7 years ago

Volume 16 Issue 9 - June 2011

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  • Jazz
  • Toronto
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What Is This Thing

What Is This Thing Called Jazz? / Part IIREFLECTIONSToronto Jazz Festival at 25 YearsREMEMBER THAT ANCIENT Wendy’s TV commercial whena pugnacious senior loudly screeched ‘Where’s The Beef’ at arival hamburger? You might just get a similar reaction fromsome Hogtowners and visitors consulting this year’s Toronto JazzFestival program, one celebrating its 25th anniversary.Even though there’s excellent jazz to be heard at this festival, therecould be shrieks of ‘Where’s The Jazz?’ if they’re just looking at thelineup in what’s always been Festival HQ, the big tent.This year it’s moving from Nathan Phillips Square to a new sitein Metro Square on the south side of KingSt. between Roy Thomson Hall and MetroHall. (Recently the area was renamedDavid Pecaut Square for the late urbanvisionary. His jazz preferences are notpublicly known.)Venues with lots of seats such asKoerner Hall, Harbourfront’s EnwaveTheatre and the Glenn Gould Studio, plusthe square’s open stage and many of thecity’s clubs and venues such as the reliableRex, Gate 403, Chalkers, Dominion onQueen, Reservoir Lounge, Shops at DonMills and many more will provide musicthat has a clear relationship to mainstreamjazz, although the Music Gallery (in St.George the Martyr Church at the north endof John St.) caters for crazies and seers ofthe avant-garde who in time might becomemembers of a new jazz mainstream.GEOFF CHAPMANIt was that awe-inspiring avant-gardemaestro Ornette Coleman who gave onesame note can be played night after night but differently each time,”he said. Now his music is in every serious jazz fan’s collection. lineup June 24 through July 3, certainly with the late addition of singerNikki Yanovsky. Soul diva Aretha Franklin at 69 will bring out thethousands to show r.e.s.p.e.c.t on opening night because local citizensappreciate talent and a free concert in equal measure.Then, nightly in sequence, it’s the Average White Band, whosefunk and R&B earned big hits in the 1970s, Senegalese singer YoussouN’Dour, bluesman Robert Cray, Chicano rock band Los Lobos, ourbluesy songstress Molly Johnson and the Count Basie Orchestra (themerDennis Mackrel). Then come banjomeister Bela Fleck specializingin contemporary bluegrass, hip hop soul band The Roots and on July 2funk bassist and singer Bootsy Collins. He’ll be battling for an audiencewith the stars of the Black Creek festival that night, Diana Krall andTony Bennett.(This is a lot of complaining for an anniversary article but I’ve alwaysfelt that the best of jazz should be front and centre, which means themainstage. It must be noted, though, that other festivals like Ottawa’sand especially the big one in Montreal, have the same approach tobooking as Toronto.)Here’s what festival artistic director Josh Grossman, who took overthe post last year, says: “I’m pretty excited about this year’s lineup. Itwas harder booking acts since many strong names were unavailableor were too familiar in Toronto or fees were too high or they werecommitted far ahead. The pool of big names is getting smaller andbesides, in the past some major acts didn’t draw as well as expected.”What Grossman is suggesting is that in today’s festivals it’s crucialto aim to put bums in seats. Making music nowadays is entirely separatefrom the business of music.“Aretha Franklin is the biggest thing we’ve ever done. We lookedhard for A-plus artists and Tourism Ontario sponsorship has becomea factor. We recalled the success last year of R&B and soul singer starMacy Gray last year in Yonge-Dundas Square. in some way and we do need to get revenue from the marquee with itsaround 1,200 seats,” he said.“It’s been really fun this year putting thefestival together. I listened to more than400 submissions and I think we feature agood cross-section of today’s jazz. I mustadmit some of my personal beliefs werechallenged but I have learned that a festivalmust have wide appeal while remainingtrue to the music,” Grossman said.The open stage in the Square will havefree shows daily at noon and 5:30 andthere’ll be 5pm and late shows (10:30 to1:30) on the north side of King at QuotesBar and Grill.Grossman’s personal choices are hardcorejazz – brilliant bassist Dave Holland’sQuintet (Enwave June 25), fab contemporaryvocalist Kurt Elling (Enwave June 27),spectacular pianists Jacky Terrasson andinnovative Vijay Iyer (Glenn Gould June27 and 28 respectively), the trio Bad PlusJosh Grossman.Trio M (pianist Myra Melford, drummerMatt Wilson and violinist Marc Dresser) at the Music Gallery July 2.I applaud enthusiastically, save for loud neo-rockers Bad Plus, alwaysa minus to my ears.Fortunately the mainstream fan’s quest is easily achieved with jazzlegend Dave Brubeck, almost an annual visitor, bringing his long-runningquartet to Koerner Hall June 24. After six sterling decades and 91years old in December he’ll surely play the durable “Take Five” hit.Pianist Randy Weston, 85, brings his African rhythms to GlennGould June 26 for a solo show, the same night droll pianist-singer MoseAllison entertains with blues-based fare at Enwave. Seasoned vocalistDee Dee Bridgewater does a tribute to late, great Billie Holiday withsongs from her newest album Eleanora Fagan accompanied by theFestival Orchestra June 27 at Koerner Hall. Guitarist Paco de Luciacharms the Sony Centre that evening.On June 28 famed jazz-rock fusioneers Return To Forever reunitefor a Sony Centre concert, with Chick Corea, Lenny White, Jean-LucPonty, Frank Gambale and Stanley Clarke performing music from thegroup’s Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy.Elite pianists Eliane Elias (Enwave) and veteran Kenny Barron(Glenn Gould) are in action June 29, the same night Koerner Hallis the venue for a world premiere stage performance of music fromthe CD Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, a delightful duet recordingby saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Wynton’s elder brother) and oldcomrade pianist Joey Calderazzo. They penned seven of the nine cuts,adding one song each by Wayne Shorter and Johannes Brahms.Two curious choices caught my eye. Classical dramatic soprano JessyeNorman, she of the rich, lustrous voice, is at Koerner Hall on June 28jazz CD I Was Born In Love With You in 2000 and her newest entry,from 2010, is superb, Roots: My Life, My Song which she describes as “a8 thewholenote.comJune 1 – July 7, 2011COURTESY TORONTO JAZZ

journey from the drums of Africa to the New World.” Not to be missed.(But back to my beef: a comedian is also on the festival books, oneReggie Watts, at Yuk-Yuks June 29. That’s really widening the jazzumbrella to impossible boundaries unless you think stand-up comicimprov is really like improvising a jazz solo. What’s next? A CharlieSheen rant? A Lindsay Lohan confession?)A host of local stars and visiting celebs among the 1,500 musicianswill perform at the festival’s 350 concerts and at more than 40 locations.Details at under “calendar.”I’ll be searching the lists for the whereabouts of my favourites, includingsaxman Greg Osby, pianists Uri Caine and Francois Bourassa,trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, the Heavyweight Brass Band and more. Andhow can you not want to know about Mike Essoudry’s Mash PotatoMashers?!And take note: no fewer than four Toronto high school bands willperform at The Rex on Queen St. on weekday afternoons.The festival has come a long way since 1987, when jazz took placeat just three locations – Thomson Hall, the CN Tower and the JohnBassett Theatre in the Metro Convention Centre. It’s now the biggestmusic festival in Toronto, attracting more than 500,000 people annually.Over the years it has hosted more than 24,000 artists, welcomedmore than 8 million people, presented more than 1,800 free publicconcerts – and it’s estimated that the result has been more than 0million pumped into the local economy.Says festival CEO, executive producer and co-founder Patrick Taylor:“The Entertainment District is where it all started. What better wayto celebrate 25 years of jazz in this great city than at the heart of the“I HAVE A MILLION MEMORIES ofthe festival years, including roasting onthe concrete slabs outside City Hall,nearly drowning in a Yorkville tent …”Entertainment District. To move forward in jazz, respect must be paidto the traditions of the past and that is exactly what we are doing in2011.”Co-founder and saxophonist Jim Galloway, who retired last year asartistic director, recalls that in the beginning there was “something of acloud hanging over jazz festivals due to money problems. The Torontosite wasn’t ideal, since it was hard to get to. Musicians had to play atthe top!“In the early years lots of the greats were still alive. Everybodywanted to play, but that became a bit of a two-edged sword. We couldn’tplease everyone. We got the big names but we were also able to bring injazzmen who were just under the radar, like pianist Phineas NewbornJr., the World’s Greatest Jazz Band and the guys who played in thetrenches, week in and week out. The after-hours sessions were alwaysfun. I remember (trumpeter) Roy Hargrove coming into Traders Barat the Sheraton and then singing.” gone haunts such as Meyer’s Deli, Garbo’s, the Bamboo and George’sSpaghetti House.Thereafter came a procession of greats and up-and-comers – OscarPeterson, Sarah Vaughan, Harry Connick, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass,Ernestine Anderson, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, RosemaryHall Jazz Band, Betty Carter, Jay McShann, J.J. Johnson, KennyGarrett, Shirley Horn, Ray Bryant, Elvin Jones, Terence Blanchard,Dr. John, Joshua Redman, Maynard Ferguson, Ray Charles, MichelCamilo, Sonny Rollins, Etta James, Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd, PatMetheny and hordes more.The venues changed – the Top O The Senator, the Montreal Bistro,Berczy Park, the Diamond, the City-TV parking lot among them. Andone shouldn’t forget the black days in 2000 when the festival was can-June 1 – July 7, 2011 9

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