And we're off!

Day one is done...and it was a great way to kick off the festival.

I arrived at Nathan Phillips Square mid-afternoon to get my bearings. It didn't take me long to discover which backstage trailer has the best air conditioning and best snacks (but that secret stays with me) and it was fun to meet and greet the various media personalities, volunteers and artists readying for their sound checks. Shortly before 5 pm I made my way over to the Primus Stage for Alex Pangman's set. The sun was out, which meant we were all clamoring for shade, but despite any warnings to not come downtown due to the Festival of International Bureaucracy, a great crowd was ready to welcome the festival with a set of 1930's swing. And it didn't take too long for swing fever to hit both the young and old - couples of all ages were cutting a rug.

A VIP barbecue followed (which provided an opportunity to catch up with an old colleague), and then it was showtime on the mainstage under the tent. Mark Dailey (from CityTV) provided the intro, I said my piece, and Lori Nuic took the stage. Lori's got a powerhouse R&B voice and when I snuck out the back (on to the next show!) she was in the middle of a high-energy set, getting the crowd ready for the funk that was to come...

The cab ride from Nathan Phillips Square to the Great Hall (Queen and Dovercourt) would, on any other Friday night, be a bit of a harried experience...but last night it took a record seven minutes. I suppose we can thank the G20 for that; but it's not great for cab business - one driver suggested last night was quieter than Christmas Day...

When I arrived at the Great Hall, Martha Wainright had already launched into her show, featuring the music of Edith Piaf. There was some confusion about the show's start time, but that didn't seem to have effected too many of the 500 or so audience members. The venue was literally packed to the rafters, with standing room only on the main floor and balcony. And Martha sounded fantastic. The quartet (voice/piano/guitar/bass) worked well together; each tune was polished and energetic; and Martha did a great job engaging the audience. I wasn't sure what to expect from the show, but left feeling confident that it was an excellent and worthy addition to the lineup.

From the Great Hall I went up to Koerner Hall to catch the end of Nikki Yanofsky's set. It was a full house here too, and it was a pleasant surprise to see some friends and colleagues playing in the band. Altogether she had eight musicians on stage with her (guitar, piano, bass, drums, baritone sax, alto sax, trumpet and trombone), and she delivered a great show. I came in as she was wrapping up a beautiful rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and she finished with a rousing blues. For the encore, she performed I Believe (yes, the Olympics song) and welcomed the Regent Park School of Music choir to the stage to join her. It was a fantastic moment, one which the audience warmly received and one which those young choristers will not soon forget! Nikki's a talented young musician - I look forward to seeing where she goes next with her music.

I snuck backstage to say hello to the musicians and, with my friend and former University of Toronto classmate Dave Neill in tow (he was playing baritone saxophone for the show), headed back down to the main stage to experience my first ever Maceo Parker show. He did not disappoint. Although the crowd was perhaps a bit smaller than we had hoped, they were not lacking in energy...and what they gave to Maceo, he and his band gave back tenfold. The whole tent was up out of their chairs, dancing away to a variety of tunes featuring a variety of band configurations (one tune with the full band including trumpet, trombone and two backup singers; one tune with just the quartet; one tune with Maceo singing; one tune with rapping from the male backup singer). Maceo went on shortly after 9 pm and, by the time he was done his encore, is was 11:15 pm - we all got a full dose from the master of funk. It was exactly the party we were looking for to get things started.

Back in the VIP area, the buzz was high-energy and positive. Maceo was generous with his time, coming out to greet fans and sign autographs. And, when things seemed to have calmed down, I headed over to The Rex to see what was going on there. Dallas' Bobby Sparks (organ), Michael League (bass) & Jason “JT” Thomas (drums) were on the bill...but when Bobby Sparks' flight was delayed, local pianist Stu Harrison got the call and he did a superb job sitting in. As always, it was a great hang - a number of local musicians were there (including another former U of T colleague I hadn't seen in years). Bobby finally made it in around 12:30 am, but by that time I was feeling the first-day adrenaline wearing off, so headed for home. The group will be there again tonight - maybe I'll drop by.

Day two should pick up right where day one left off - lots of great shows. I'm looking forward to Darren Sigesmund at noon; Club Django at 5 pm (and those two shows are free); Miguel Zenon and Hilario Duran's Big Band at the Enwave at 7 pm (Miguel is an amazing alto saxophonist - you should see this show!); and Herbie Hancock with Brandi Disterheft opening up at 8 pm on the mainstage. And there are also the 2 pm blindfold test with Ted O'Reilly and Mike Murley, and Brandi Disterheft's Talkback at 5:30 pm.

I hope to see you today on the square, at the Enwave, or in one of the many local clubs presenting great jazz all week long.


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