Jazz hands activate

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Fri Jun 20 10:35am

Well that was a pretty good start…

Festival programming didn't kick off yesterday until 8 pm, but thanks to the Mayors' Arts Lunch, I feel as though the celebrating started shortly before noon. Each year the Arts Lunch, put on by the Toronto Arts Foundation, is a celebration of the breadth of creativity in the arts which takes place throughout the year in Toronto. It's an opportunity to meet and mingle with artists, arts workers, arts advocates, city councillors and other arts supporters; a few awards are given out; and food and beverage flows. It was a pleasure to be there, although things were a bit tense - Karen Stintz, seated at my table, was only feet away from John Tory…(or maybe I'm making up any perceived tension). I hope to have some news to relate soon about some new supporters of Toronto's emerging jazz artists.

After checking in at the office and then dinner with the hardest working PR crew in town (though I might be biased), it was time for the music to begin. Mark McLean and his crew - Robi Botos, Justin Abedin, Pat Kilbride, Kelly Jefferson - were playing the Jazz Bistro with guest vocalist Kellylee Evans. This was a fantastic way to launch into festival mode. Although Mark's newest album, Feel Alright, features a mix of originals and covers which skews perhaps more on the pop and R&B side of things, a full range of styles was on display last night - swing, funk, soul…lots of great grooves and great soloing. I hadn't yet heard Kellylee Evans live and I'm glad I finally did - all of the hype is well-deserved. She has a wonderful instrument, and from the first note of each tune it was clear that she was going to make each tune her own. Plus - a packed house. It had all of the components of a successful festival show.

My next stop was Lula Lounge, where Jane Bunnett was taking the stage, with an all-female group of Cuban musicians, under the name Maqueque. (All reports were that Memo Acevedo's 8 pm set was outstanding…) The group had just flown in from Winnipeg but any weariness hardly showed - there was an enormous energy coming off the stage throughout their set. There was also something else - joy. All of the musicians seemed so happy to be on stage and while the performances certainly earned applause, I felt as though the joy of the performers was contagious - they were clearly having a great time, and that feeling spread to the audience. Plus - bassoon! On a jazz festival show!

My final stop of the night was the Rex Hotel for the annual players' party. Bob, Avi and Tom are huge supporters of Toronto's jazz scene and each year they host everyone and anyone who has graced the Rex stage in a performing capacity for a great gathering. It's always a who's-who of Toronto's jazz community, and last night was no exception. Complimentary refreshments, pizza flown in from the East Coast (I do need to get the full story on that) and, inevitably, shenanigans. In an effort to be at least somewhat responsible I made my exit shortly before 1 am, but I was there long enough at least to see Dave Restivo take a turn on the drums…

I'll have to get a report from my colleagues on the Shemekia Copeland/Chaka Khan show at Kool Kaus, but if Twitter and Instragram are to be believed, it seems as though it was quite a party.

So what's up for today? Well, first I need to pick up a contrabass clarinet and euphonium for Darcy James Argue's Secret Society show on Sunday. Then I'll be attending what's being called a "Music Cities Exchange" - a moderated discussion on music practices in various cities, hosted by NXNE. And here's what's on tonight:

And, as usual, a full slate of activity in the clubs. Check the day's complete lineup.

See you in the clubs!