Rain? What rain?

So I don't know if you noticed, but it rained a bit yesterday. A fair bit. Happily, the inclement weather didn't dampen (ha!) our spirits - day three of the festival was chalk full of well-attended musical excitement.

I started the day at Nathan Phillips Square for the Lunchtime Series concert featuring Jim Galloway and friends. This was a swing lover's dream band, with veterans Jim on saxes, Laurie Bower on trombone, Ian Bargh on piano, Rosemary Galloway on bass and Don Vickery on drums; and the relative youngsters (Brigham Phillips on trumpet, John MacLeod on cornet, John MacMurchy on sax and Reg Schwager on guitar) were right at home in the swing style. It was a fun, high-energy show and a great way to kick off the day. A particular highlight for me (though, as a trumpet player, I'm biased) was the trumpet-showdown version of "Undecided" which featured John MacLeod and Brigham exchanging melody lines and solo sections to the delight of everyone present.

Just before 2 pm I dropped by the HMV Tent to say hi to Chase Sanborn and Steve Bellamy, who were setting up for their Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop. Steve recently started his own record label - Addo Records - and his workshop was to discuss the current recording climate, and why, given the challenges facing the recording industry in this day and age, he decided to start a new label. I unfortunately couldn't stay for the workshop, but I encourage you to check out the Addo Records website - Steve's working with some of the best musicians in Canada (and to prove it, Kirk MacDonald's Addo release was nominated for a 2010 Juno Award!).

My next stop was off-site - I had a rehearsal for my big band, The Toronto Jazz Orchestra. We're getting ready for a July 4 performance at The Rex Hotel with piano phenom Geoffrey Keezer and yesterday's rehearsal was our last before meeting Geoffrey on Saturday. The rehearsal was a welcome addition to a busy festival day - I'm lucky to be working with some of the best young jazz musicians in the city, and we're all looking forward to the show.

Getting to the rehearsal at Dufferin and King was certainly less of an ordeal than it would have been on Saturday. Happily Sunday was a much quieter day on the streets of Toronto: the TTC was running as normal (except for the occasional route diversion) and there was little additional damage to downtown stores. I ended up taking a cab both ways but the musicians in the band all arrived with relative ease. Even so, a heavy police presence was still noticeable throughout the downtown core...we were all looking forward to a return to the normal we knew prior to the arrival of the International Festival of Bureaucracy...

Back on the square, I caught a few tunes by Jaffa Road as part of the Afterwork Concerts series. They play an interesting fusion of jazz and middle eastern music: lead singer Aviva Chernick sings in a variety of languages; Aaron Lightstone plays a variety of stringed instruments (ud, guitar and saz); Sundar Viswanathan plays sax and wooden flute; Jeff Wilson plays drums and percussion (and he demonstrated a variety of drumming techniques, playing the drum set with sticks, mallets and his hands); and Chris Gartner plays bass. The ensemble sounded great and brought a unique "world music" vibe to the festival; a nice crowd grooved along with them.

Around 6 pm I said a quick hello to Richard Flohil who was getting ready for his Jazz.FM91 Talkback, then was off to the Music Gallery to ensure all was ready to go for that night's opening concert in the Next Wave Series. From there I dashed off to the Canon Theatre to say a quick hello to Harry Connick Jr. I stood offstage and watched a bit of the rehearsal and knew that we were in for a great show: although Harry wasn't singing at that point in the rehearsal, the five strings, six brass and rhythm section sounded just fine on their own.

Now, one might think, given my blog post of yesterday - you know, the one where I said I should have checked the weather report? - that I would have been better prepared for the deluge that was underway as I left the Canon Theatre. And, theoretically, I was - I had brought an umbrella with me when I left the house yesterday morning. But as I was leaving the square to make my way over to the Canon, I relied on the old-fashioned weather report (looking up) and decided to leave the umbrella there. All that to say I got a bit (!) wet as I made my way back to the Music Gallery for my emceeing duties. Happily, apart from the occasional errant drip, all of our venues stood up to the downpour, and we were able to open up the tent in a timely fashion so that those waiting in line for the 8 pm mainstage show avoided a thorough soaking.

The Next Wave Series is making its reappearance at the festival this year after a several-year hiatus. I'm excited about bringing it back and last night's show was a great way to start. The Kyle Brenders Quartet opened up for the Eric Boeren Quartet, and the music was excellent. Kyle is an interesting writer, and his quartet (Kyle on sax, Steve Ward on trombone, Tomas Bouda on bass and Mark Segger on drums) creatively navigated the line between composed music and free improvisation. They provided a high-energy, engaging set and they were well-received. Although they weren't playing jazz standards, I think most jazz fans would have enjoyed the music - it was exciting and groovy, with lots of great melody and a driving beat. After the intermission, the Eric Boeren Quartet took the stage. The group is well known in their home country (The Netherlands) and abroad, and if the first tune was indicative of the rest of their set (I had to slip out), I can understand why. Eric (on trumpet) was joined by Michael Moore on sax, Wilbert de Joode on bass and Han Bennink on drums (though last night only a single snare drum), and the four musicians sounded like a full orchestra - they created an amazing range of sounds and textures, creating a real buzz in the room: the audience roared in appreciation. The series continues tonight with rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL opening for Random Access Unplugged - if you're feeling adventurous I encourage you to check it out.

From the Music Gallery I made my way back to the Canon Theatre to catch the end of the Harry Connick Jr. show. I had an interesting conversation at the end of the night with the festival's Executive Producer Pat Taylor about the difference between a "show" and a "concert"...and Harry's performance was definitely a "show": carefully produced, carefully choreographed...but absolutely entertaining. Harry sang, he played piano, he danced (facing front and facing back, much to the delight of certain members of the audience) and, as I had suspected from the dress rehearsal snippet I heard, the band sounded fantastic. Harry is a truly multi-talented musician and he put on an amazing show; he earned two standing ovations from the packed house. It was a treat to see him in action, and I stuck around for a bit after the show to conduct a highly unscientific observational survey of the audience demographic...and was pleased to see jazz fans of all ages in attendance.

The next stop was the Mod Club, where I caught the last few tunes from Billy's Band, a Tom Waits inspired quartet from St. Petersburg, Russia. In my Artistic Director's Guide to the Festival entry for Billy's Band, I mentioned musical mayhem...and they delivered! The club was full almost to capacity and they let rip their no-holds-barred take on jazz, cabaret, pop and everything in between. It was a blast - definitely different from the other shows I had seen that night - and a fun musical release. The audience loved it too; shortly after the concert wrapped up a car went past on College Street blasting Billy's Band on the stereo. I was glad to have made it, even for a few minutes.

My last stop of the evening was the mainstage for the final bars of Taj Mahal's set. I only got to see three tunes, but it was pretty clear from those few tunes why he's a blues legend: whether playing banjo or guitar, and singing in a deep, raspy voice or thin falsetto, Taj had the audience in the palm of his hand. It was just a trio - Taj was joined by Billy Rich on bass and Kester Smith on drums - but that's all they needed, filling out the sound with great guitar licks, bass fills, and drum grooves. What a way to end the night! And, as on previous nights, the artists were gracious with their time backstage, saying hello to fans, signing autographs, and chatting with festival staff.

From swing to big band to jazz/middle east fusion to avant-garde to crooner to Russian musical mayhem to blues...I feel like yesterday's activity provided a great snapshot of the breadth of jazz. And today should be no different: we've got the Christine Jensen Ochestra with special guest Ingrid Jensen at noon; the eleven-piece salsa band Son Ache at 5 pm; Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko at Church of the Holy Trinity at 7 pm; acclaimed Quebec saxophonist Andre Leroux at the Trane Studio at 8 pm; rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL opening for Random Access Unplugged as part of the Next Wave Series at the Music Gallery at 8 pm; and Dave Young opening for Stanley Clarke band featuring Hiromi at 8 pm on the mainstage. We also kick off our activity at the Hard Rock Cafe with Mike Stern at 9 pm and the late night jam with Canadian guitarist Jake Langley; also starting today is a series of concerts at the Shops at Don Mills and our educational programming (which kicks off with the Big Band Slam at 2 pm). And there's also the Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop at 2 pm with National Ballet School Executive Director Jeff Melanson, and the Jazz.FM91 Talkback at 6 pm with outstanding local bassist Rich Brown. Phew - this is a busy day!

I'm having a blast so far...if you haven't yet been down to the square, I hope to see you soon...

Josh

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