Jazz_Stories_1_-_Pangman.jpgResearching the subject of this month’s column, I found myself on the website of the late Herman Leonard, jazz photography master and pioneer, whose work provides a crystal clear window to the smoke-filled Greenwich Village of jazz’s golden age. To name a few examples, Leonard’s soulful stills of Ellington, Parker, Davis and Holiday provide definitive glimpses into each artist’s personality, one magical moment at a time. Google him and you will discover a remarkable career in which this man immortalized everyone from Art Blakey to Zoot Sims. Herman Leonard’s priceless prints are collector’s items that sell for top dollar, which is cool considering that some were shot for free in exchange for the price of admission.

Which brings me to my interview with Bill Beard, local shutterbug with a real good eye and a heart to match. His knees are not so good – as we sit to speak at a local Timmy’s he is readying himself for surgery, and disappointed to be missing out on live jazz until he heals up. For Beard photography is a serious hobby which provides both pleasure for himself, and a service to the community.

“I was senior project manager in IT for a large bank, but I’d always been photography-minded,” he says. “I was taking city stuff, abstract, some nature. No musicians.”

All this changed around the time of his retirement, when his brother, a big jazz fan, brought him out to see local jazz group Red Hot Ramble, a unique local quintet that performs music inspired by New Orleans. Beard brought his camera along and began taking photos of the band; before long he became a regular fan and their official photographer.

“I took their pictures and got to know them, kept shooting, then I branched out into all sorts of other things. One of the great things about doing this is that I’ve become friends with a lot of these musicians. I remember one night a few months back we were at the Old Mill to see Joe Sealy, and then I said I was going to The Rex, so a whole bunch of these singers and players all joined me. There I was hanging out with these amazing artists and staying out late at night…felt like I was living the life! I certainly never spent nights like this when I was in the corporate world.”

Just how did Beard initially begin to hone his craft?

“The best thing that I ever did was join a photography club – the Toronto Guild of Photographic Art, as it was called then, back in 2004. Being surrounded by all these amazing photographers, I learned a lot from them, and before you know it they asked me to come along and shoot with them. Me! With them! I couldn’t believe it. I guess it’s kind of like when a musician is asked to sit in with a great band. I loved it and I learned a lot.”

Nowadays he greatly enjoys volunteering with JAZZ.FM91.

“It’s the greatest gig for someone who’s retired. I get to go to all their shows, meet the artists and photograph them. I’ve learned about so many different types of jazz!”

On the challenges of photographing this music:

“The biggest one for a photographer is the low light in most clubs, so once you have the right equipment you can get past that. It’s also very important to know the person you’re photographing and the special things they do on stage, so you have to watch for a while, then you photograph them. Everyone has their own special way of singing or playing an instrument and you want to capture their uniqueness. The biggest thing is to watch. It’s like when you go out to do street photography. You don’t just get off the streetcar and start shooting. You always take the time to look around. It’s the same with jazz musicians. Certain bass players will play the bass a certain way, same with horn players and so on. So you’re always kind of waiting for them to do that thing that they do. You want to get that picture that captures their energy.”

Red Hot Ramble was the first band that inspired Beard, so they hold a special place in his heart – and a lot of space on his hard drive.

“They’re the most fun band I have ever photographed. They’re always having fun on stage. And they’re great people. I know them all now. They’re joking around when they play, and the music is so high energy, it’s contagious fun.”

The band’s drummer and one of its founding members, Glenn Anderson, sings Beard’s praises:

“Upon retiring, Bill took every opportunity he could, in every venue possible, to photograph Red Hot Ramble. We are a five-piece band, and Bill soon became our unofficial “sixth Rambler,” even travelling with the band to hone his photography skills. Over the past four years, it has been interesting and exciting to compare the parallels in the evolution and growth of both Red Hot Ramble as a band and our friend Bill Beard as a photographer.”

Check out Red Hot Ramble’s monthly gig at The Rex Hotel on a Sunday afternoon from 3:30 to 6:30 and it will be difficult for you not to smile all the way home. Oozing charm with every note, Roberta Hunt plays double duty on piano and vocals, while swingin’ firecracker Alison Young on saxophones is an active volcano of fiery soul. Along with the solid-as-a-rock Anderson on drums, the band is made all the more red hot by trombonist Jamie Stager and co-founding bassist Jack Zorawski. I asked leading lady Hunt how the band got started:

“Red Hot Ramble was conceived by Jack Zorawski and Glenn Anderson. They imagined the sound of Alison Young and me joining forces long before Alison and I had even met! They wanted to build on their love of traditional New Orleans jazz and blues by adding a saucier, bolder and funkier angle. Turns out their idea was a keeper! New Orleans music is about groove and ensemble playing while leaving room for individuals to share the spotlight. RHR truly is the sum of all parts, kinda like a spicy gumbo of music!”

Pangman: Another artist that Beard loves to photograph is vocalist Alex Pangman, who, fresh off a national tour, plays a few groovy gigs this month, from Rimouski to Gravenhurst, and a few Toronto stops too, including the Reservoir on September 10.

“I started photographing Alex with JAZZ.FM and later branched out to also photograph her when she sings with her husband Colonel Tom. She’s such a nice lady and so photogenic on stage. Always wears great outfits. And I love her music.”

Pangman is a great admirer of Beard as well: “It has been really interesting to watch Bill’s photographic style develop around his ardent appreciation of jazz music, musicians and imagery. More than that, he understands that live music is best. I fully believe he’s in the audience as much to enjoy the music as for the images. He’s there to make a visual record of live shows. We could send his images out in a spacecraft or time capsule so they could see what jazz looked like in Toronto in 2015.”

Indeed, you’ll always find Beard taking a moment to contribute to the tip jar in between framing his shots.

“The nice thing about it is that I don’t usually work for money…I just find that I come in – I cruise in – I’m one with the artist and I just shoot what I feel in the moment. There’s no preconceived idea about what I’m going to get, because then there’s a pressure that comes along with that. I like it to happen naturally. I’ve had years of corporate pressure. Now that I’m retired it’s nice to go in, watch them, shoot, and give the photos away to them. It’s my way of giving back. They’re giving me so much entertainment.”

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

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Jazz-Galloway.jpgLocals are fiercely proud of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, and who could blame them? Now in its 36th year, FIJM is ranked as the largest festival in the world by the Guinness World Records, presenting 1,000 concerts over 10 days in 15 concert halls and 10 outdoor stages. Roughly two-thirds of the concerts are free, and a major part of the downtown core is closed to traffic for the entire run of the festival, resulting in random intoxications and increased revenue. Uniquely, even the souvenirs are memorable. T-shirts, candles, umbrellas, magnets and toys are all adorned with the festival’s jazz cat logo. And then there’s the music!

Attracting so many jazz greats over the years that it would seem pointless to list them, FIJM also presents annual awards – honours usually bestowed upon artists that are on the bill. The awards are named after the genre’s most iconic figures, from Miles Davis to Ella Fitzgerald, Antônio Carlos Jobim to Oscar Peterson, the latter of which this year is being given posthumously to Jim Galloway. To quote the FIJM website: “One of the world’s premiere soprano saxophonists, Jim Galloway built his reputation with a joyous, lyrical style and his love of swing, along with a gift for dissolving the boundaries between traditional and modern jazz. He was co-founder of the du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival (today the TD Toronto Jazz Festival). Thanks to his many collaborations with the greatest names in jazz and his globetrotting travel, Jim was a fantastic artistic director of the Festival from 1987 until his retirement in 2009.” (They didn’t mention that he was a treasured contributor for The WholeNote for 17 years, but we’ll forgive them).

Toronto Jazz: The richly deserved honour for Galloway will come at the same time as a special salute to Peterson himself at the Toronto Jazz Festival, which kicks off with “Oscar Peterson’s 90th Birthday Celebration” at Jane Mallett Theatre, Thursday June 18 at 8pm. Narrated by Peterson’s daughter Celine, the concert will feature two original members of the pianist’s illustrious quartet: Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius and Bronx-born drummer Alvin Queen, joined by one of the world’s premier bassists, Christian McBride, and Toronto’s pride, Hungarian-Canadian pianist Robi Botos. VIP ticket holders will be treated to a post-concert reception with the opportunity to meet these fantastic musicians.

Josh Grossman: Following Jim Galloway’s retirement as the Toronto Jazz Festival’s artistic director in 2009, Josh Grossman had some big shoes to fill. Curious about the curating process, I asked him what it’s like on the other side of the inbox, especially as the festival becomes more inclusive genre-wise:

“We always start with quality: we’re seeking to put the best local, national and international musicians on our stages,” says Grossman. “From there we aim to present a wide variety of jazz, music which has been influenced by jazz and music which has influenced – or is influencing – the development of jazz. Although it’s impossible to satisfy the tastes of every jazz fan, our goal is to have, as much as is possible, something for everyone. We also work towards a great mix of free and ticketed shows; this year our audiences can experience outstanding local and out-of-town talent on a variety of free stages. Challenges abound. While we bring extensive wish lists to the programming table each year, artist availability and fee requests can sometimes whittle down the lists quickly. That said, when we land an artist we’ve been trying to book for years – or a newer artist who has us particularly excited – it’s difficult to contain our euphoria.”

Jazz-TD.jpgThe festival’s hub is at Nathan Phillips Square, which features free programming just about every day of the festival. Additional free stages are at locations across town: the Distillery District and Shops at Don Mills. The rest of the venues consist mostly of clubs, restaurants and hotels that feature live music, often all year round but sometimes only temporarily. New this year are the Shangri-La Hotel at University and Adelaide, Burdock at Bloor and Pauline and the Baka Gallery Café at Bloor and Beresford. Supporting these venues during the festival will increase the likelihood of continued live music, so please do your best, dear reader! The same goes for all the shows really – this is a difficult time for live music venues and the music industry in general. As the famous Duke Ellington blues goes, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” and you better believe it.

Not to be missed at the Toronto Jazz Festival this year: Renee Rosnes at Jazz Bistro June 18 to 20; Ahmed Mitchel Group at Poetry Jazz Café June 21; Al Jarreau at Nathan Phillips Square June 22; Kurt Elling at Koerner Hall June 23; Suzie Vinnick at the Distillery June 24; Eli Bennett Quartet at the Rex June 25; Charles Lloyd at Jane Mallett on June 26; Jackie Richardson and Micah Barnes at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar on June 27; Brian Barlow’s Big Band featuring Heather Bambrick performing Duke Ellington’s sacred music at Christ Church Deer Park on June 28; and Jamie Cullum at Koerner Hall on June 29.

One very new and welcome addition to Toronto’s festival is the addition of an official jam session, which has been missing for a few years now. Exclaims Grossman:

“Hooray! One of the most regular pieces of feedback I’ve been given over the past six years is “we need a jam session”! We’re excited to be running a jam six out of ten nights this year at the Jazz Bistro. Jam sessions are always a great opportunity to meet and greet some of the artists performing at the festival and, for local musicians, a chance to share the stage with out-of-town guests. Primarily under the direction of Chris Gale and Morgan Childs, this year’s official festival jam is going to be a lively, welcoming affair. I hope to be attending as much as possible, so do come and say hello.

Full festival listings are available at torontojazz.com.

Beaches’ Bill King: On more than one occasion I have told someone that I’m performing at the Toronto Jazz festival and they asked if it was in the Beaches! The popular Beaches International Jazz Festival embarks on its 27th season this summer. Aside from being a festival popular amongst Toronto residents, it is one that players love to play, and not merely because they get paid. All the shows are free, so it’s easy to get people to come out and more often than not they buy CDs after an enjoyable performance. I asked artistic director Bill King what the curating process is like and what artists should know if they wish to be considered.

“A lot has changed in the make-up of this city and surrounding area these past 27 years since we first mounted BIJF,” says King. “We are a different place with broader music tastes, an ever-growing ethnic community and a young music populace crossing all boundaries. We have hundreds of young people, most from university music programs, playing in street and main stage bands. Many have backgrounds in jazz, classical and pop. They come from York, U of T, Humber and beyond and band together and play what they want to play. We provide a forum for them and don’t interfere. (There’s no rock unless by accident!) I’m alerted about these bands – I may find them on YouTube or they may ‘arrive’ via email, and I investigate. If I see the bands are serious, developed and committed – I will find them a performance spot.”

There will be three weekends this year, with one added to coincide with the Pan Am games. Says King:

“Woodbine Park is in Pan Am games territory. We wanted to make sure we could play a part in the proceedings by giving those crowding the Lakeshore a place to chill and enjoy food, music and the good life. All they have to do is cross the highway and join the festivities. We programmed that first weekend to be responsive to the type of music you would expect from countries in warm, tropical climates.”

Some of the hot artists to watch at Beaches this year include the Melbourne Ska Orchestra on July 11; Andria Simone on July 12; God Made Me Funky on July 17; Parc X Trio on July 18, to name a few. Full details are at beachesjazz.com.

Jazz-Bria.jpgFinally, I’d like to give a nod to a few concerts worth catching if you can, starting with the sensational Bria Skonberg at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on June 21. Skonberg (briaskonberg.com) is a trumpeter and vocalist of the highest calibre. Originally from Chilliwack B.C., she is currently based in New York and taking a bite out of the big apple with her considerably impressive chops!

The iconic David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears fame recently released Combo, an album of standards which finds him in the superb company of Mark Kieswetter on piano, George Koller on bass, Ben Riley on drums, Ted Quinlan on guitar and Colleen Allen on saxes. The recording is a throwback to the singer’s roots on the Yonge Street Strip in the 1960s. Now in his 70s, Clayton-Thomas (davidclaytonthomas.com) delivers ballads with smooth tenderness and can still wail the blues like nobody’s business. Don’t miss him at the Huntsville Festival of the Arts on July 30.

Touring the country from coast to coast will be JUNO darling Christine Jensen (christinejensenmusic.com) and her 19-piece jazz orchestra featuring Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. The music is as dark, bold, complex and energizing as black coffee of the highest order! Stops include a free lunchtime show at the Toronto Jazz Fest on June 25 and an evening concert at the Ottawa Jazz Fest on June 28.

When you do discover your new favourite artist, buy the CD and get it signed while you still can – they haven’t figured out how to autograph digital downloads just yet. Happy Summertime and here’s hoping yours is full of live music! 

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

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2008_-_Jazz_Stories_-_Andrew_Scott.jpgLabel executive, writer-producer, educator and jazz journalist Jeff Levenson is speaking. “Find yourself within this ecosystem” he advises. “You’re a musician, but you’re many other things as well.” 

He is one of a handful of speakers at a music business seminar co-presented by JAZZ.FM91 (jazz.fm) and the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists (ircpa.net) on April 11, 2015, hosted at JAZZ.FM91 in Liberty Village. It’s a well-attended event, with panels curated by community engagement and education manager Mark Micklethwaite and CEO of the station, Ross Porter.

“With the Music Business Seminar, we seek to help Canadian artists gain the knowledge and expertise to succeed in the Canadian music marketplace. We have brought together successful industry professional and musicians to talk about the important topics – booking performance, recording, radio airplay, promotion – and provide a forum for enterprising musicians to ask questions and interact with the experts and their peers,” says Porter.

Founder of IRCPA, Ann Summers Dossena was honoured by the international arts industry in 2012 and again in 2014. She retired from arts management in October 2013 after a distinguished, 55-year career in New York, Rome and Toronto. 

“During these years I was invited to give a number of workshops for emerging artists in Austria, Italy, Israel and the United States, with several colleagues,” recalls Summers Dossena. “When I returned to Toronto in 1977 I opened the office here and soon realized that Canadian artists needed the same help.”

In her decades of important work in the field she gained an unequalled amount of experience pertaining to artist management, personal representation, promotion and marketing. I asked Summers Dossena how the IRCPA has changed since its birth in 1985:

“The Centre now has a formal board and by-laws, and is working on a strategic plan and fundraising on two levels. One to keep our badly needed workshops and the second to create a physical centre for musicians to come together as a community to exchange ideas, share challenges, seek solutions, gain confidence, network and be mentored. We are working toward being able to own our space in a new building by the fall of 2017 to be named the IRCPA Maureen Forrester Centre, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary.”

Back to the JAZZ.FM91/IRCPA Music Business Seminar which was a bargain at $30 per attendant – there was a lot of wisdom to be gained here courtesy of several invaluable panels.

“Be a positive member of the community,” said Carol Gimbel, founding artistic director of the Music in the Barns concert series. “Find people that have a similar mission,” emphasized Barry Shiffman, associate dean and director of chamber music at the Glenn Gould School, Royal Conservatory, and artistic director of summer music programs and the international string quartet competition at the Banff Centre. “If the music is good, it should speak for itself,” underlined Josh Grossman, artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. “Your record, and 50 other records, came today,” advised Brad Barker, music director and host of Afternoon Drive, JAZZ.FM91, so “find a way to be relentlessly polite” and “if you’re thinking about recording another version of “Autumn Leaves” ask yourself if you are adding anything new.”

The recording panel shed light on the process of creating product:  Steve Bellamy, founder and president of Addo Records, and associate dean for the Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts reminded participants that “a lack of planning is where most projects go wrong”; JUNO-nominated drummer/composer and owner of Orange Grove Publicity Ernesto Cervini expressed the importance of having a good producer: “when you’re in the studio you want to be able to just play.”

The final panel of the day focused on publicity and how to make it work for you. “We don’t take artists we don’t believe in,” said Jane Harbury, president of Jane Harbury Publicity;  and Eric Alper, director of media relations, eOne Music Canada and social media icon (588,000 twitter followers as of this writing), urged attendees to “create great content all the time … learn your audience … and take polls.”

Yet, for me, it was Levenson’s opening address that remained one of the seminar highlights. Emphasizing the importance of questions over answers, he stressed the importance of passion, conviction, authenticity and above all, a sense of realism. “Musicians are heroes,” he said, “and I believe they should get paid as much as nuclear physicists, but the marketplace determines the pay.”

The hats we wear: We musicians have to wear various hats, sometimes simultaneously. I’m always reminded of this when I do my taxes. Last year I made money by singing, writing, teaching, licensing, royalties, as well as work in public relations, social media management, website management and booking musical talent. I’m very lucky to be working with music all of the time. The total of all the income sources I have listed may not have amounted to much if compared to a nine-to-five job, but I wouldn’t trade being an artist for anything in the world and one thing’s for sure: there’s never a dull moment.

Andrew Scott: In the Toronto jazz community this juggling act of jobs to support one’s artistic career is far from unusual. Take Andrew Scott, an important member of our community both as a musician as well as an educator, an administrator and an advocate. He describes the various hats he currently wears thusly:

“In terms of performing, I play with my own jazz groups of various sizes that often include the great Jake Wilkinson, Jon Meyer and Joel Haynes; I play in a very fun three baritone saxophone band led by Alex Dean called The Travelling Wall-Baris (appearing at The Rex May 15 and 16). I work in a trio setting with the ever-inspiring octogenarian Gene DiNovi and have a loose cross-border two-guitar group with Randy Napoleon. Outside of jazz, I work with the businessman/singer/entertainer Frank D’Angelo in his 18-piece R&B show band. I also write about music, compose music for film and am extremely proud to teach and work as the current acting director of Humber College’s Department of Music (2014-2015).

Asked what he would do with three more hours in the day: “Easy. With three extra hours each day, I’d spend more time with my wife and our three wonderful children.”

2008_-_Jazz_Stories_-_Chelsea_McBride.jpgChelsea McBride: And here’s Chelsea McBride, awarded the Toronto Arts Foundation’s inaugural Emerging Jazz Artist Award in 2014, in her own words:

“Where to begin! I’m a performer/composer/bandleader first and foremost – probably half or more of my performances are with bands I lead or am very involved in, though the projects I’m a sideperson on are always fun – mostly contemporary jazz groups or pop cover bands that play lots of 70s music. I’m an artistic producer with Spectrum Music – with the other producers, we handle all the logistics involved in putting on four concerts a year. We also all write for these concerts, and with the constantly changing instrumentation, it’s always a new challenge for me as a composer. And it’s lots of fun.

“I found a teaching job in Oakville before I got out of school, so I’m actually out there quite often – I teach voice and piano mostly, along with my main instruments. There’s a lot less demand for woodwinds at the school I’m at, unfortunately...

“In addition to that, I end up doing a lot of administrative work – I’m a copyist for NewYork composer Daniel Jamieson (who’s originally from Toronto), and that occasionally also involves editing/proofreading non-musical stuff, which is something I have done for a long time. And last but not least, I’m slowly getting into the grant-writing thing - this has been tricky because, being so recently out of school, I’m not even eligible for some programs still! But I have been getting lots of practice working with other people on their applications.”

Under the umbrella of bandleader, McBride is busy as a beaver: “Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School, (appearing this month Saturday May 23 at the Rex, 3:30pm), performs exclusively original contemporary jazz music – more groove-based than swing. Most of the music is composed by me, but not all. I also lead a sextet called Chelsea and the Cityscape, which performs more in the singer-songwriter, pop and rock vein. I play standards and a few lead-sheet original jazz tunes that don’t quite fit into either of my other band’s styles around town every so often under the moniker Chelsea McBride Group (appearing this month Friday May 1 at Habits Gastropub). I play in a video game cover band called the Koopa Troop, which is exactly what it sounds like – a bunch of jazz-school nerds playing Nintendo music better than you’ve heard it before. And last but not least, I play in the Brad Cheeseman Group (appearing May 8 at the Jazz Room in Waterloo), which is contemporary small-group jazz music played with a strong focus on the ensemble sound.”

Rounding it off: To close this month’s column, here’s another quote from the JAZZ.FM91/IRCPA Music Business Seminar, this one by Peter Cardinali, owner of Alma Records, which drew from the example of soul-jazz superstar Gregory Porter: “There are a lot of 12-year overnight successes.” As such, there is no substitute for hard work and if as an artist you don’t truly love what you do, you’re in trouble.

Thank you for reading this magazine and supporting live music. Check out The WholeNote’s jazz listings and the new column by Bob Ben, Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz. Be happy while you may, and Happy May!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

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2007-JazzStories-Bee1.jpgJAZZ.FM91 producer, host and Jazz Safari bwana, these days Jaymz Bee is one of the Toronto jazz scene’s most fervent supporters. His popular Jazz Safaris involve guiding groups of the not-for-profit radio station’s donors through five venues across town with the help of a magic bus. I asked Bee why he believes the clubs continue to struggle and his response illustrates what sets him apart: an infectious funness, a loyalty to the live music scene and above all a positive attitude:

“Actually my feeling is that we are on a bit of an upswing right now. The Jazz Bistro took about a year to get up to speed but now it’s truly a hot spot. The Rex and Gate 403 book so many bands a week it’s crazy, and places like Hugh’s Room and Lula Lounge are booking more jazz than they used to. I’m a big fan of the wee clubs in town as well – La Revolucion, Habits Gastropub, The Emmet Ray and Blackbird are places I like to talk up lately, but there are so many on Dundas, Ossington...I think Torontonians need to go out more and hit more live venues! It’s too cold out, it’s too hot out – doesn’t cut it with me.”

Of the Safaris, says Bee:

“There are few things I like more than hitting several jazz clubs in one night with a mini coach (and designated driver) to take a group of JAZZ.FM91 donors on the town. I do about 30 nights a year in Toronto (hitting four or five clubs) and spend about the same amount of time with donors in various jazz-friendly places like Havana, Panama City, New York, New Orleans, Chicago and other places.

There are not many challenges in Toronto. On any given night I have 12 to 20 venues to pick from and after eight years of Jazz Safaris I know the streets and we are almost never late; not even five minutes late! I’m so prompt, I’m almost Swiss! In other cities it can be trickier. I have to allow for extra time for traffic so we might hit a venue a bit too early, but that’s better than missing the music…My parents taught me to be fun and polite and to get wallflowers on the dance floor. I’m innately inclusive...nobody is too cool or square for me...so taking a large group of people (18 to 30 per safari) is sometimes challenging but always fun.”

I will return to Jaymz Bee later in this article, specifically to discuss his birthday celebrations mid-month. First though, I have some very exciting news: there’s a new jazz room in town, and I urge you to all support it, even if it means going to have a single drink there or better yet, enjoy some music while drinking and eating.

2007-JazzStories-Hazelton.jpgStori Aperitivo (95 King Street East) located at King and Church, is embarking on a regular Tuesday, Wednesdsay, Thursday series over dinner. The priceless musicians come to you with no cover charge attached – a rare opportunity for all to enjoy some of this city’s jazz talents! The lineup at Stori is stellar:

Tuesday nights with Terra Hazelton and Her Easy Answers starring the two-time Canadian Screen Award nominee and blues singer extraordinaire; sidemen to be confirmed but Hazelton’s band tends to include Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Shawn Nykwist on tenor, Sly Juhas on drums and Jordan O’Connor on bass. Wednesdays will be made wild by longtime Reservoir Lounge staple Bradley and the Bouncers featuring Bradley Harder on vocals, Terry Wilkins on bass, Jeff Halischuk on drums, Adam Beer-Colacino on guitar and Pat Carey on the tenor. On Thursdays Stori welcomes The Vipers which features superlative vocalist Sophia Perlman in swinging company alongside Howard Moore on trumpet and vocals, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Jeff Halischuk on drums and Mitch Lewis on guitar and the occasional stellar vocal. This band kills everything from Dinah Washington to Tom Waits, and I’m willing to bet that The Vipers’ take on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is one Paul Simon himself would treasure.

And More Good News: by the time this magazine goes to print, a second brand new venue is opening its doors: Fat City Blues at 890 College Street. I asked one of the owners, Stephen McKeon, what inspired the creation of this club:

“To fully answer this question I have to give you a bit of background on Cameron, Simon and myself, “ he said. “We have been great friends for a decade, and have all worked in hospitality as long as we have known each other. Cameron and Simon worked the bar together at The Drake Hotel for eight years, while I cut my teeth at the Reservoir Lounge, then went on to manage Wrongbar for the past five years. When we started talking about opening a bar together we knew we wanted a place that focused on classic cocktails, simple food, and of course, live music. When the space came available we saw a great opportunity to marry all of those things, and Fat City Blues was born.

OD: Where does the name come from?

SM: Fat City was the nickname for Metairie, a part of New Orleans that was considered the entertainment district in the 70s and 80s. 

OD: What kinds of music will you be booking?

SM: We really want to focus on supporting the local scene and will be booking everything from delta blues to dirty jazz, solo pianists to five-piece brass bands. If it swings and sings, it has a home at Fat City Blues. (Still fine-tuning a music policy as this magazine goes to print, he was able to tell me that Tyler Yarema plays every Thursday, and other acts will include Patrick Tevlin, Bradley & The Bouncers, and Robert Davis among others.)

OD: What kinds of audiences are you looking to attract to this venue?

SM: We had a gentleman sitting at the bar last night who was from South Carolina, and kept telling us how much the place reminded him of home. We’ve had musicians come in looking for a place to play and to support their peers. We’ve even had someone email us about doing a birthday party here for her husband because they were married in New Orleans. All those people found something here they could relate to, and we can relate to them. That’s our audience.

OD:Tell me a bit about the menu

SM: The menu includes oysters, po’boys, crab legs, beignets...and in the summer, crawfish berl on the patio!

There is a considerable buzz about town with regards to #FatCityBlues: the BlogTo article has, as of this writing, been retweeted 84 times since March 18. Here’s wishing the venue much success all year round.

2007-JazzStories-Bee2.jpgEach April Jaymz Bee celebrates his birthday in style and with beautiful music, and this year is no exception. However, for the first time, one of the concerts will take place not in a club but in a church. On Sunday April 12 at 4pm at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Jaymz Bee Birthday Vespers will be the golden voices of Genevieve “Gigi” Marentette, Carolyn Credico, June Garber and others, to the stellar accompaniment of guitarist Eric St-Laurent. I asked how he got the idea to present “the devil’s music” in the house of God :

“Basically I wanted to see Bee’s Angels singing in this cozy church. Father Al is a donor to JAZZ.FM91 and we’ve become friends over the years. I love jazz in unique settings and this place is magical! Last year I sang there with Don Francks and Tony Quarrington but this year I thought I’d play emcee and just enjoy some of the most beautiful and talented women in Toronto singing sweet songs.”

Bee’s B-Day weeks also includes a celebration at the Old Mill on April 9 with Alex Pangman and her Alleycats, and continues on Monday April 13 – his actual birthday – with a cabaret night at Lula Lounge.

In closing, dear reader, I hope that you consider supporting these new ventures on our club scene. As always with such endeavours, they need your support! Call ahead. Make dinner reservations. Plan a party. Drop by for a drink or two. Live music needs you to stay alive!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

Author: Ori Dagan
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2006-Jazz_Stories_1-Kobi_Haas_and_Bass.jpgOn Wednesday March 18 starting at 6:30pm at The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar it will be difficult to find a seat. At the Spotlight on Israeli Culture event the bill will feature three headlining acts, each exciting for different reasons. The biggest name of the three is Anat Cohen, a seven-time Jazz Journalist Association Clarinetist of the Year and internationally acclaimed saxophonist, known for her virtuosity on various instruments, the richness of her tone and an utterly enchanting stage presence. It will be Cohen’s first appearance in Toronto as leader.

Then there is the precocious Guy Mintus Trio, of which two musicians are America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship winners. Twenty-two-year-old Mintus is the recipient of ASCAP’s Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer award and a full scholarship student at the Manhattan School of Music. Following appearances at the Kennedy Center, the Apollo Theater and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the trio makes its Canadian debut.

The third headliner is Kobi Hass, whose quartet will be opening the show, and who is a wonderful recent addition to our city’s musical landscape. Since moving to Toronto in 2010, the Tel-Aviv-born bassist and composer has mostly worked as a sideman, bringing many positive vibes to live music here with his emotionally charged musical versatility. The original songs to be performed at The Rex have been described as “soulful compositions” in the press release, to which Hass adds:

“The people I will play with are local musicians with whom I perform from time to time – Barry Livingston, pianist, who writes beautiful and soulful tunes, Ernie Tollar, saxophones and flutes, who is in charge of the more experimental writing, and Paul Fitterer, who turns keeping time into a very imaginative and surprising process. Each of us brings in his own tunes, we ‘try them out,’ and I feel that we’ve developed our own sound and atmosphere.

“I find it hard to characterize the music, but I like what was written in the press release. Indeed the music is based on ‘soulful compositions’ that each of us contributed to the quartet. The forms are relatively open, yet the compositions are very classically written. There is a certain harmonic colour that we all like and it helps the quartet developing its own sound. The improvisations do not stay in the traditional jazz idiom, and we try things as we go. Playing the acoustic bass in this format is a very challenging process for me, being an e-bass pop-rock player for many years.”

Hass got his break on the Israeli music scene soon after he picked up the instrument:

“After my military service I moved to Tel Aviv to study choir conducting in Tel Aviv University. Somehow I got a hold of an electric bass and started playing with a neighbour of mine, a jazz piano player. It was just for fun. However, not long after I started playing the bass I received a phone call asking me to play a few gigs with Ofra Haza, a very well-known Israeli singer. One thing led to another, people started hearing about me, and in no time I played in the biggest shows of those days – Yossi Banai, Gali Atari, theatre shows and more. I was a lucky guy!”

If the name Hass rings a bell, a few years back you may recall that at the age of 15, cellist Daniel Hass (son of Kobi) won the Marta Hidy prize among other prestigious awards; turns out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“It was a family decision to move to Canada and we are very happy here. It seems to me a lot is happening here musically, and I am happy to have met some people that I enjoy making music with. The city seems to be very vibrant and there is a lot of music happening. I played in a Toto Tribute Band and got to know some of the rock scene, and I played some jazz music, experiencing what the jazz scene is like.”

2006-Jazz_Stories_1-Robi_Botos.jpgRobi Botos: There’s another very exciting event happening this month, which I personally believe will be a historic night of music. On Thursday, March 26 at 9pm incomparable pianist Robi Botos will release his new recording, Movin’ Forward, at Jazz Bistro with musicians that one simply must hear to believe, and for which words can do little justice. Says Botos:

“Drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts is one of my heroes. I also play drums and I admire him greatly, so it’s extra special for me to have him on this record. Both him and bassist Robert Hurst played with Wynton and Branford Marsalis whose music I grew up on, and seriously Robert Hurst has everything you would ever want from a bass player. I used to listen to this band with Kenny Kirkland on piano, who’s one of my early main inspirations to play piano.”

Produced by the artist in collaboration with Scott Morin, the album marks the first time Robi Botos records with American musicians, with the addition of saxophonist Seamus Blake, born in London England, raised in Vancouver Canada and currently based in New York City.

“Seamus Blake is one of the most complete musicians out there in my opinion. He is perfect for my writing, which has many different influences.”

Consisting of ten original tunes and two standards, the album Movin’ Forward will be available for sale in stores and online on March 24. I must say that one of the perks of the writer’s job is hearing music before it is released, and quite honestly it is the most exciting jazz recording I have heard in a very long time.

“Some of the music you’ll hear on this album is more recent, fresh, and some of them I wrote a long time ago,” says Botos. The two standards I chose are Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and Close to You which is more of a pop tune rearranged in a groovy, funky way. I specifically chose the tunes for the group of musicians. I focused on what would feel good.”

Just how is this album different from his first effort, Place to Place?

“This album represents a lot of my musical sides. From Hungarian Romani (Gypsy) music to straight ahead jazz to funk. It’s also my first recording with American musicians as a leader. I really consider this as my debut album. Also, it is a childhood dream to collaborate with these amazing musicians. I’m very excited to share it and I hope people will like it!”

The event at Jazz Bistro is expected to sell out; reserve your seats as soon as you possibly can at 416-363-5299. Good luck!

2006-Jazz_Stories-Christine_Gaidies.jpgMonarch Fundraiser: On Sunday March 22 from 2 to 6pm a beautiful singer-songwriter, Christine Gaidies, will be raising funds for her new CD at the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street, sharing the stage with a lineup of friends rallying to her cause. I was going to say it’s a list too long to print. But what the heck: Sandi Marie, Diane Baker Mason, Nicole Coward, Andrew M. Smith, Dan McLean Jr, Michelle Lecce, Orit Shimoni, Chris Hess, Erin Ford, Maia Waern, Debbie Fleming, Linda Maruta, Henry Cifersons, Kevin Kennedy, Valerey Lavergne, Eunji Kim, Michelle Denis MacDougall, Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, Alan McKinlay, Niki Andre, Lesley Roylance, Harpin Norm Lucien and others to be announced!) Show some love to Christine Gaidies who could use your support at a particularly challenging time – her cancer has returned and any funding beyond completion of the CD will go towards her treatments – book your reservations through the Monarch for March 22 from 2 to 6pm and check out the GoFundMe campaign for other ways you can help.

Speaking of me! Finally, I hardly ever do this but I thought I’d let you, dear readers, know about two of my own gigs this month, especially since they are both the beginning of monthly residencies, the last weekend of every month.

Friday March 27 from 6 to 8pm I will be performing a Pay-What-You-Can dinner show with two of my favourite musicians at the 120 Diner located at 120 Church Street. The menu is very good and reasonably priced, the owners are kind to the musicians, and the acoustics are excellent – as a wise poet once wrote, “Who could ask for anything more?”

Saturday March 28 from 9:30 pm to 12:30 am I will be back at the intimate Poetry Jazz Café, a hidden gem neatly nestled in the heart of Kensington Market at 224 Augusta Avenue. Like a few other venues in town, this one does not take reservations, except for parties of ten and over, so arrive on time to get good seats. Each month I’m joined by the electric Patrick Hewan on keys, with rhythm section featuring two special guests announced mid-month on my website at oridagan.com.

Thank you for your support, genuinely. In an age when there is an abundance of entertainment available at the touch of a button, I think I speak for all jazz musicians and music venues when I say, “We hope to see you in the clubs!”

Check out Bob Ben’s Mostly Clubs, Mainly Jazz for all the details.

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com

Author: Ori Dagan
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
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