Passing the Torch

I'm a bit late in writing the post today - I got to enjoy a visit from my family this morning (see the picture above). So it's just about 3 pm and I'm sitting at The Rex about the enjoy David Gilmore and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, much needed Americano at hand...

Day 7 was the third in a string of a very busy three days at the festival. The Lula All Stars got things started in fine fashion with their 12:30 Lunchtime Series concert - and also set the scene for today's "Passing the Torch" theme (more on that later). The All Stars feature some of the outstanding Latin American musicians now calling Toronto home; the groove with which they play is infectious. I had trouble sitting still - for 60 minutes straight they played high energy, top quality renditions of what leader Sean Bellaviti called "music of the Americas".

I had intended to bounce around a bit in the afternoon but got caught up doing one thing or another. A favourite part of the festival for me each year is catching up with friends and colleagues; sometimes I prefer to let good conversation win out over jazzventuring. But I did get over to the Hilton to enjoy the duo of Shannon Butcher and Ross MacIntyre. As mentioned in a previous post, Ross has long been one of my favourite local bass players; I've also always enjoyed Shannon's singing and have worked with her on a few occasions. Yesterday Shannon was in especially good form, and they seemed to be having a blast singing their mix of jazz standards, jazzified pop tunes and original compositions.

My next stop was the Mill Street Beer Hall patio in the Distillery District for another duo - this one featuring Mike Herriott (flugel horn, trombone) and Sean Harkness (guitar). The patio is a new venue for us this year so there are some kinks to work out, but I enjoyed yesterday's performance - we've hired the duo a few times now and they are each exceptionally musical players. The duo of trumpet and guitar is a bit unusual, but their mix of standards and originals has gone over well in every venue we've every booked them into; yesterday was no exception.

A quick (ish) rundown on the rest of the evening:

6:30 pm - Gwyneth Herbert took the stage with her trio on the Outdoor Stage at Nathan Phillips Square. Gwyneth is touring Canada from the UK, and I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that you will have heard very few singers like her. She started her set singing in the stratosphere, quickly demonstrating her impressive voice; in short order she then showed off: her interesting songwriting; her ukulele playing; her french horn playing. Her performance is quirky, unique and compelling - the audience seemed perfectly happy to play along. I had to leave before I saw what she did with the balloons on stage...I'm glad we were able to present her Toronto debut.

8:00 pm - I caught the first three tunes of the Joey Alexander Trio at Koerner Hall. Joey's appearance at the festival took a lot of work - negotiations with his agent, internal discussions about finding the right venue and, on his side, securing travel visas - so it was a bit of a relief to see him finally take the stage. He is acclaimed for good reason - his facility on the instrument is impressive, and he's already composing interesting, soulful tunes. I look forward to following his development over the next several years - he is one to watch.

9:00 pm - By the time I made it to the Jane Mallett Theatre, I was able to catch only the last 25 minutes or so of the Avishai Cohen Trio performance. But if what I saw was any indication, the crowd was treated to a groovy, intense set of music. The last two tunes I saw (before the encores) were high energy, polyrhythmic affairs, with solos eliciting whoops and applause from the audience. When the final note was played, the trio was given an immediate - and noisy - standing ovation. The group returned to the stage for a more subtle interpretation of "Nature Boy" with Avishai holding down the vocals; they then launched into a more upbeat number only to be felled by a malfunctioning bass - when Avishai revealed the instrument was not holding its tuning, he changed tack, electing to sing a beautiful duo with pianist Omri Mor (who earlier in the set had elicited those whoops and hollers). A beautiful way to end the concert.

10:00 pm - I made it to the square in time to catch the first 30 minutes of Jane Bunnett's set - she was celebrating last night the 25th anniversary of Spirits of Havana, her exploration of Cuban musical culture and subsequent recording of the same name which combined Cuban and Toronto musicians. The music I heard was excellent, high energy stuff; it was a treat to hear Jane in this larger band setting, and to hear some of the original musicians who helped bring Spirits of Havana to life. Another treat - David Virelles. The Cuban pianist, who called Toronto home for several years (and has now done very well for himself in New York), just happened to be in town; he sat in for one tune and showed off why he's making waves south of the border.

(Somewhere in here I picked up a Peanut Buster Parfait from the local ice cream truck. Isn't ice cream supposed to, like, be cold and melt and stuff? 2/10, would not recommend...)

10:45 pm - Robi Botos and his quartet, with special guest saxophonist Seamus Blake, had just launched into their closing set when I arrived at the Jazz Bistro. Robi and bassist Paul Novotny I have heard often in the city and they were in fine form; drummer Mark McLean had played the previous day leading his own band, but I enjoyed hearing him in last night's more straight ahead swing setting. The highlight for me was Seamus Blake - I've heard Seamus play a number of times and have even hired him as a guest artist with my big band, but I'm fairly happy to hear him play every time. He's an exciting player and, as I've mentioned in other posts when singling out certain musicians, I find his soloing very melodic. His technique is impressive - he often plays from the very bottom to the very top of the instrument's range, and often quickly - but I'm always intrigued by the lines he creates. Music for music's sake; not just notes for notes' sake.

12:00 am - My final stop of the night was The Rex Hotel. Eventually it would be jam time; getting there a bit early meant having a few moments to hang with colleagues and (probably unadvisedly) add to my #jazzfestdiet. The early arrival also meant catching the last bit of Progger's set. I've heard their name but never their music; I enjoyed their fusion of jazz and rock. When jam time came along, the bar was hopping - a good mix of general public and local musicians. The music was swinging and I even got up on stage with two other trumpeters for a completely unnecessary (but frankly pretty fun) three-trumpet version of Clifford Brown's "Sandu". The vibe on stage was welcoming, and I enjoyed seeing musicians of various ages and stages sit in.

And that brings me all the way back to the idea of "Passing the Torch." Throughout the day yesterday I feel were examples of one musical tradition or another being passed down from one generation to the next. Jane Bunnett's work with Spirits of Havana, for example, helped to facilitate a local Latin American jazz scene and therefore, eventually, the Lula All Stars. With Joey Alexander and Ramsey Lewis on the same stage (Ramsey's trio followed Joey's at Koerner last night), two different generations were represented, with the younger Joey picking up in part on what Ramsey helped to establish. At Jane Mallett Theatre, I heard Omri Mor for the first time; he was brought into Avishai Cohen's trio at the age of 27 - the same age at which Avishai was invited to join one of Chick Corea's trio. And jam sessions are all about mentorship, sharing knowledge, encouraging younger musicians to push themselves forward. Having a musician like Bob Brough (a local sax veteran) on stage at the same time as someone like David Cruz (one of our News Corps members but also a guitar student at York University) reflects the long-standing tradition of mentorship - of "passing the torch" - in jazz.

Some quick Day 7 stats:

Number of instruments I saw Gwyneth Hebert use yesterday/number of notes she sang: no less than 3/most of them (seriously - check her out)
Poor food choices made at inappropriate times of the day: nachos, chicken wings, aforementioned soft serve
Number of high notes in last night's three-trumpet high note battle: zero. We actually got through a three-trumpet tune without a high note battle.

Today's schedule (what's left of it) is much quieter. Jim Galloway's Wee Big Band, under the direction of Martin Loomer, swung hard at 12:30 pm; the students from Berklee College, currently playing at The Rex with their faculty member/leader David Gilmore sound great. There are shows at the Hilton, Second Cup and the Home Smith Bar. Kalabash plays at 6:30, Michael Franti at 8:30 and David Braid at 8 and 10 pm (though the 8 pm is sold out). The complete schedule of the day's activity is available here and, for tomorrow's schedule (the last day of official programming), go here.

The festival has been a blast so far...here's to two more days of great music.

See you on the square!

Josh

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