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An all-ages event
Day five of the festival included activity which featured every generation of jazz musician and jazz lover, from high school students to long-time fans, from emerging artists to seasoned pros.
The day started off at The Rex Hotel with the second (and final) session of Jazz for the Teach, this time focussing on big band playing. Saxophonist, composer/arranger, teacher and adjudicator Andy Ballantnye presided, the Agincourt C.I. jazz band (under the direction of David Lum) served as the house band and a small gathering of local teachers enjoyed a couple of hours of big band immersion.
At 12:30 on the Outdoor Stage, Jim Galloway chatted with veteran guitarist Bill Frisell as part of the KPMT Inside Track. The conversation was wide-ranging, from Bill's earliest musical influences to his friendship with Bill Larson (of The Far Side fame) to how his most recent project (interpreting the songs of John Lennon) came about. At one point Bill talked about a particularly busy time in world events: Nelson Mandela going to prison; Martin Luther King Jr. winning the Noble Peace Prize; a big win in the ring for Muhammad Ali; the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show...the session provided an interesting insight into what makes Bill the musician he is.
Just before 2:00 pm I made my way back to The Rex for the third annual Big Band Slam. This is always one of my favourite events - four big bands from the Greater Toronto Area getting together for an afternoon of fun and music. Bands from Cawthra Park, Woburn C.I., Thomas A. Blakelock and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (an all-city band) each played a 30-minute set, while guest artist and moderator Al Kay kept things moving smoothly and played some pretty fine trombone with each group. The students seemed to enjoy the opportunity to play, the audience appreciated the students' efforts, and it was a great celebration of youth and jazz.
Just after 4 pm one of our newest jazz fans (our daughter Adelaide, almost 11 months) came for a visit and to give her assessment of the festival. We headed over to the Outdoor Stage to hear the first bit of Eliana Cuevas' ensemble. I think Eliana is one of the city's top singers - she has a great voice, which she uses with the same facility as the best instrumentalists use their horns; a great writer; and an excellent band leader. She launched into her jazz-latin fusion and quickly her various talents were on display, keeping the audience engaged with a high-energy performance. Adelaide gave the performance several enthusiastic head bobs.
From the Outdoor Stage I was off to Quotes to hear a bit of Ian McDougall with the Canadian Jazz Quartet. I had never seen him live; it was a treat to finally see in person this acclaimed Canadian trombone player and composer. A nice crowd was on hand, including some of Toronto's top musicians; as I've said in other posts, I feel it's always a huge compliment to the musicians on stage when there are musicians in the audience. Ian sounded great and the band swung nicely.
My next stop was the Enwave Theatre for Bill Frisell and his group performing the music of John Lennon. The audience was at capacity, and it took me a while to realize that it was the soundtrack to Yellow Submarine playing on the sound system before the band took the stage. The quartet launched into their set shortly after 7 pm; I caught the first few tunes. Bill's playing is more about substance than flash; as he and his bandmates played the focus seemed to be more on beautiful sounds and subtle shifts in dynamics than volume and technical wizardry. It worked for me! I enjoyed the playing; Greg Leisz on lap steel guitar I found particularly effective.
My next stop was the Toronto Star Stage for the evening's opening act, Tressa Levasseur. Tressa is a local songstress, nominated multiple times for a Maple Blues Award, who has performed across the country and as part of the Women's Blues Revue at Massey Hall. I like her mix of blues and soul, and enjoyed what I caught of her set last night. The capacity crowd welcomed her and her bandmates with warm applause, and it was a nice way to kick off the evening under the tent.
I slipped out at around 8:45 to check out some of Peter Appleyard and the Sophisticated Ladies at Koerner Hall. It would be hard to argue with the talent on stage - Peter was joined by John Sherwood (piano), Reg Schwager (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass) and Terry Clarke (drums) - the best of the best in Canada. I caught a lovely rendition of "Smile" with vocalist Diana Panton; when Jackie Richardson took to the stage I knew we were in for something special. One sultry blues tune later, everyone in the audience was reminded why Jackie is akin to musical royalty - her performance drew a standing ovation. Peter was in fine form, still swinging after all these years, and the band cruised - a treat to hear so much Canadian talent on one stage.
And - back to the Toronto Star Stage for George Benson. By the time I got back to the tent, every nook and cranny had been filled by an audience member. George was already well into his set when I arrived, and he had the crowd following his every move. His newest album I find a bit smooth jazz-y, but his performance last night was anything but. Every tune was high-energy and performed to the highest level - the band sounded fantastic. Fingers flew, songs were sung, and the audience roared. It was everything we could ask for in a show: great music, great crowd, sold out tent.
My final stop of the night was the Opera House for the Soul Rebels Brass Band. I arrived at intermission to reports of an exciting first set. The crowd thinned out a bit during the break but when the band took the stage for the second set the energy didn't seem to suffer. They delivered their brass band/funk/hip-hop fusion as if there were thousands of people in the room and despite a louder than necessary sound system (my ear plugs were deployed for the first time this year) I enjoyed the show, finding it impossible to stand still. A fun way to wrap the day.
Here's what's up for today:
- Jim Galloway chats with John Medeski for today's KPMT Inside Track, 12:30 pm on the Outdoor Stage
- Don Thompson's George Shearing Tribute Quintet plays the Outdoor Stage at 5 pm
- Ken Peplowski is the special guest with the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Quotes, 5-8 pm
- Phil Dwyer bring his Canadian Songbook featuring Laila Biali to the Church of the Holy Trinity at 7 pm
- Trombone Shorty, with Saidah Baba Talibah opening up, on the Toronto Star Stage at 8 pm
- Spectrum Road, with KC Roberts and the Live Revolution opening up, at the Sound Academy at 9 pm
- Ziggy Marley, with Jay Douglas and The All Stars opening up, at The Phoenix at 9 pm
There's also Club Django at Shops at Don Mills at 7 pm, Margaret Stowe in the Distillery at 6 pm, and a ton of activity in the clubs - I'll likely end up at The Rex later tonight for Snarky Puppy. Check out today's complete list of activity.
See you on the square!