “genre-bending” is very different from “gender-bending”, as it turns out) introducing the Shuffle Demons. They started with a high-energy parade through the audience and didn’t let up during their set, which featured classic Demons hits and more recent additions. These are five outstanding musicians, all of whom are deeply immersed in the jazz tradition…it’s so fun to see them dress up, let loose and bring their fiery soloing to a more relaxed setting.

Next was dinner, then an up-and-coming soul band on the main stage called Tower of Power (!!!). TOP has been on the road for nearly 50 years and they still sound incredible. As a trumpet player, I’m in awe of the horn chops (they played “You’re Still A Young Man”, which has a killer trumpet intro, at the very END of the night); as a band leader I’m amazed by the communication on stage and how they play each arrangement so cleanly; and as a music lover it’s impossible to sit with those funky grooves coming from the stage. They had the capacity crowd on their feet for most of the show, and we all chanted “TOP” to ensure an encore. The band obliged, and then graciously invited everyone to an autograph session on the Square.

My final stop of the night was the Jazz Bistro, where Renee Rosnes was playing piano with Steve Nelson (vibes), Peter Washington (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). These are master musicians, so it goes without saying that the music was excellent. What impressed me though was the ease with which they played every tune - whether it was a standard like Jitterbug Waltz played at near warp speed or a more involved original composition, the four musicians operated seamlessly as a unit. Sometimes when listening to bands it sounds to me as if they’re trying to establish the time, laying down exactly where the beats happen. The quartet last night seemed instead to simply float along some pre-existing space-time continuum. Fast or slow, it was all effortless. An enormous contrast to Tower of Power to be sure - Renee’s set nourished a very different part of my musical brain.

Happily, last night’s jam session was better attended - by musicians and the public - than the previous night’s version. A few different band formations took to the stage; guests included Phil Dwyer, in town for his trio gig at the Bistro on Tuesday, and Brad Goode, a Colorado trumpeter in town to play gigs with a few different bands. It was good music, and a good hang. Another late night, but at least this time I had my house key when I got home. (That’s another story…)

This morning I got some lovely (if brief) time with my family before heading down to the Square for a busy couple of hours. When I arrived, the Regent Park School of Music steel pan and world music percussion ensembles were setting up on the city’s permanent outdoor stage; the Toronto Mass Choir was getting ready for their Lunchtime Concert soundcheck. I’ve talked before about the Toronto Mass Choir, and I’ve even had the opportunity to perform with them with my big band. The group features 40 or so singers, a five-piece rhythm section and Karen Burke - one of the most energetic, positive choir directors I’ve ever seen in action. The choir - which learns the music by ear - delivers inspiring, uplifting performances; whether you’re a person of faith (any faith) or not, it would be difficult to not be moved in some way by the energy and spirit coming off the stage. As I said in a tweet this morning, I don’t think I’ll ever, ever, ever get tired of hearing them perform.

At 2 pm, the Regent Park School of Music took over on the city’s permanent outdoor stage. They brought their world percussion ensemble, two steel pan ensembles and a couple of students from the woodwind ensemble; the Woodshed Orchestra also came along. Each student ensemble performed a couple of tunes, then the Woodshed Orchestra led everyone - students and public - in a hands-on, interactive performance. It was so fun. Little kids playing instruments is, as a concept, inherently adorable; seeing little kids really get into playing instruments is heart-warming. And major kudos to the Woodshed Orchestra under the direction of Dave Clark - they have such a ball when they’re playing, and they truly know how to engage and involve their audience. They led the students and some of the more enthusiastic members of the audience on a short march through the square, and everyone had a blast. We’ve invited the Regent Park School of Music to perform at the festival in one small capacity or another in the past, but this felt like a true collaboration - we built the idea together from concept to completion, and it was a great success. I look forward to doing it again in the future.

And now I’m just sitting here, writing this post, listening to the Count Basie Orchestra do their sound check. Not too bad. Tonight I’ll be taking in the Jivebombers on the Outdoor Stage at 6:30, the aforementioned Basic Orchestra at 8:30 pm then at 10:30 I’ll be squeezing into a sold-out Jazz Bistro to hear some Fred Hersch.

Tomorrow, well, it might be best to give me some time and space until about noon or so - I have to be on the Square at 7:15 am for a Weather Network spot, which means setting the alarm for a quarter past urk and being out the door by half past you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me. But by 12:30 pm I’m sure I’ll be ready for what is going to be a special show - a tribute to the late Jim Galloway featuring his Wee Big Band under the direction of Martin Loomer. You can get complete details on tomorrow's activity on our website.

See you on the Square!

Josh