What a day!

To say that yesterday was an "eventful" day in Toronto is a bit of an understatement. Happily, though, we were unscathed at Nathan Phillips Square, and none of the music suffered. Here's a run-down:

The day started with rain. A fair bit of it. The noon show, however, was under the shelter of the mainstage tent and it was great to see a nice crowd out to enjoy Darren Sigesmund's Strands. Darren (trombone) was accompanied by Mike Murley (tenor sax), Reg Schwager (guitar), Jim Vivian (bass), Ethan Ardelli (drums) and Eliana Cuevas (voice), and they were playing music from their recently released CD. The group sounded excellent. Darren's music (he composed all of the pieces performed yesterday) is a bit complicated, but each soloist made it sound easy; Eliana Cuevas sounded beautiful with her wordless singing - her voice became another instrument in the ensemble. The audience was appreciative and, despite the rain, it was a great way to kick off the Lunchtime Concerts series.

With his instruments packed up, saxophonist Mike Murley then made his way over to the HMV Tent for his Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop with guest host Ted O'Reilly. The session was set up as a classic "Blindfold Test" - Ted played a variety of tracks and Mike's job was to identify the saxophonist on the recording and talk about that player's influence on Mike's own development. Ted and Mike were having a good time listening to some of the great saxophonists and it was interesting to hear Mike talk about his career path. These workshops continue each day at 2 pm (check the schedule).

I stole home for a bit following the workshop - the weather was cooler and damper than I had expected (blind optimism - a quick check of the weather report in the morning would have enlightened me to the meteorological reality that was to be) and so I needed another layer or two. On my walk back to the square I passed by some of the damage left behind by the small, violent group of "protestors" along Yonge Street. It was eerie - there was no traffic on Yonge Street (Toronto's busiest street, running right through the city) save for the occasional police convoy, and there were smashed store windows everywhere. It made me feel a bit unsafe and on edge in a part of the city I know well and frequent regularly. And, with news that the TTC (Toronto's public transit system) had shut down through the entire downtown core, I was worried about how our evening concerts would be effected.

In any case, I made it back to the square to discover that all was in order. Herbie Hancock's ensemble arrived relatively on time to start their sound check; Club Django arrived on time for their Afterwork Series concert; and a nice crowd was gathering. We got a bit delayed when Herbie got stuck in traffic on his was to his sound check, which meant Club Django started closer to 5:45, but beyond that everything continued to run smoothly. Club Django did a fun set of "gypsy jazz" for an enthusiastic audience, Brandi Disterheft was in the Talkback Tent discussing her career path and musical choices, and the stage was being set for an excellent night of music.

One of my goals for yesterday was to catch Miguel Zenon in performance at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Centre. Miguel is an enormous talent and an incredibly exciting alto saxophonist. Getting to the Enwave was a challenge - with most of the downtown core closed to traffic (including the TTC), the only way to get there in good time was to hail a cab. It took a few minutes but finally I found one and made my way down to Harbourfront. Unfortunately, the moratorium on public transit and traffic had a serious effect on audience turnout...which is a shame - it was an outstanding performance. Miguel Zenon is both a MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow, and his performance clearly demonstrated why he was deserving of those two honours. Along with Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and Henry Cole (drums), Miguel performed for an hour straight, taking the audience on a musical journey. Each musician got several moments to shine; Luis Perdomo especially stood out for me with his dexterity on the piano and his rhythmic concepts. Meanwhile, Miguel showed his total mastery of the alto saxophone, playing complicated lines but also through his use of a variety of tones, attacks, and vibrato. By the end of the hour, I found myself excited, refreshed, and ready for more music! I wanted to get back to the mainstage so slipped out at intermission, but I know the audience was treated to an outstanding second set with Hilario Duran's Big Band, one of the best large jazz ensembles in the country.

I made it back to the mainstage in time to catch the end of Brandi Disterheft's opening set, and she was showing off why she's been getting so much good press recently. She and her bandmates William Sperandei (trumpet), Chris Gale (tenor sax), Stacie McGregor (piano) and Sly Juhas (drums) played a varied and interesting set, with Brandi playing bass and demonstrating her recently unveiled vocal chops. They got a great and well-deserved reception from the packed house. The set change was significant but an incredible anticipation filled the room...and when Herbie Hancock took the stage the audience erupted in applause. What followed was nearly two hours of a Herbie Hancock retrospective - he performed music from a wide range of his career including one of the funkiest versions of "Watermelon Man" I've ever heard...and even pulled out the keytar! Herbie was joined by Greg Phillinganes (vocals, keyboards), Lionel Loueke (guitar), young bass phenom Tal Wilkenfeld, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and an outstanding vocalist - new to me - named Christina Trane. The show wrapped up with several tracks from Herbie's new CD, The Imagine Project, which features arrangements of pop, folk, and jazz tunes, with an underlying goal of uniting the world in music. It's a lofty goal - and one which felt a bit out of reach with all of the G20 shenanigans from earlier in the day - but the full house under the tent was right there with Herbie. After a rousing standing ovation the band returned to play, of course, "Chameleon" - it was a great way to end the night on the mainstage.

As with Maceo the night before, Herbie was very generous with his time backstage - he spent a few minutes with each fan who made the trip over to the VIP tent, and was sure to thank them for coming out. A class act for sure. With mainstage activity wound up, I headed over to The Rex to catch Sparks, League & Thomas, featuring the keyboardist and drummer from Roy Hargrove's RH Factor. They were grooving - "in the pocket" - and, despite all of the unrest downtown, a good crowd was out, bopping along. So - quite a day!

Day three is our busiest yet: Jim Galloway at noon, Jaffa Road at 5 pm, James Hunter and Taj Mahal on the mainstage at 8 pm, Harry Connick Jr. at the Canon Theater at 8 pm, David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco at Koerner Hall at 8 pm, and the start of our Next Wave Series at the Music Gallery with the Kyle Brenders and Eric Boeren quartets. There's also Steve Bellamy's workshop, Richard Flohil's talkback, Esthero at Lee's Palac, Billy's Band at The Mod Club...and somewhere in there I've got a rehearsal of my own! I don't think I'll be able to get to everything, but I'm going to try...I hope to see you out and about.


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