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Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Choral
  • Singers
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Concerts
  • Jazz
  • Festival
In this issue: our sixteenth annual Choral Canary Pages; coverage of 21C, Estonian Music Week and the 3rd Toronto Bach Festival (three festivals that aren’t waiting for summer!); and features galore: “Final Finales” for Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre and for David Fallis as artistic director of Toronto Consort; four conductors on the challenges of choral conducting; operatic Hockey Noir; violinist Stephen Sitarski’s perspective on addressing depression; remembering bandleader, composer and saxophonist Paul Cram. These and other stories, in our May 2018 edition of the magazine.

his newfound spare time

his newfound spare time to get more involved with the bass fulltime and to study composition and arranging. The master’s program at U of T seemed ideal as it requires achievement in both playing and writing, so Bernard decided to apply. Realizing he needed to up his game for the audition, he took an intensive round of lessons from the superb Toronto bassist Neil Swainson while practising constantly. And it paid off; he was accepted. His enrollment coincided with my return to teaching and, knowing nothing of his master’s plan, I was surprised to see him in the hallway one evening and was delighted for him. It was a very intensive two years for Bernard – studying bass with Jim Vivian, composition and arranging with Terry Promane, and improvisation with Mike Murley, while playing in ensembles and completing numerous written assignments on jazz history and the like. He worked very hard and it showed in his master’s recital in early April, which I attended. He led a group which ranged from a piano-bass duo to a trio to a sextet with three horns, playing a varied program which included some of his original compositions and his arrangements of standards and jazz tunes by others. I hadn’t heard him play in some time and was immediately struck by how much he’d improved in all areas: a big, meaty sound, a confident rhythmic attack with a strong beat and incisive bass lines, gutsy and melodic solos with good range and an engaging way with the sizeable crowd on hand. His writing was also impressive: his originals included a very Quebecois-tinged folk song A La Legrand which showed his Scott LaFaro side; La Vida, a Chick Corea-inspired samba which demonstrated his admiration for Eddie Gomez; and For D.H., a modal-Latin composition in 7/4 written for Dave Holland. His more bluesy side came out in his arrangement of Christian McBride’s funky In a Hurry for sextet. It was an impressive and well-received recital; a satisfying culmination for an individual who has worked so hard to come full circle. With much the same group, Bernard staged a concert billed as “100 Years of Jazz Bass” on April 21 at Alliance Française de Toronto. Along with some of the works discussed above, the evolution of jazz bass was fleshed out with compositions by (or associated with) Wellman Braud, Jimmie Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers. I very much wanted to attend and perhaps review this concert but couldn’t as my own band, Lesterdays, was playing a concert the same night. The concert occurred after the deadline for this article but judging by Bernard’s recital it was a great success, aided by the intimate and good-sounding venue which has become one of Toronto’s best. Very much a Francophone, Bernard plans on moving to Quebec City and becoming involved fulltime in the jazz scene there, where he is sure to have an impact. Irene Harrett is 22 and has just finished the four-year Jazz Program at U of T, earning her degree with flying colours. Mature beyond her years, she has become something of a linchpin in the program both because of her musical skills and her active involvement in organizing jams and gigs and also by playing in the U of T big band, one of the school’s focal ensembles, for the last two years. She was born in Etobicoke, not far from the Humber College campus, which held some early musical advantages. Bassist Corky Monahan, formerly of the TSO and for many years married to the late Tom Monahan – principal bassist of the orchestra and the dean of Canadian bass teachers – lived in the neighbourhood and she was able to study bass with her at the local high school. This gave her a thorough Bernard Dionne grounding in bass technique – bowing, correct fingering and hand positioning, tone production and so on; fundamentally, she’s a very sound bassist. When her interests turned to playing jazz she was able to study with Neil Swainson, who had begun teaching at Humber. At U of T she has studied with Dave Young, Jim Vivian and Andrew Downing. As she put it to me: “There’s no such thing as a bad bass teacher in Toronto.” (Obviously, she hasn’t studied with me.) Recognizing how talented and hardworking she is, Monahan and Swainson arranged a deal for her to acquire a fine old German bass from Heinl’s which bears the nickname “Frank,” after the younger son of founder George Heinl. A large instrument, it is what is known in bass parlance as “a cannon.” I first heard Harrett play at The Rex in a trio led by pianist/singer Hanna Barstow with her brother Keith playing drums, and later on the same stage in a seven-piece U of T ensemble. I was immediately Featuring some of Toronto’s best jazz musicians with a brief reflection by Jazz Vespers Clergy Sunday, May 13 at 4:30pm Russ Little Quintet Sunday, May 27 at 4:30pm Colleen Allen Trio Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge St. (north of St. Clair at Heath St.) Admission is free; donations are welcome. 416-920-5211 www.thereslifehere.org 38 | May 2018 thewholenote.com

impressed by the authority of her playing: a big deep sound with a percussive edge, a powerful attack, good pitch, notes and a general bull-dog attitude of playing the bass like a bass – someone who can be heard and felt from the back of the room. The U of T ensemble Beat by Beat | Bandstand In Praise of Resa JACK MACQUARRIE Irene Harrett was particularly powerful and after hearing her with it I complimented her, saying that her attack and the length of her notes – long but clearly defined and slightly bright – reminded me of the old bebop and Latin-jazz master Al McKibbon. This was met with something of a blank stare but I assured her it was a compliment. From that moment I resolved to write about her at some point. That she’s been in very high demand to play for other students’ year-end recitals both at U of T and at Humber is an indication of how highly she is regarded among her peers, as these performances come with considerable pressure and carry a lot of weight. She told me that last year she did 11 of them, including four back-to-back in one day, leaving her ill with exhaustion. This year she’s holding it down to five or six, though three of them came on April 14. I adjudicated the first of these, a recital by a wonderful trio led by third-year-piano student Josh Sinclair, which only increased my admiration of her playing. Along with the strengths described earlier she showed an openminded, adventurous inventiveness and fine all-around musicianship in sight-reading and negotiating complex ensemble parts. I asked her about her plans after graduating and she replied that she wants to take a year off school to let the dust settle, to practise and digest the many musical concepts that have been coming at her fast and furious. Also to investigate creating more gig opportunities and networking with students at other schools and with fellow bassists, a fraternity she has found to be welcoming and supportive. After that, she plans on returning to earn her master’s degree at U of T, an essential as she wants to teach at the university level in the future. She also feels that the process of pursuing a master’s degree puts you in touch with so many others in the jazz world – students and teachers alike – all of whom can be learned from. She’s very community-minded and is always seeking to learn and improve, and to help others do so. As for gigs, Harrett has been asked to lead a series of jam sessions this spring and summer at the 120 Diner. The evenings will start with her trio, followed by opening the stage for sitting in; the first of these was April 3 and the next one will be May 16. She is quite excited by this opportunity and has also been doing some playing at the Tranzac and The Rex, as well as some concerts and private gigging. I will be adjudicating Irene’s recital on April 27 – well after the deadline of this article – and I look forward to hearing not only her playing, but some of her compositions too. She feels positive about the future and I feel optimistic about a jazz future with players like Irene Harrett in it; we’ll be hearing a lot from her. Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food. Last month’s column began with some comments about the fact that spring had officially arrived, but that Mother Nature was not agreeing. Now, one month later, what do I see when I look out the window? I see my neighbour, large shovel in hand, trying to remove large quantities of some white material from his driveway. At the side of the house I see a delightful, but unusual sight. Yes, there was a beautiful bright purple crocus surrounded by glistening white crystals. The snow is still here. So it is with this month’s column that we stay with the same theme. Last month we were talking about bands in transition evolving one way or another. Here we are with more stories. Uxbridge Community Concert Band The Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB) is another band in transition. This time, rather than some gradual change, we have a one-year interruption. Founded by Steffan Brunette in 1992, the UCCB has been silent for a year. Brunette, a high school music teacher, took a year off from his teaching to study composition and do some travelling. Since its founding in 1992, the Uxbridge Community Concert Band has been a volunteer organization from its director down to its youngest player. Its original intention was Steffan Brunette to allow school musicians to bridge the gap between their spring concert ending the school year and their first rehearsal at school in September. Over the years the UCCB became a band where adult musicians could rediscover their love of playing music as a member of an ensemble. For most of the first 25 years of its existence, the UCCB was run solely through Brunette’s leadership. To encourage new growth and new directions, the band is rebuilding itself with the assistance of a new executive committee. Since the band only rehearses during the months of May through August, committee members are currently planning the recruitment drive, promotional strategies and laying out the performance plans for the coming summer season, all the while learning the processes which were normally overseen by only one. Brunette is no longer jack of all trades. He is now artistic director. It is hoped that by bringing in additional people, the range of talents and skills for running a musical organization will also grow and allow the UCCB to grow as well. Committee members are taking over publicity, membership, logistics, venue booking, transportation, music folder preparation, uniform distribution and concert planning. The UCCB is currently recruiting members for its 26th summer season, set to begin on Wednesday May 23 at 7pm in the music room of Uxbridge Secondary School. Rehearsals will continue every Wednesday until the end of August. The band performs two major concerts in Port Perry and Uxbridge at the end of the summer. The ensemble is non-auditioned and welcomes players who have had at least two years’ of playing experience, so students as young as Grade 9 and adults as old as 90-plus are encouraged to come out and join. For those interested, the band now has a Facebook page; it is simply Uxbridge Community Concert Band. For more information, contact Terry Christiansen at uccb@powergate.ca. Resa’s Pieces Band Resa’s Pieces first came together in the year 2000. The creation of what has evolved into a very special group was a dream born out of Resa Kochberg’s life experiences, and it was many years in the making. When she was growing, up there was nothing else that she ever wanted to do but study music. As a little girl she would watch her eldest brother wave his arms around as if he were a virtuoso thewholenote.com May 2018 | 39

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