Ten days later...

Today was kind of weird, in a mixed-bag kind of way. I woke up on my own schedule; had no concerts to attend, no interviews to prepare; and spent the entire day with my family. But I also didn't hear any live shows, meet any new jazz fans, or see the great people I got to work with over the ten days of this year's TD Toronto Jazz Festival. Happily, there's a whole other wonderful world outside of festival-land (who knew?!), and on the festival front, we ended things on a high note...

Day ten started with a bit of a scramble. I had all the usual preparations to do (write the blog, prepare the interview) with the added tasks related to putting together a show of my own. Everything got done, and I was out the door and on my way to interview Norman Marshall Villeneuve for the final session of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Inside Track. It was another hot day, and with so many other events happening around the city (Canada Day, Pride, Eurocup) attendance was sparse for the 12:30 chat. Which is too bad - Norman had some great tales to tell of his 60-year career and some great advice for young drummers: play as much as possible, learn to keep time and stay out of the way, be sure to learn how to play ballads, and be sure to learn good brush technique. I enjoyed hearing about his history and his take on the jazz scene today. (But I didn't manage to get him to show-off his one-time regular tap dancing...)

The afternoon was quiet - Jeanette and Adelaide came for another visit, and we spent some time enjoying the green roof at Nathan Phillips Square. If you haven't checked it out, I encourage you to do so - we felt as though we had discovered a serene oasis in the middle of the city. Shortly before his 4 pm set DJ Agile arrived and he told me all about The Remix Project, an organization with whom he works, which aims to provide enrichment opportunities for talented youth, living in under served communities, who are seeking careers in the creative arts.

Agile took the stage at 4 pm and, before launching into his set, explained to the audience that he would be playing some of the jazzy tracks and clips sampled by hip-hop artists. What followed were some of the coolest sounds around - they were cool to begin with, but the association with songs by some of hip hop's biggest names added an extra level of intrigue. I enjoyed Agile's tune selection, but also the way he mixed them together. As our Groove & Graffiti masters Mediah and Elicser worked side-stage, responding to Agile's music, the evening's music was underway.

I stayed for a couple of tunes by up-and-comer Diana Salvatore and then headed off-site for a quick bite at The Rex, where Club Django was finishing off their first (and fun) set. It was a final moment of respite before a busy evening. I returned to the Outdoor Stage to catch the end of Agile's second set (and engaged in an interesting conversation with an avid jazz fan with whom I look forward to chatting further), then was back at The Rex by about 6:30 in order to prepare for my evening's gig with the Toronto Jazz Orchestra.

I have the great fortune of working with 19 (ish, depending on the project) musicians who, for some reason, are willing to go along with my crazy ideas. Last fall, I suggested we put together a show of big band arrangements of Radiohead music. We presented it in December, and it was such a success we were invited back to close out The Rex's jazz festival programming. And so, last night was the Radiohead Jazz Project 2 - we did two sets, then local Radiohead tribute band Idioteque closed out the night. It was, in a word, awesome. The musicians were at the top of their game, the audience was at standing-room and completely engaged, and we earned two standing ovations. Some other highlights of the night:

  • Premiering my most recent arrangement (this one of "Karma Police") and having it sound exactly as it did in my head (not a guaranteed result)
  • Playing "O Canada" to start of the second set, with the entire audience (as well as several passers-by on the street) standing and singing along
  • Having the audience demand an encore and, when we played "Karma Police" again as the encore, stopping the band so that the audience could sing the chorus

Of course, the challenge with having a gig of my own last night was missing most of the action on the Toronto Star Stage, where Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars opened up for Tower of Power (TOP). I got there just as TOP was playing the last two tunes of their set, and it was exactly the party in the tent we were hoping it would be: everyone was on his or her feet, dancing and singing along to the incredible funk and soul coming off the stage. A huge ovation greeted the end of the set, and, when their extended encore started with "You're Still a Young Man" (which, if you don't know it, has an absolutely killer trumpet line in its introduction) there was nowhere else I would rather have been. To hear even just four tunes from TOP was amazing - a reminder of how good funk and soul should sound - and I think everyone in the tent (based on the followup Facebook posts) felt like we had experienced something special. (And, by all reports, the Refugee All Stars were outstanding too.)

My night ended up back at The Rex, where Idioteque (Don Scott, Harley Card, Jessica Stuart, Teri Parker, Matt Fong and Ernesto Cervini) were tearing it up. The place was packed, people were singing along and, by the end of their long set - when the audience demanded encores - people were dancing on chairs and having a great time. It was quite a scene for The Rex, and an awesome way to wrap up the festival. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating - I feel so lucky to get to do what I do, and on the last day of the festival I got to do two of my favourite things: my job as Artistic Director for the festival, and my job as a musician.

I'll probably write a post in the near future with some specific reflections on the festival, but here are a few quick thoughts, based on the scribbles I made over the course of the ten days:

  • How do we best balance ticket prices with the cost of each show (artist fees, accommodations, etc.)?
  • How do we provide the most enjoyable environment for our Outdoor Stage audiences (chairs, shade) while keeping in mind budget, logistical resources, and requirements set out by Nathan Phillips Square (maintaing a 15-foot clearance for emergency vehicles, for example)?
  • Did all of the venues work for the shows programmed there? What were some of the challenges?

As usual, your comments (positive or negative, but always constructive, please) are welcome.

For now, I'm looking forward to a few days of holiday with my family - it will be a welcome opportunity to ensure that they all still recognize me, and a welcome opportunity to recharge. I had a fantastic ten days, and I'd like to thank everyone who came out to the shows, stopped to say hi, complimented me on the lineup, or offered constructive feedback; all of my colleagues who worked so hard to make this festival happen; the musicians of course for their outstanding contributions; and everyone who took the time to read my daily ramblings. And, though the festival is done, there's still lots of exploring to be done at www.torontojazz.com, including checking out the work of the TDJ News Corps - Erica, Marika and Mike worked hard throughout the festival with their mentors, conducting interviews and writing reviews. You can see the fruits of their labour here.

I look forward to doing it all again soon.

Josh

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