Teachable moments...

Day four of the festival was full of great music, some learning experiences and thankfully, with my stubborn "it's not going to rain" attitude, only about 17 seconds of rain.

The day started at noon with a show I had been eagerly awaiting: the Christine Jensen Orchestra with guest trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. The orchestra's first CD - Treelines - is fantastic and Ingrid is one of my favourite current trumpet players. The show delivered musical satisfaction as expected: great writing and great playing, lots of big band excitement, and a large and receptive audience.

Next stop was The Rex for the first in our series of educational programming - the Big Band Slam. We invited four big bands from Toronto high schools (Lawrence Park CI, Agincourt CI, Dr. Norman Bethune CI and Malvern CI) to come and play a short set on stage at The Rex, and lined up the University of Toronto's (and trombone player extraordinaire) Terry Promane to moderate. The event was a success - the place was packed (which happens when you assemble four, 25-member big bands in one place!), the students all had a blast, Terry gave some great feedback, and it was an encouraging start to our new educational initiatives.

I moved back and forth between The Rex and Nathan Phillips Square throughout the afternoon - I wanted to catch Jeff Melanson (co-CEO of Canada's National Ballet School) as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop Series as he chatted about new perspectives on arts management; and the 5 pm Afterwork Series concert featuring the incredible Toronto-based Cuban band Son Ache. Moderated by Chase Sanborn, Jeff's workshop provided lots of food for thought: he suggested that the public needs to better recognize the contribution of artists to society, but also suggested that artists need to do a better job of marketing themselves and making sure they are properly compensated for their work. It was interesting to note how Jeff's experience in the world of dance applies so well to the jazz world; Chase also did a great job drawing comparisons between the two disciplines. Meanwhile, on the Primus stage, Son Ache tore it up: they brought an 8-piece ensemble of local Cuban musicians and had people dancing on the square in no time. With two trumpets, three percussionists, piano, bass and vocals, it was a fantastic taste of authentic Cuban sounds.

At 6 pm I dropped by the Jazz.FM91 Talkback Tent to say a quick hello to Rich Brown (who, if you don't know him, is one of the most exciting bass players in Toronto) and then I was off to Church of the Holy Trinity for Tomasz Stanko's concert. Holy Trinity is a new venue for us this year, and it's a welcome addition. The sanctuary is beautiful, with a flexible seating area which can accommodate up to 400 audience members. Church acoustics can sometimes be challenging - the hard surfaces and high ceilings can produce an overwhelming echo - but Tomasz's unique sound and compositions worked perfectly in the space. We had a full and appreciative audience, and it was a treat to hear this internationally acclaimed trumpet player. The compositions on his most recent CD have been described as "introspective" and I think that's fair - the tunes last night were mellow and ethereal - but he used the full range of the instrument to great effect, and his young band-mates knew exactly how to enhance the music.

From Holy Trinity I was off to the Music Gallery to emcee the second concert in the Next Wave Series...and, as I soon discovered, to have my first real disappointment of the festival. The evening featured rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL opening up for Barry Romberg's Random Access Unplugged: the first group is an exciting improvising funk collective; the second features some of the top jazz musicians in Canada. However, if you looked at the audience turnout, you wouldn't have been able to tell. The music was incredible - rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL, led by AimToronto's Nilan Perera on guitar, produced exciting improvised lines over funky beats; Random Access performed as if the house was packed, demonstrating why Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), Kirk MacDonald (sax), Jeff Young (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass) and Barry (drums) continue to be at the top of their game. But it was difficult for me to tell these outstanding musicains - people for whom I have great respect - that the audience turnout was so poor. We're not sure exactly why we didn't have stronger audience numbers - and we'll follow up after the festival to see what could be done differently to promote a show like last night's - but I'm trying to take it as a learning experience. As a former colleague of mine once said, "Nobody died on the table." Yes the audience numbers were disappointing, but the music was fantastic, and that's a great place to start.

I slipped away from the Music Gallery shortly after the intermission and made my way over to the Hard Rock Cafe to see the end of Mike Stern's first set. I was excited about seeing Mike perform - especially in such an intimate venue - and my expectations were met. If you're not familiar with his playing, I encourage you to check him out: he's a great guitarist, but beyond his fiery technique his composing is beautiful. Playing with a quartet - Bob Franceschini on sax, Quebec's Alain Caron on bass and Lionel Cordew on drums - Mike kept the audience grooving, easily moving between jazz, fusion and rock. At the conclusion of his first set he was mobbed on stage by audience members wanting to say hi and buy a CD.

My tour of the festival continued with a return to the mainstage for the conclusion of the Stanley Clarke Band's performance with Hiromi. Stanley gave the audience what they were looking for: grooving bass lines and outstanding technique on acoustic and electric basses, and his band-mates made their own contributions, with funky keyboards from Ruslan Sirota; piano acrobatics from Hiromi; and full-on beats from drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation and insisted on another tune...with the applause continuing even once technical crew starting tearing down the set, the band finally re-took the stage for a thunderous encore.

My last stop of the night was the Hard Rock Cafe for our first official late-night jam of the festival and my second "learning experience" (I think after-school specials called them "teachable moments"). We brought in Canadian jazz guitarist Jake Langley to serve as the house band (and he brought local jazz vets Bernie Senensky on organ and Daniel Barnes on drums) and play the opening set and the trio sounded fantastic. Here again, unfortunately, the turnout was not as strong as we had hoped and, despite a good vibe and great music, we decided to call it a night around 2 am. We're going again tonight with the Vanessa Rodrigues Trio following the Tony Monaco show and I'm excited to see Vanessa play - she's a great organist and she's got Chris Gale (sax) and Morgan Childs (drums) with her...it's bound to be exciting. I realize that it may not be realistic to expect immediate success with new initiatives such as the Next Wave Series and the Hard Rock late-night jams, but it still stings a bit when things don't go as hoped...But, as I said earlier, it's all about the learning - we'll take all of the experiences, positive and less so, with us moving forward and try things differently as needed.

So the day had it's ups and downs, but the music was outstanding, we had some great turnouts, and I arrived at home looking forward to some sleep and today's activities.

As I write this the Jazz Ambassadors Sextet is playing on the mainstage as part of the Lunchtime Concert Series (we were expecting a big band but a bus breakdown meant they had to launch into plan B!) but there's still a ton of activity today:

It's going to be a packed day - lots to choose from - so best to get started now!

Josh

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