That's a wrap!

Well my faithful festival followers, the party's over. It's been four days since we closed up the 2010 TD Toronto Jazz Festival, the tents are packed up until next year, and I've caught up on some sleep...so I thought I would bring you up to date on the last few days of the festival.

Friday July 2 - Day 8
Our last day of activity at Nathan Phillips Square began with a real treat at noon: a big band double-bill on the mainstage featuring the Jazz.FM91 Youth Band, under the direction of Jules Estrin, and the Monterey Jazz Festival Next Generation Orchestra. Both bands are "all-star" bands of sorts: the Jazz.FM91 Youth Band is made up of high school students from the Greater Toronto Area; the MJF group features the best high school students from across the United States. The MJF ensemble played more challenging repertoire and the players might be more experienced, but I enjoyed the youthful energy and enthusiasm both bands brought to the stage. For some of the students, this appearance might be their only at a major jazz festival, in front of a large and welcoming crowd, so it was fun to share in that experience. A great way to start the day!

At 2 pm I dropped by the HMV tent to say hello to Luis Mario Ochoa, who was getting set for his Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop with Errol Nazareth. The day's topic was the influence of Afro-Cuban music on jazz, and the workshop was enthusiastically received by all in attendance. With a few minutes free, I escaped to Yorkville for a glass of wine with a colleague and let me tell you - that is the place to go for some good people watching...It was fun to have a mid-afternoon break and then I was back to the square to catch some of Yvette Tollar's 5 pm show. It was a good set; Yvette sang an interesting variety of pop, folk and jazz...and how often do we get to see lap-steel guitar on stage at a jazz festival?!

At 6 pm I swung (ha!) by the Jazz.FM91 Broadcast Centre to check in with Mike Daley, a great local blues and folk guitarist, before his Talkback session; then I was off to the Music Gallery to emcee the night's Next Wave Series concert. Now, my faithful festival followers (FFF?), you know from my previous postings that I've been excited to have the Next Wave Series back in the festival this year...but that I've also experienced the disappointment of poor ticket sales (despite some great performances). Tonight's show was the perfect combination: outstanding music and a packed house - standing room only, even! Local percussion duo Octopus (Germaine Liu and Mark Zurawinski) teamed up with guitarist Ken Aldcroft to present a fantastic opening set, showing off how (in my opinion) to do improvised music well: they were clearly listening to each other, interacting with each other, and the improvised, 40-minute set (one long tune) took the audience on a clear journey with beginning, middle and end. Following the intermission, internationally acclaimed improvising guitarist Fred Frith immediately grabbed the audience with his solo performance featuring an array of electronics, his unique playing style and unconventional tuning systems. I was sorry to have to leave, but there were other great shows to get to...

From the Music Gallery I was off the the Trane Studio to catch some of the Terry Clarke Trio. I was glad to see a packed house - Terry (drums), Don Thompson (piano and bass) and Phil Dwyer (sax and piano) are three of Canada's best jazz musicians and they deserve the attention. They were on fire. Though I've seen Phil and Don play several times in a small group setting, I had frequently seen Terry only in medium or large jazz ensembles...it was nice to see him leading his own trio: he had more room to stretch out and show off why he's played with the best jazz musicians in the world. Each musician is outstanding and together they created an energy on stage which brought frequent hoots and hollers from the audience. Plus, they demonstrated the trademark jazz musician sense of humour, for example when Don Thompson played some Hans Groiner...It was a treat to see the trio in action.

My next stop was the mainstage to catch the last few tunes of John Scofield's blues/gospel set. He had the tent rocking. Here again we would have preferred to sell more tickets, but those in attendance got a great show: from Shakura S'Aida's raucous opening set to Sco's last note, it was a party - exactly what we were looking for on closing night under the tent.

With everything wrapped up on the square, I made my way over the The Rex to catch the Geoffrey Keezer Trio. The visit served a dual purpose: I was certainly excited to see the amazing pianist in action with Essiet Essiet on bass and Jon Wikan on drums, but I also was looking forward to meeting him in person in advance of his performance with my big band, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra (TJO), two nights later. His visit (a collaboration between the TJO and The Rex Hotel, with assistance from the TD Toronto Jazz Festival) had been in the works for almost nine months, and after so many emails and phone calls it would be nice to actually meet the guy! The trio sounded great, and Geoffrey's well-known technique was on display; the show wrapped up just before 2 am and the crowd had hardly thinned, hanging on to his every note.

Saturday July 3 - Day 9
Although official festival activity didn't kick off this day until the late afternoon, it was a busy day for me. I picked up Geoffrey Keezer at 11:30 am and we were off to a noon rehearsal with the big band. It was an intense but satisfying rehearsal - Geoffrey knows exactly what he wants to hear musically, and he didn't let us get away with anything less. He was generous with the musicians in the band, and communicated clearly and succinctly when he wanted something done differently. By the time rehearsal ended at 3 pm, we were exhausted but looking forward to the show the next night. On the drive back to the hotel, we passed by Nathan Phillips Square; it was a bit eerie to see the square - where the night before John Scofield had been rocking out on stage - devoid of tents and somewhat empty. It was a clear indication that one part of the festival was done...but there was a still a big party to come.

I ended up dropping Geoffrey at the corner of Bay and Dundas...and realized only after the fact that a high-risk police takedown (guns drawn, etc.) was happening only a half-block away. It was a bit surreal. Geoffrey was okay, but I'm pretty sure that somewhere in my training over the past ten years there's something written like "Try to avoid depositing an internationally acclaimed guest artist in the middle of a police takedown." But I'll have to check my notes...

The evening's official festival activity began shortly before 6 pm with a sponsor recognition reception at the Hard Rock Cafe. It was a good opportunity to meet some of the people who help to make the festival possible and to thank them in person for their support. The venue also provided a great view of Yonge-Dundas Square, where thousands of fans were already amassing for the Chaka Khan/Macy Gracy double-bill which would kick off 90 minutes later. By the time the Lost Fingers (a gypsy-jazz trio from Quebec which interprets pop tunes) finished their opening set, the square was packed, making maneuvering through the crowd a challenge! But, it's exactly what we had hoped for: people of every age, colour, shape and size were on the square for the free show and, when Chaka took the stage shortly after 7:30, the crowd erupted in cheers. It was a great vibe and Chaka's performance built off the energy she was getting from the audience...and she gave back tenfold. I had to slip off to emcee the final Next Wave Series concert but when I left there was a real party atmosphere on the square.

At the Music Gallery this night we had the NKLS Quartet opening up for Doran-Stucky-Studer & Tacuma playing the music of Jimi Hendrix (in this, the 40th year since Jimi's death). The Quartet set the scene well: their original compositions move between conventional jazziness and free improvisation; for me, sub drummer Joe Sorbara particularly shone. After the intermission, Erika Stucky (voice), Christy Doran (guitar), Jamaaladeen Tacuma (bass) and Fredy Studer (drums) took over and blew the roof off the Gallery with their interpretations of Jimi Hendrix classics. It was a great fusion of classic rock with contemporary jazz, and from all reports (I had to slip out...on to the next show...) the audience ate it up, demanding encores.

My next stop was the Trane Studio, where Andy Milne and Dapp Theory were in action (Andy Milne, piano/keyboards; John Moon, percussive poetry; Aaron Kruziki, saxophones; Chris Tordini, basses; Kenny Grohowski, drums). I was expecting a groovy, hip-hop influenced set so I was surprised to walk in during an intense, long-form composition. Surprised, but not disappointed - the band sounded excellent, with Andy moving between acoustic piano and keyboard, and Aaron playing sax and some kind of wooden flute (I've forgotten what it's called!); as the set progressed, some groovier beats emerged, and spoken word artist John Moon had some room to do his thing. I was particularly intrigued by John's performance; I don't know a lot about the art of spoken word and was impressed with his flow and improvisation (in speaking with him after the set, he said that about 70% of what he was doing was made up on the spot). The audience was happy to go along for the musical ride, and it was a great opportunity to see this interesting ensemble live in performance.

From the Trane I headed back down to Yonge-Dundas Square to catch the final refrains of Macy Gray's set. The audience had diminished neither in size or enthusiasm, so when she wrapped up her set with the hit "I Try", it was still very much a party. Everyone seemed to have a good time and one of the most impressive aspects of the evening was the dispersal of the crowd: quick, easy and peaceful...almost as if 10,000 people just disappeared! Not me, though - it was up to the Hard Rock Cafe for the end of Christian Scott's set.

I first saw Christian Scott live at the IAJE conference in Toronto a few years ago, and I admit to being only moderately enthusiastic about that particular show. On this night, however, none of the musicians in the quintet was holding anything back. Each member was giving his all, and as an ensemble they were playing at the top of their game: time came and went, chord changes came and went, and they were always together, always interacting. When they finished their last tune the crowd roared and insisted on an encore; when the show wrapped up the musicians were very generous with their time, saying hi to fans and signing CDs. I was glad to have caught the last two tunes, at least...shortly after 12:30 am the Robi Botos Quartet took the stage for the late-night jam and it was a great hang, wrapping up the last busy day of the festival.

Sunday July 4 - Day 10
So, my FFF, you know how sometimes life sends you a curve? On day 10 of the festival, I had intended to get out to the Shops on Don Mills to catch the Jane Bunnett show at 12:30 pm...but a sudden health crisis that morning landed my wife in the hospital. She is doing okay now, but it could have been quite serious (she ended up staying the night) and we couldn't take any chances. I was glad to be able to be with her for most of the day on Sunday; in that situation, family trumped jazz...

Only two official festival shows were scheduled for Day 10, both later in the evening: the Sandro Dominelli Trio at the Trane Studio, and the No Smoking Orchestra at the Sound Academy. I wouldn't get to either - I had my own show to prepare for!

Shortly after 7 pm (and with my wife being watched over by my parents), I headed out to meet a few musicians from the TJO for dinner along with Geoffrey Keezer; we took the stage shortly after 10 pm and played two sets. In each set we played a few tunes alone, then brought up Geoffrey to play on the latter half of the set. We performed seven of his compositions and arrangements, and he held nothing back: as leader of the band, it was my job to give Geoffrey lots of room to solo and bring the musicians back in when appropriate. At times, though, I was worried that the musicians were paying no attention to me - Geoffrey sounded amazing and we were all enraptured. The gig was a blast; a friend of mine jokingly sent me an email shortly after the show: "Geoff Keezer's alright but I think he could practice up his two handed independence - ha ha!!" A bit of musician humour - the author of the email is a great piano player who was awe-struck - as we all were - by Geoffrey's playing. At the end of the show a number of the musicians hung out into the wee hours (including one trumpet player for whom this was the last gig with the band after 12 years!) and it was a great way to wrap up a somewhat stressful day; it also provided a great bookend to the festival overall.

So - there you have it. Ten days in the life of an Artistic Director. I'm going to take a bit of a break for now and return to my weekly blogging starting next week. I hope you were able to take in some of this year's festival or, if not, at least experience it vicariously through these posts. As always, you're welcome to drop me a line, leave a comment, or just sit silently wondering how and why they let me near a computer...

Talk to you soon.

Josh

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