Canada Day Festivities

I feel as though a number of interplanetary alignments occurred yesterday to produce a wonderful day: a lighter schedule meant some time to relax and hang out; some great music and conversations kept me engaged throughout the day; and, on a personal note, I got to spend some time with family. Here's how it went:

The Heavyweights Brass Band, a local quintet playing a broad range of repertoire (St. James' Infirmary! Lady Gaga! Justin Bieber!) in the New Orleans brass band style, took to the Outdoor Stage at noon for a Lunchtime Series concert. They started off with a relaxed version of O Canada then, after their official introduction, launched into their brand of New Orleans swing and funk. In the 30 minutes that I took in, I heard Dixieland, soul classics and modern pop tunes given the New Orleans treatment. The music drew a nice crowd and the five musicians (Jon Challoner on trumpet, Paul Metcalfe on tenor sax, Chris Butcher on trombone, Rob Teehan on sousaphone and Lowell Whitty on drums) kept the audience entertained and engaged. (And who knew Rob Teehan has such a set of pipes?!) A fun way to kick off the day!

A bit of family time followed - my wife (Jeanette) and I met up with my parents for lunch. It was lovely to have a break from the hectic schedule of the past few days, and good for Jeanette and I to remember what we each look like (it's been like ships passing in the night around here...).

At 2 pm I sat down with local jazz/funk/hip-hop presenter Jay Cleary to discuss the fusion of jazz and hip-hop music, as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop series. The topic was appropriate given the afternoon and evening performances (Shad, The Roots) and I enjoyed hearing Jay's take on how the fusion of these two styles came about. The discussion was lively, and we had some good questions at the end. For some it's a bit of a sensitive topic - is this "real" jazz? - but I feel as though by the end of the discussion we had presented a compelling case, drawing parallels in each style's development, and suggesting why this fusion is important to the overall development of jazz. The workshops continue today and tomorrow.

The mid-afternoon yesterday was especially taxing: with a light schedule of concerts, we (Jeanette, me, and several of the festival staff) found ourselves lounging on the grass, in the sun, enjoying the breeze...it was glorious. A festival of this size requires a lot of work and dedication from a lot of people, and I think we've got a great team; it was a pleasure to finally hang out a bit as a team yesterday afternoon.

By 4:30 pm, the grass in front of the Outdoor Stage was starting to fill in anticipation of Shad's 5:30 performance. When he hit the stage, there was little green space left, and he wasted no time getting the audience up on their feet. With a DJ, guitar, bass and drums (and the occasional beatboxer), Shad delivered a high-energy, 60-minute set to the appreciative crowd. Shad has earned acclaim for his lyric writing and some of the music he presented yesterday contained poignant political (commenting on the state of politics in the United states) and personal ("I've never laughed and cried at the same time...") messages. His delivery was rapid-fire and rhythmic, and his fellow musicians kept things groovy - this was a great way to kick off the evening's entertainment.

A quiet dinner with Jeanette followed, then it was back to the Mainstage for the main event. With DJ John Kong spinning a great mix of soul, funk and jazz, the standing-room-only tent slowly filled to capacity. The vibe was electric, and when The Roots took the stage just before 9:30 pm the crowd went wild. What followed was a 90-plus-minute set of spectacular entertainment. The group was unstoppable - their energy level never dipped; they often moved seamlessly (and without break) from one tune/style/tempo to the next, and their repertoire included funk, soul, jazz, rock, reggae and more. Their cleanly rehearsed material was interspersed with extended improvised solos from most of the musicians on stage, and when they wrapped up at 11 pm (no encore) the audience roared in appreciation. I didn't get to see much of their show last year - official duties meant I was visiting other venues - so I was glad to catch them from beginning to end this year: I was floored by their musicianship, their unrelenting groove (in whatever style) and the overall entertainment factor of the show. Plus, from the festival presenter side of things, it was hard to ignore the makeup of the crowd (young, diverse).

One last stop remained for me last night - The Rex Hotel to catch Rich Brown's rinsethealgorithm. Rich (on bass) along with bandmates Luis Deniz (alto sax), Robi Botos (keyboards) and Larnell Lewis (drums) consistently perform some of the most exciting, funky, groovy music being made in Toronto, and they were in excellent form last night. The Rex was packed - a testament to the following the band has earned, as they play fairly regularly - and even after 1 am the crowd stayed strong, often shouting out their appreciation for the music happening on stage. After a couple of late nights, I hit the wall just before they wrapped up at 1:30, but left with my ears full of outstanding music.

Today's schedule is similar to yesterday's, with shows added at The Music Gallery and the Horsehoe. Here's what's on tap:

I should also say that there is great music happening at a variety of other venues throughout the city - I just can't get to them all! Check our home page (www.torontojazz.com) for a complete listing, and see you on the Square!

Josh

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