1 year ago

Volume 25 Issue 8 - May / June 2020

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Performing
  • Performances
  • Orchestra
  • Musicians
  • Jazz
  • Recording
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Concerts
"COVID's Metamorphoses"? "There's Always Time (Until Suddenly There Isn't)"? "The Writing on the Wall"? It's hard to know WHAT to call this latest chapter in the extraordinary story we are all of a sudden characters in. By whatever name we call it, the MAY/JUNE combined issue of The WholeNote is now available, HERE in flip through format, in print commencing Wednesday May 6, and, in fully interactive form, online at Our 18th Annual Choral Canary Pages, scheduled for publication in print and flip through in September is already well underway with the first 50 choirs home to roost and more being added every week online. Community Voices, our cover story, brings to you the thoughts of 30 musical community members, all going through what we are going through (and with many more to come as the feature gets amplified online over the course of the coming months). And our regular writers bring their personal thoughts to the mix. Finally, a full-fledged DISCoveries review section offers cues and clues to recorded music for your solitary solace!

COLIN STORY Beat by Beat

COLIN STORY Beat by Beat | Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz! Mundane musings of a cheesecounter flâneur. COLIN STORY The economic ramifications of COVID-19 will play out in the coming months and years, and will have an effect on the artistic community unprecedented in recent memory. But long-term economic effects must, necessarily, be of less concern than the immediate, urgent need to stay inside, to save lives. One of the initial challenges of this period for many of us, no matter how community-conscious we strive to be, was to confront our own natural reaction to view with skepticism any potential changes to our everyday life. The coffee shop where I like to write, the studio space where I like to practise, the grocery store where I like to stop every few days and purchase more cheese than a single man living by himself should have any healthy reason to consume: these communal spaces were the sites at which I experienced the mundane foundational joys of my life. But now, things are different: the studio is closed, the coffee shop is open for takeout and delivery only, and the grocery store, though open, is no longer amenable to the contemplative cheese-counter flâneur. The weekend of Saturday, March 14, marked the moment at which our current situation became suddenly and inescapably real in Toronto’s music community. Following a week of increasingly dire announcements – that public schools would remain closed for at least two weeks after March break, that Ontario had the most confirmed cases in the country, that Canadians abroad were being urged to return home while international travel was still possible – it was apparent that the circumstances of our day-to-day lives would be changing immediately, for an indefinite amount of time. Students cancelled lessons; bandleaders cancelled rehearsals; venues, cautiously optimistic, committed to remaining open while taking enhanced sanitary measures to protect musicians and guests, then promptly closed, as the full scope of the social-distancing mandate became clear. Some venues – such as Burdock, with its in-house brewery and bottle shop – have had success in pivoting to delivery/takeout models of commerce, supplementing lost revenue and providing home-bound Torontonians with a tangible connection to the collective experience of local culture. Other venues, without the same pre-existing alcohol/food programs, have not been so fortunate. On the week of March 16, I was set to begin recording a new album. I had booked two days of rehearsal and three days of studio time with Mackenzie Longpré, my drummer and co-producer, and Tyler Emond, my bassist. The recording process for this album represented the culmination of over a year’s worth of work: a Canada Council The author’s quarantine self-portrait, complete with self-administered buzzcut. grant, a residency at the Banff Centre, countless hours spent writing and rewriting music, thinking through instrumentation and tones and arrangements and production techniques. Following the initial recording session, I was to have had a second session, with Thom Gill, to record keyboards, vocals, guitars and other parts. All of this was put on hold, indefinitely, on March 16. Compared to the life-or-death stakes of the pandemic itself, the experience of postponement is insignificant: recording sessions will be rescheduled, release dates will be adjusted and my project will go on. The postponement of my recording session, however, marked a growing uncertainty about the nature of my work – and the work of my fellow musicians/writers/artists – during lockdown. When your work is inextricably bound up in your connection to others, how do you proceed at a distance, your every professional interaction now mediated by a screen, by Zoom and Skype and the strength of your Internet connection? In a normal week, my professional time is spent making music, teaching and writing, and I’ve been lucky that most of these activities have transitioned online, for the time being. Making music with others is still possible, albeit remotely, for those lucky enough to have some kind of home recording set-up, though recording is a pursuit in and of itself, and contains little of the immediacy and interactivity of playing music live with other people. Teaching, too, is made possible via technology, although the same issues are there: how does one communicate the subtleties of tone and time via an iPhone speaker? Of my three professional activities, writing is the only one for which solitude is preferable. But one must write about something. The Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz column I write for this magazine is, as the name suggests, about upcoming performances in Toronto clubs that program jazz, blues, indie and other genres of music. I write this column in conjunction with the upcoming month’s club listings, which provide me with source material; a typical column might feature previews of notable upcoming shows, a profile of a venue, or a profile of a visiting artist. With the suspension of all public gatherings until social distance protocols are lifted, it is no longer possible to write my column as it typically appears. The Toronto Jazz Festival, which I typically cover in a series of articles and interviews published both prior to and during the festival, was officially postponed on March 31, after Toronto cancelled all city-led mass events and third-party permits until June 30. And so, like so many of us, I am simply living, day by day, counting myself lucky that I am healthy, that I can continue with the majority of my work, and that the many overlapping communities in which I play a role continue to exist. It is tempting to think of our collective isolation from one another as inactivity, as a denial of our individual capacity to grow, as a dissolution of the social body. But, as the nightly cheers remind us – heard, without fail, at 7:30pm in buildings around my neighbourhood – by staying in, we are actively preserving our communities. All of us, at the individual level, are doing something small for the sake of large-scale good, that we all, once this is over, may return to the mundane pleasures of our daily lives. Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at, on Instogram and on Twitter. 26 | May and June 2020

Beat by Beat | Jazz Notes Don’t Get Around Much Anymore STEVE WALLACE To wildly understate matters, these are not normal times. Neither will this be a normal WholeNote issue, nor is this a normal column for me, if such a thing exists. I don’t intend to make this seem all about me, but I do want to go into detail about how the pandemic shutdown has affected me as a musician and music teacher, in the knowledge that mine is just one of thousands of such stories, and in the hope that my experience will resonate with others in the same position. Or those who are worse off. The crisis really hit home on March 11/12, when all professional sports shut down almost at once; this sent shockwaves about how real and serious this virus is, and remains. Within hours schools closed, social distancing measures were implemented and by March 16, Ontario had issued lockdown orders re non-essential businesses closing, limiting travel and large social gatherings, etc. To quote two lines from W.B. Yeats’ poem, Easter 1916: ”All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” On March 11, my wife Anna developed a sudden, burning cough, a concern for obvious reasons. It was diagnosed the next day as “only” pneumonia, perhaps the first time ever that a fairly serious illness was greeted with relief. On March 15, the last day I appeared in public, I developed a bad cold: sinus congestion, bad cough, but no other overt COVID-19 symptoms. We were laid up for about three weeks with these ailments and there were times we were certain that we had it. There’s nothing like a highly contagious and deadly virus to waken the inner paranoid hypochondriac in all of us. Like most others, we stayed home as much as possible and tried to stifle our uncertainties and anxieties. Meanwhile, on the musician front… all of my gigs from March 14 through June were cancelled in a gradual trickle, and of course beyond this, no new gigs are being booked for the simple reason that there’s just nowhere to play. In the early going, one musician I’m close to, saxophonist Mike Murley, showed some real initiative and leadership around this. With just one day’s notice he cancelled a March 14 gig we were set to do at the Pilot, postponed an April 4 concert by his trio in Claremont and informed other bandleaders he would be cancelling out of their gigs. He received considerable pushback on this from some, but his prescience – his partner is a doctor with UHN on the front lines – became clear as the enormity of the situation grew every day. None of us were going to be playing anywhere for some time to come. (As a sidebar, the Kitchener-Waterloo Jazz Society which runs the series at The Jazz Room paid the musicians half their fee for a cancelled March 28 gig, which was both generous and thoughtful. As we have seen, a crisis like this brings out the best and worst in people.) I work on three fronts, so I’m more fortunate than most musicians who have lost their incomes as a result of having no gigs. Apart from music, I’ve worked for 30 years in the Great Library at Osgoode Hall, and the Law Society of Ontario has continued to pay salaries since it closed on March 15. I also collect my musician’s pension and U of T continued to pay my salary through to the end of April. I’m extremely concerned about the lot of fellow musicians with less of a safety net and I hope they will be able to take advantage of CERB, which has offered financial support to those who don’t qualify for UI. I know my son Lee, also a freelance musician, has received some help and I pray others will too. I think all musicians can agree there’s not just a financial aspect to all of this; like all of us, I can’t even say how much I miss playing and hanging in public or being able to go hear others play. I despair that it will be a long while before any of this comes back and Steve Wallace, upright citizen, in isolation. that it may never, fully. At the same time, my role as a part-time jazz teacher at U of T was suspended March 13. I feel badly for the students who paid tuition for a full year and missed three or four weeks of instruction, but there was nothing much to be done about it. At least the school year was approaching the end and everyone will receive full credit for their year. I miss my students badly and have taken steps to reach out to them via Skype to make up the lessons and just stay in touch. As to what I’m doing in the face of all this sudden suspension… well, I’m practising a lot to stay in shape for gigs in the future, which in my case has been a mixed success. Practising is not performance and I realize as a bassist I need to play with other musicians to really knuckle down and do my job. I’m hoping to go out on the front porch to play some short little concerts for the neighbours but it’s been far too cold for that. Playing jazz also has a mental component so I’ve been doing a lot of reading and cryptic crosswords to stay mentally sharp. And above all, now that I’m feeling better, I hope to do more writing on my blog, as my posts have become very infrequent due to being so busy. No such excuses now! Speaking of which, here’s a link to my latest post, Alone Together: The COVID-19 Songbook: alone-together-the-covid-19-songbook And a YouTube link to a Mose Allison song I find particularly apt for these times: Ever Since the World Ended: To everyone in the coming months, stay home, stay well, stay strong and stay in touch. Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food. Curbside pickup and home delivery currently available! Finding solace Igniting a passion Entertaining in troubled times Communicating without words Alleviating boredom We’re here for you. TED O'REILLY May and June 2020 | 27

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Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)