Yesterday was an action-packed, awesome day of music. Let's launch right in...
My day started with emcee duties at the Outdoor Stage, introducing the four-piece George Grosman Trio (he brought along a percussionist). I couldn't stay long, unfortunately, but trust that George's great sense of swing and interesting repertoire choices kept the audience engaged. From Metro Square I headed over to The Rex, where I spent the majority of the afternoon enjoying the Youth Jazz Showcase.
Introduced last year, the Youth Jazz Showcase is a way to show off emerging jazz talent at home and abroad, in partnership with Youth Jazz in the City (here in Toronto), and the Sapporo Jazz Festival in Japan. This year we were also pleased to include the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Quartet (from Boston). The musicians all got together on Sunday afternoon for a day of workshops and jam sessions, and yesterday the fruits of their labours were on display. It was a fantastic afternoon - each ensemble performed a full set of music, and ended the day with a brief "mix and match" jam. The musicians all showed a great deal of professionalism, both in their performances and in the respect they showed for each other; it was the kind of cultural and musical exchange and collaboration I hope to include at the festival each year. Special thanks to Kirk MacDonald and Cathy Mitro (Toronto), John Cripton (local coordinator for the Japanese musicians) and the crew at Berklee for helping to make this happen.
The Showcase ran from 12:30 to 4:30, and I was there the whole time but for the hour between 2 and 3, when I skipped (not actually) back to the Square to catch Jim Galloway in conversation with Ross Porter as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust workshop series. Ross is the CEO of JAZZ.FM91, and he had many interesting perspectives on the business model for the station, the landscape in the radio business in general, and the state of the music business overall. The conversation stimulated some interesting questions from the audience, and of course there were moments of levity...like when Jim and Ross each recalled funny stories that happened to them whilst naked...
Starting at 5:30, the day got really hectic. Here's the run down:
5:30 pm, Outdoor Stage - Tonight at Noon. Bassist Alex Coleman's eight-piece band plays the music of Charles Mingus and does a great job recapturing the excitement of Mingus' recordings. I only caught the first tune - "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" - and they tore it up, with fiery solos from Perry White (baritone sax), Ryan Oliver (tenor sax), Tim Hamel (trumpet), Mark Laver (alto sax), Terry Lukiwski (trombone), Gary Williamson (piano) and Joel Haynes (drums).
6:00 pm, Glenn Gould Studio - Jacky Terrasson. I saw Jacky perform with his trio back in January in New York so knew that the audience was in for a treat. Playing solo last night, he started quietly, with something that could almost have been a classical etude, but he built and built and built until, half an hour later when he finally stopped playing the first selection, he had been all over the musical map: standards, classic rock, even the Harry Potter theme song. His dazzling technique was certainly on display - at times it seemed mathematically impossible for his hands to be doing what they were. I was floored, and didn't want to leave...but at least I was leaving satisfied...
7:00 pm, Enwave Theatre - Kurt Elling. If you know me, you know that Kurt Elling is one of my favourite vocalists ever. And he lived up to that standard in the few tunes I caught last night. In fact, he might even have sounded better last night than when I saw him last (January, in New York) - his control, especially on sustained notes, and especially in the upper or lower ranges of his voice, was impeccable. My only regret was having to leave just as they launched into his version of "Norwegian Wood" from the new album The Gate - it could be my favourite version of the tune.
8:00 pm, Sony Centre - Edmar Castaneda, opening up for Paco de Lucia. On a busy night, there were a couple of tough choices to make. There was no way for me to catch both Edmar and Paco, so I decided to see how Edmar would do in a new market, and not stay for the headliner. If you don't know Edmar's playing, I encourage you to check him out - he is a Colombian harp player who is able to get an astounding range of sounds from his instrument, whether playing original composition or jazz standards. Melody, bass line, harmony - they're all there in his playing. The single harp and diminutive musician were somewhat dwarfed by the size of the hall and the size of the audience, but he had no trouble filling the hall with his music. Over the four tunes of his opening set, he showed why he's earned such wide acclaim, and gigs with the likes of Wynton Marsalis. The audience ate him up; he earned a standing ovation.
8:45 pm, The Music Gallery - Koptor. I was glad to catch the last half of Koptor's show at the Music Gallery. We booked them because of the music they play, but drummer Kevin Brow used to play in my big band (he now lives in Denmark) so it was a treat to see him in action again and catch up. Joining Kevin on stage were Rob Mosher (soprano sax), Jacob Anderskov (piano) and Graig Earle (bass). The quartet performs Kevin's original compositions, and I enjoyed the music - the tunes ranged quite widely, from quiet introspection to full-on funk, from structured improvising to free jazz. It was difficult for me to categorize the music, but maybe that's what made it exciting - we never knew where they were going to go next. The Incubator continues all week at The Music Gallery.
9:45 pm, Koerner Hall - Dee Dee Bridgewater. I had the chance to meet Dee Dee on Sunday after her interview at the JAZZ.FM91 broadcast center at Metro Square. She has a ton of personality and a great sense of humour; these characteristics were on full display in her show last night. Dee Dee has a huge instrument and it sounded great as she performed the standard repertoire featured on her most recent album, which celebrates jazz vocalist Billie Holiday. Once again it was a treat to see local musicians on stage - the accompanying big band was made up exclusively (but for Dee Dee's pianist) of Toronto's top jazz musicians.
10:30 pm, Mainstage - Robert Cray Band. When preparing the Artistic Director's Guide entry on the Robert Cray Band, I was impressed with this blues legend's style - fully imbued with the blues, yet with a fantastically smooth voice and guitar style. In a live setting, he sounded every bit as good live as he does on record. The setup was simple - only organ, bass and drums accompanied the guitarist - but they grooved all night long, with Robert's smooth vocals (he knows how to work a crowd) and tasty guitar licks satisfying all in attendance. Plus, the musicians seemed to be having a great time on stage; for me, that always immediately increases my enjoyment of the show.
11:00 pm, Horseshoe Tavern - Soulive. This was my first live Soulive experience and a few things stuck out: first, they are very, very groovy. The trio of keys, guitar and drums lay down funk and soul lines which make it impossible to sit still. Second, the audience was young, of which it is important for us festival-organizer-types to take note. However, I wasn't going to let audience demographic research get in the way of the music. I stayed for a couple of seriously funky tunes, then it was off to...
11:30 pm, The Rex - Ben Monder with Kieran Overs and Barry Romberg. I've seen Ben Monder a couple of times but never in a small band setting. When playing with Maria Schneider's Orchestra he's capable of single-handedly creating a firestorm of musical excitement, so I was looking forward to hearing him in this setting. The music was, surprisingly, more mellow than I expected - but that doesn't mean boring by any stretch. The band sounded tight - Ben's slightly muted sound blending well with Kieran's bass and Barry's (more reserved than usual) drumming - and they played an interesting mix of music. Ben's soloing was creative as always, and he had the audience - a packed, and impressively respectful crowd - listening to every note. When the tempo and distortion did pick up on occasion the audience responded in kind. It was a wonderful sort of palate cleanser. I mean that in the most respectful way - this was beautifully played music and, after a full night of concerts, a nice way to chill out a bit.
12:45 am, Quotes - Stacie McGregor Trio. My night ended at Quotes with the last set by the Stacie McGregor Trio. By this time of night the room was relatively quiet, but this is an excellent group and brought to a very satisfying close a very busy day! This trio will be at Quotes every night this week (wrapping up on Thursday night) and it's the festival's official jam session, so bring your horn - they're happy to have you sit it in.
So - in case you've been keeping track, here's where I was last night (the red marker is Metro Square/Quotes):
Today will be another busy day:
- Alejandra Ribera Trio, 12 pm on the Outdoor Stage (free)
- The Big Band Slam, 1:30-4:30 pm at The Rex (free)
- I interview Cathy Mitro in a Ken Page Memorial Trust workshop, 2 pm in the HMV Store at Metro Square (free)
- The Canadian Jazz Quartet with Guido Basso and Scott Hamilton, 5 pm at Quotes
- Kollage, 5:30 pm on the Outdoor Stage (free)
- Vijay Iyer solo piano, 6 pm at Glenn Gould Studio
- The Bad Plus, 7 pm at Enwave Theatre
- Gord Grdina Trio with Mats Gustafsson, 8 pm at The Music Gallery
- Jessye Norman, 8 pm at Koerner Hall
- Return to Forever IV, 8 pm at the Sony Centre
- Los Lonely Boys/Los Lobos, 8:30 pm on the Mainstage at Metro Square
- Jam with Stacie McGregor Trio, 10:30 pm - 1:30 am at Quotes
I may also catch some of the Rex Hotel Orchestra at The Rex, which kicks off at 9:30 pm.
See you on the Square!