You have much to learn, young Padawan...

As I write this morning, I'm finding it hard to believe that it's already day eight...that today is our last day of activity on Nathan Phillips Square...that there are only two days left...it's been quite a ride!

Day seven of the festival was our lightest yet in terms of scheduled activity, but a statutory holiday (Canada Day) and glorious weather meant it was by far our busiest day on the square. The Paul Read Orchestra (PRO) got things started at noon as part of our Lunchtime Concerts. It's been a tradition at the festival to have a big band perform on Canada Day and the PRO was a great candidate to carry the torch. And, perhaps appropriately, they started with Rob McConnell's arrangement of O Canada. Rob's Boss Brass was frequently the featured Canada Day big band and so it was a touching tribute; the community is still feeling his loss. It didn't take long for the PRO to show that it was a worthy candidate for the hallowed spot: for 90 minutes they played Paul Read's interesting and varied compositions and arrangements, ranging from straight-ahead swing to the more contemporary Arc-en-Ciel, which took us on a musical journey through a thunderstorm. Made up of some of Canada's top jazz musicians (who also happen to be some of Canada's top jazz educators), the PRO provided an excellent kickoff to the day's activity.

Heather Bambrick was Chase Sanborn's guest as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop Series, and I left the square for a bit, taking advantage of a lighter schedule to have an actual sit-down lunch with my wife (who was beginning to question my existence...we haven't seen a lot of each other this past week) and parents. It was a treat, and upon our return to the square the Xylopholks were in action. Keeping in mind the advisories of Jazz Central Command I shouldn't say too much here...but it's fair to say that despite the jazz advisories, the duo is worth discovering...

At 5 pm, with the square a hive of activity, I introduced Buck 65 as part of the Afterwork Concerts and our annual Groove and Graffiti program. Buck (or is that Mr. 65?) put on a great show, much to the delight of the large and varied audience (young and old of all shapes and colours), working the microphone, a laptop and a turntable to great effect; guest vocalist Valery Gore added her unique brand of vocals. At the same time, aerosol artists Elicser and Mediah created works inspired by the performance.

At 6 pm, Nadine McNulty was the guest in the Jazz.FM91 Talkback Tent, discussing the African roots of jazz and the continued incorporation of traditional African music into jazz; it was an interesting warmup for the evening's mainstage concert featuring Angelique Kidjo, with the Souljazz Orchestra opening up and Soul Influence performing a capella as concertgoers arrived. This show was kind of my baby - I feel it's important to remember that jazz came very much from African music, no matter how much we like to claim it as our own - and it was a great night: Soul Influence set the scene with their fantastic four-part harmonies; the Souljazz Orchestra got the crowd going with their high-energy take on Afrobeat; and Angelique performed an incredible set, frequently getting the audience up on their feet, even walking through the audience with her microphone and, for the last few tunes, inviting about 40 audience members on stage with her to dance. The music was all energetic and exciting, and Angelique is a beautiful person - she is sincere in her desire to spread a message of peace and love through her music, and she was so gracious with her fans after the show, being sure to spend a few minutes with and offering encouraging words to each while signing autographs.

So why the title of this blog post? Well, despite what I thought was a strong musical program, ticket sales were weaker than we had hoped. It's probably too soon to delve too far into why more weren't sold - competition from Canada Day? Is Angelique less-known than I thought? Were tickets too expensive? - but I'm taking it as another teachable moment. I have no doubt that there is room at this festival for all kinds of jazz - from straight ahead to avant-garde and everything in between - but I'm still learning about which artists might be best suited for which venues, the types of shows that belong under the tent versus in a soft-seated theatre, etc. It's great to have colleagues inside and outside Toronto Downtown Jazz who have a lot more experience than I do - you can bet that I'll be chatting with a variety of people to get feeback and input, and look forward to having a bit more time to work with as we make preparations for next year's 25th anniversary spectacle...

Okay - back to last night's music. I slipped out of the mainstage concert for about an hour so that I could catch some of the Roy Hargrove Big Band at Koerner Hall. A relatively new project, the band plays arrangements by musicians within and outside the ensemble, ranging in style from straight-ahead swingers and vocal tunes (with guest Roberta Gambarini) to much more contemporary and solo-based repertoire. They seemed at home in all styles; the arrangements are top-notch and the various soloists added fire to the show. The hall contained the sound beautifully, and the audience often roared its approval. I was glad to see this band in action!

With all of our official shows wrapped up for the evening, I made my way over to The Rex to catch Rudresh Mahanthappa playing with local musicians Justin Gray (bass) and Adam Teixeira (drums). Rudresh is an outstanding alto saxophonist with mind-boggling technique and this was unapologetically modern jazz - enormous solos; long, sprawling compositions traveling between tempos and styles; complex melodies and harmonies. And I loved every minute. The veteran Rudresh played well with the two relative youngsters but he didn't need to hold anything back with Justin and Adam; they were right there with him every step of the way, adding their own fire and energy to the show. I find sometimes that club shows have a particular type of excitement and vitality which can't be duplicated in a theatre setting; it's been great over this past week to experience music in all kinds of venues. The Rudresh show was a great finish to the day.

So - as I mentioned earlier, today is our last day on Nathan Phillips Square (we'll be on Yonge-Dundas Square tomorrow for our free Chaka Khan/Macy Gray party), so if you haven't yet been to the square, today's the day! Here's what's on for day eight:

So - lots on the go again today. As always, beware the Xylpholks, and see you on the square!

Josh

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