Two for the price of one

I had a hectic morning yesterday - as you may know, my big band performed at 12:30 as part of the Big Band Series - and so I'm a day behind on my blogging. As a result, I'm going to keep the two days worth of summaries fairly brief…

Tuesday June 25

  • 12:30 pm - Jim Galloway and his Wee Big Band on the Toronto Star Mainstage. A swinging performance; especially nice to hear the title track from Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder" suite.
  • 2:00 pm (ish) - I had some editing to do of TDJ News Corps articles. Check out what our two News Corps members are writing about this year…
  • 3:00 pm - A quick hello to the Boxcar Boys as they prepared for their Nathan Phillips Square roaming gig. They kept the audience entertained with their mix of 30's and 40's sounding tunes (some from the era, and some originals).
  • 6:00 pm - After an afternoon siesta I made my way over to the Distillery to hear some of the Amy McConnell/William Sperandei quintet. Excellent interpretations of jazz and pop repertoire. Amy has a beautiful voice and William must be one of Toronto's most exciting trumpeters.
  • 8:00 pm - Nikki Yanofsky at Koerner Hall. Her voice is maturing nicely as she gets older and she used it well. I feel as though she's still figuring out her comfort zone repertoire-wise.
  • 9:00 pm - My timing was a bit off - I managed to catch only the tail-end of Geoffrey Keezer's first solo set at the Jazz Bistro. A good crowd was giving him their complete attention.
  • 9:45 pm - Off to the Mainstage for some of the David Sanborn/Bob James/Steve Gadd extravaganza (with Scott Colley on bass). This was a pretty happening jazz show; I was most impressed (in the portion I saw) with Scott's playing, but enjoyed hearing the four musicians interacting.
  • 10:30 pm - To the Horseshoe Tavern for the Robert Glasper Experiment. It was packed, the music was groovy, and the audience enthusiastic. I could write an entire blog post's worth of reflections on this show - the combination of wide open vamps and killer soloing; the demographic of the crowd; the vibe in the room…but I only have so much time. Maybe it will be a post-festival follow up post.

I turned in a bit on the early side (shortly after midnight) so that I could get some sleep before yesterday's big band show. When I woke up yesterday morning here is the text message from Tom Tytel at The Rex which was waiting for me (sent at 1:47 that morning): "Hope you're not sleeping…Robert Glasper just joined the Bobby Sparks Trio. It's bananas in here!" That's what the jazz festival is all about…

Wednesday June 26
I spent the good part of yesterday morning preparing for the big band show - figuring out the set list, writing musician cheques…you know, all the glorious stuff. With everything organized and my nerves a-flutter, I made my way to the square.

  • 11:00 am - Interview with Global. Another example of a good interview - interesting questions, lots of time for complete answers.
  • 11:30 am - Call time for me and the musicians. In some ways, the most nerve-wracking part for me as a band leader. Will everyone show up, on time, with their music, ready to play? Inevitably the answer is yes, but I seem unable to worry at least a little bit, every time…
  • 12:30 pm - After a good sound check (kudos to our sound crew, who not only do a great job technically, but helped us all feel welcome and relaxed), it was show time. We had a blast. Phil Nimmons, the guest of honour, had a blast. The audience had a blast. As a band leader and composer (whose work was given its world premiere) I could not have been happier. More below.
  • 4:00 pm (ish) - After a post-concert celebratory repast with a few band members, I returned to Nathan Phillips Square to catch some of Band Bahja Brass' roving set. They're a fun group, melding East Indian marching traditions with jazz, funk, R&B and hip-hop.
  • 7:00 pm - I hopped in a car and made my way up to Shops at Don Mills for some of Maylee Todd's set. Fun, eccentric, eclectic…she's kind of hard to encapsulate. What I saw was highly entertaining, and the audience was clearly enjoying the show. Plus - the Shops have done a great job this year with their setup. If you have a chance, I encourage you to check it out.
  • 8:00 pm - Over to the Jazz Bistro for Carmen Souza's first set. We would have preferred a larger crowd, but those in attendance were kept entertained by the quartet's mix of jazz, West African, Brazilian and Cuban sounds. The only drag was a quite noisy private party on the second floor. Not audible while the musicians were performing, but certainly audible between tunes. A necessary part of the business model, but still a distraction.
  • 9:30 pm - Back to the Mainstage for Trombone Shorty. As a jealous musician type, I really don't want to like him. Trombone, trumpet, and vocals? The fact is, he's pretty great at all three, and his show is 100% party from beginning to end. I had a lot of fun, and the audience members' backsides rarely touched their chairs…
  • 10:45 pm - To the Horseshoe Tavern for Jason Moran's Fats Waller Dance Party featuring Meshell Ndgeocello. This show was poorly attended, unfortunately, but if the musicians noticed, they certainly didn't let the audience numbers affect their performance. This was a groove-based, high energy set of Fats Waller interpretations, and the crowd happily took up the invitation to dance, responding enthusiastically to each tune.
  • 12:00 am (ish) - My final stop of the night was The Rex Hotel for the Bobby Sparks Trio. Given the happenings of the previous night (Robert Glasper joining the trio), I had stopped for a preparatory espresso on my way to the Horseshoe. I'm glad I did. Casey Benjamin (saxophonist with Robert Glasper's Experiment) was the first to join the stage. Then Robert Glasper and eventually all of Jason Moran's crew showed up. It was more of a hang than a jam; Casey was the only musician to get up on stage. Until about 1:45 am, when the trio wrapped up their official set. That's when Robert Glasper, Mark Kelly (bassist for the Moran show) and Charles Haynes (drummer for the Moran show) joined Bubba Sparks on the stage. The crowd was already revved up by the trio's performance; now it was clear we were all staying up well past our bedtimes…

On Phil Nimmons and leading a big band
Yesterday's Toronto Jazz Orchestra concert was special to me for a few reasons. First, it was an honour to play on a stage which I had attended so frequently as a young, impressionable jazz musician. Second, we were there to celebrate Phil Nimmons. Third, we were giving the world premiere of a suite I had written in honour of Phil.

Leading a big band is a helluva lot of work. Coordinating the schedules of 18 musicians (sometimes more, depending on the project) for rehearsals and performances is no small feat, and we certainly don't do it for the money. ("Not a lot" divided by 18 is, well, you can do the math…) But when we fired up the first tune yesterday afternoon, I was reminded of why I love being in front of a band: I don't think there's any sound like the sound of a big band. Plus, the energy I feel from the musicians is incredible. As long as I'm keeping them interested artistically, they give their all. And for yesterday's show they were firing on all cylinders. When it came time to play my suite, the musicians performed as if they had been playing it for years. As a conductor, a band leader and a composer, I was so happy with the show.

I was also so pleased to have Phil Nimmons in the audience. He has truly been on of my greatest inspirations - in the way he lead the big band when I was a student at U of T, in the way he composes and performs, and in the way he instills his values upon everyone who interacts with him. Two words come to mind when I think of Phil (well, more, but these two in particular): swing, and positivity. After the show, Phil was so humble and appreciative. I presented him with a copy of the score for the suite, and he asked if all of the musicians in the band would be willing to sign it. He talked about having mixed emotions when listening to his compositions - what I can only assume is joy at hearing them performed mixed with nostalgia for the glory days of Nimmons N' Nine plus Six. This was a show I'll surely remember for many years. It couldn't have happened without Phil.

Here's what's up for today:

  • Hilario Duran & His Latin Jazz Big Band - 12:30 pm, Toronto Star Mainstage, Nathan Phillips Square (free)
  • The Big Band Slam - 2-5 pm, The Rex Hotel (free)
  • Heavyweights Brass Band - 3-6 pm, Nathan Phillips Square (free)
  • Andre Roy Trio - 6 pm, Pure Spirits Patio in the Distillery District (free)
  • Diana Braithwaite & Chris Whiteley - 7 pm, Shops at Don Mills (free)
  • Gregory Porter - 7 pm, Enwave Theatre
  • Canadian Jazz Quartet with Randy Sandke - 7:30 pm, Homesmith Bar and Old Mill Toronto
  • Bettye LaVette (James Hunter Six opens) - 8 pm, Toronto Star Mainstage
  • Marianne Trudel Trifolia - 8 pm, Jazz Bistro
  • The Herbaliser - 10 pm, The Great Hall

Plus, as usual, the great club shows. Completes listings for today are available here.

My tweets are below; I hope to see you on the square!


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