And...scene!

Well, that's a wrap. After ten action-packed days of great music and great company, I woke up this morning with nowhere in particular to go. It will take me a couple of days to readjust to "real life", and then before I know it we'll be talking about 2012...

Here's the rundown on my last day of the 2011 festival:

The day started with a minor logistical glitch - we needed to find a soprano saxophone for Andre Leroux (his was recently stolen) in time for his 5:30 pm performance with the Francois Bourassa Quartet. Several phone calls and emails later (and thanks to Kirk MacDonald for his help) we had it solved, and I was out the door on my way to Metro Square.

The Donefors, a seven-piece pop/jazz/country/folk collective kicked off the day's music on the Outdoor Stage. I didn't know the band until they sent in a submission, and the sensibilities which attracted me to their music in the first place were on full display during yesterday's show: an interesting mix of repertoire, beautiful vocals and great rapport with the audience. I also like the quirky sense of humour they bring - who else might have the gall to title an album Award Winning Album? (They're hoping to win the award for "Most Presumptuous Album Title".) Traffic on the Square was a bit quiet (Sunday of the long weekend) but they still drew a good and enthusiastic crowd. I look forward to keeping track of this group, and encourage you to check them out - their official CD release party is in September.

At 2 pm I hosted the final Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop. My guest was trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud. Our conversation was all about "free" jazz - what it means, how it works, its history, its presence on the Toronto scene - and Nicole was an engaging interviewee. I continue to learn about the more "avant" side of jazz and Nicole brought some great insights into the key players and key milestones, as well as some tips on how to approach the music. She also brought along some sound samples (including her own recently-released album) and her trumpet, and in a brief performance at the end of the session was able to demonstrate some of the concepts we had discussed during the hour. The session prompted some excellent questions from the audience, and I think everyone in attendance (including me!) left feeling enriched.

From shortly after 3 pm until 5:30 pm I had some down time, which was welcome...though I admit to finding myself at loose ends. With my colleagues packing up their respective trailers, I wandered a bit aimlessly until I decided that the best use of my time would be to go get some poutine at Smoke's Poutinerie. (Don't you judge me...) The "light" snack occupied a few minutes (and possibly shaved a few days off of my expected life span), and I met up with some of the other staff back on the square where we enjoyed a few minutes in the shade.

At 5:30 pm, the Francois Bourassa Quartet took to the stage. I was looking forward to the show; their new album sounds fantastic. The Quartet's music ranges widely from groove-based, straight-ahead jazz to more esoteric, contemporary music - this latter style can be a bit challenging on a free, outdoor stage. However, the music was performed to such a high level - each of Francois (piano), Andre Leroux (saxophone), Guy Boisvert (bass) and Philippe Melanson (drums) shone - that the substantial crowd that had gathered stayed riveted throughout the show, even showing their appreciation with a standing ovation at the end. It is my contention that as long as music is well-performed, regardless of its "wacky factor", once an audience is engaged, they'll enjoy it; the challenge is convincing an audience to take a risk on the unknown in the first place. Perhaps a venue like a free, outdoor stage is a place to try the occasional musical adventure...

Shortly after 7 pm I made my way up to The Music Gallery, stopping for some fuel (i.e. coffee) along the way. I was excited to see Trio M (Myra Melford on piano, Mark Dresser on bass and Matt Wilson on drums) in performance - they blew me away when I saw them last fall at the Detroit Jazz Festival - but a bit nervous about the audience turnout, as advanced ticket sales had not been strong. Happily, all worked out - when the trio took to the stage they had a substantial audience to greet them, and they wasted little time making outstanding music. The quality of music at the festival over the ten days has been excellent, but every once in a while I'm reminded what separates the true veterans from the rest of the great players...and it took only the first note last night to make it clear that the musicians in Trio M are firmly in the "veteran" category. In the 40 minutes of music I saw, their respective virtuosity was on full display, whether they were playing "inside" or "out". Matt is so much fun to watch, and so creative with the sounds he gets out of his kit; Marc Dresser was all over the bass, sometimes getting what sounding like three pitches out of a single string; and Myra rounded out the trio with playing which ran the gamut from reserved to explosive. This was a satisfying concert and the people in attendance whom I ran into later in the night were effusive in their praise.

It was important to me to get back to the Mainstage to hear some of the Robi Botos Trio's opening set, and I was glad I did. Robi has established himself as one of Canada's most exciting pianists, and he (along with Attila Darvas on bass and brother Frank Botos on drums) dazzled the audience with playing that was certainly technically proficient, but also heartfelt, groovy and just plain fun. It's great to see him getting some additional exposure (and releasing his first CD under his name), and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

After a longer-than-expected break (due to technical difficulties) it was young vocal phenom Nikki Yanofsky's turn onstage. Joined by a full rhythm section, five horns and three backup vocalists, Nikki took the audience on a musical journey spanning styles and eras which included jazz standards, classic R&B, modern-day pop and even an original tune or two. Nikky's got a great voice and she has matured immensely even in the year since her show at Koerner Hall during the 2010 festival; I look forward to following her as she explores a variety of musical styles, figuring out which works best for her talent and personality. The audience showed their love at the end of her set, demanding an encore, and the evening wrapped up on a high note. Kudos once again go out to the local musicians (Colleen Allen, Alex Dean, Dave Neill, Kevin Turcotte and William Carn) who enhanced the show with some outstanding playing.

After the show, backstage, there was a buzz among the festival staff - yes, the festival was over, which brings a sense of relief, but I think we all agree that it was a great week. We celebrated with drinks and socializing well into the morning - a wonderful way to cap off the ten days.

It will take me several days to absorb all that took place between June 24 and July 3, and I'll likely reflect on this year's festival in future posts. For know, I'd like to thank everyone who made the festival possible; all of the performers; and all of you for your support, feedback (both positive and critical) and kind words. I look forward to 2012 but first, I look forward to a few days of rest...

Josh

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