Give Yourself A Jazzy Little ChristmasWith Christmas fast approaching – where did the year go? – an overview of gifts any jazz lover would love to receive. And remember, sometimes to get what you really want, you have to buy it yourself.

BooksFirst, two with a Canadian perspective:

Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend – Mark Miller, 2017. Available from indigo.ca in e-book, paperback, and hardcover formats. Not exactly hot off the press, Miller’s latest release was reviewed by Stuart Broomer in the September 2017 issue of The WholeNote. But like all good jazz books it has a lasting relevancy. It tells the story of one of Canada’s greatest and most enigmatic jazz artists while attempting to explore the mystery of his eventual unravelling – Ranger, presumed dead, has been officially listed as a missing person for 14 years. Mark Miller is a first-rate writer, but an even better researcher, and the tale he weaves here makes for a compelling read. Readers should look forward to Miller’s forthcoming work in progress, a book on another of our great originals, guitarist Sonny Greenwich.

Live at the Cellar – Marian Jago, UBC Press. A very recent and welcome addition to books on Canadian jazz, this was released in October. Jago, a Halifax-born saxophonist who now teaches at the University of Edinburgh, examines the development of Canadian jazz through the lens of an iconic club on Canada’s opposite coast: The Cellar in Vancouver, during the hot-house period of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It abounds with rare photographs, musical analysis and anecdotes about, and from, many notables who were there, including Jerry Fuller, Fraser MacPherson, Terry Clarke, P.J. Perry and Don Thompson, who wrote the foreword. It’s a handsome and interesting book; I’m about halfway through and thoroughly enjoying it.

Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century – Nate Chinen, Paragon. Hardcover, 288 pages, August 14, 2018. Chinen has covered jazz for 20 years in The New York Times, Jazz Times and elsewhere. His wittily titled, double-entendre-titled book – warm, richly detailed and incisive – offers a look at the state of jazz right now and highlights the important changes – technological, practical, ideological – that contemporary musicians have negotiated in the new century. It’s a kind of jazz version of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and is informative reading for those who are attempting to understand the torturous and ever-shifting changes of the current jazz landscape. I’m not sure yet that I agree with everything Chinen has to say, but he offers a convincing and refreshing rebuttal to any notions that jazz is irrelevant, or even close to being dead.

50 Years at the Village Vanguard: Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra – Dave Lisk and Eric Allen. Hardcover, 328 pages. A sumptuous, coffee table-style book which celebrates and documents the history of one of the greatest large ensembles in jazz history, covering the noted founders but also the band’s survival and development well past their deaths. It contains scores of rare photographs, musical commentary, interviews with key members past and present, and a complete discography of the band’s massive output. People wax about the “jazz tradition” all the time, but the story of this great band in its natural habitat is the jazz tradition, continuing before our very eyes.

Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon – Maxine Gordon. October 30, 2018. University of California Press. Hardcover, 296 pages. Available in stores and online. I haven’t read this book yet but judging from reviews, it looks promising. A close-up look at the life and music of one of the great individualists and innovators in jazz history, written by the woman who is not only his widow, but an accomplished jazz writer in her own right.

CDsToo many to list, but here are a few I’ve enjoyed of late:

An Evening of Indigos – Bill Kirchner. Jazzheads, 2015. This beautiful 2-CD set is the entirety of a 2014 concert soprano saxophonist Kirchner gave in the Jazz Performance Space of The New School in New York City, where he has taught for over 25 years. He is joined by Carlton Holmes on piano, Holli Ross on vocals and bassist/singer Jim Ferguson in varying combinations. As the title suggests, the program is reflective in nature, though not monochromatically so – a mixture of some fine originals and choice standards, all performed with a startling, almost vulnerable intimacy. This is something of a musical banquet which repays repeated listening. Those who wish to know more about Bill Kirchner may read a piece I wrote about him at wallacebass.com.

Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album – John Coltrane. Recorded March 6, 1963. Released June 29, 2018 by Impulse! Records. Not much needs to be said here, this is a fascinating discovery of an entire session by Coltrane’s classic quartet at their peak and as such belongs in any jazz fan’s collection.

Three from Mosaic Records The superb mail-order CD-reissue company has three recent, essential historic releases, available at mosaicrecords.com. They may seem pricey at first glance, but given the rarity of the music and the as-always-superb production values, these are actually a bargain:

The Savory Collection: 1935-40 - 6 CDs, $99 US. Bill Savory was a recording engineer in NYC whose day job was editing transcription recordings for overseas consumption. By night he took to recording the blazing jazz being played in various clubs such as The Famous Door, the Onyx and others. His collection of tapes languished unknown for years until recently when they were discovered, curated and partially issued as downloadable files by jazz scholar and saxophonist Loren Schoenberg. Mosaic has gathered more of them and issued them on CD for the first time. The quality of both the music and sound is staggering; featuring the Count Basie Orchestra, Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, the John Kirby Sextet and many others.

Classic Brunswick & Columbia Teddy Wilson Sessions: 1934-427 CDs, $119 US. A cornucopia of great music from the most artistic swing pianist of them all, leading a stunning array of star-studded groups. Much of it is seeing the light of day for the first time in decades. So this is not to be missed.

Classic 1936-47 Count Basie & Lester Young Studio Sessions8 CDs, $136 US. This set features Basie and Young, both together and separately, during their respective primes. Many fans will already have some of this music in their collections, but probably not all of it; and thanks to Mosaic’s superb mastering, it’s never sounded this good. Desert island music.

DVDsNeither of these are particularly new, but are of such high quality that even fans who have already seen them would like to have them to watch over and over again.

I Called Him Morgan – Directed, produced and written by Kasper Collins. Released 2016, available at amazon.ca and other sites. This documentary tells the complex and cautionary tale of the relationship between star trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen, who rescued him from severe heroin addiction, nurtured him back to health and oversaw the most successful years of his career, only to shoot him dead on the bandstand at Slug’s in February, 1972. The story is told so well that even those who could never otherwise forgive Helen Morgan for the murder are forced to view her with compassion and to admit that she paid sorely for the crime; and that if left to his own devices, Lee Morgan would have died long before he did at her hand.

The Jazz Loft According to Eugene W. Smith – Directed by Sara Fishko. Released September, 2016; available at amazon.com. For my money, this is the best jazz documentary ever made. Fishko and her team did a phenomenal job of editing a mountain of raw material into a linear and cohesive story, which tells two tales. Firstly, that of Eugene W. Smith, the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who virtually created the photo-essay genre while at Life magazine, and who took some of the most famous black-and white photographs of the 20th century. In the mid-50s he began to unravel under the pressure of his own obsessiveness with his work, leaving his wife and children and taking a loft in an abandoned, rat-infested building located in New York’s flower district, where he lived between 1957 and 1965. While there he took over 40,000 photographs and secretly recorded 4,000 hours of the jazz played in the all-night jam sessions that were held in the building for years. These form the soundtrack for the movie, a kind of rare insider’s view into an underground scene only a city like New York could produce. Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams and Bob Brookmeyer were among the “frequent fliers” and Sims in particular receives a lot of attention. There are jazz tales from other denizens of the building such as drummer Ronnie Free, who arrived from the South an innocent with much promise but got hooked on heroin and barely survived. And there’s a stunning sequence between composer/arranger Hall Overton, who had a studio in the building, and Thelonious Monk, preparing the music for Monk’s Town Hall concert featuring a ten-piece band which rehearsed in the building. This doc makes a fascinating peak period in jazz history come alive. I could watch it every day, but I’d never get anything done.

I’d like to add to this jazz Christmas list my best wishes to WholeNote readers everywhere for a safe and joyous holiday and a Happy New Year. 

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

DEC 7, 8PM: Koerner Hall. Royal Conservatory of Music presents Paquito D’Rivera with the Harlem Quartet. The great alto saxophonist/clarinetist in an interesting program featuring some rags, Debussy, Bolcom, Webern and music reflecting his Cuban roots.

DEC 8, 8PM: Gallery 345; 345 Sorauren Ave. The Art of the Piano: Hilario Durán. If you like Cuban-inflected jazz piano – and who doesn’t these days? – this is the concert for you; in an intimate setting with an excellent piano.

U of T 12tetFEB 6, 7:30PM: Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. 80 Queen’s Park. U of T 12tet, directed by Terry Promane. I love small big bands ranging from 9 to 14 members and this, comprising some of the best jazz students U of T has to offer, is an excellent one, expertly directed and arranged for by Promane.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at wallacebass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

The Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) is now in its tenth year – my, that went fast – and is celebrating the milestone with a special concert on November 24 at the Aga Khan Museum called “The Music of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.” It will feature Remi Bolduc on alto saxophone and arrangements; Bernie Senensky on piano; Reg Schwager on guitar; Terry Clarke on drums; and yours truly on bass. With well over 30 concerts under its belt to date, and many other presentations and initiatives, JPEC has become an integral part of the Toronto jazz scene. To mark the occasion I recently did an email interview with Ray Koskie, who, along with his wife Rochelle, is co-founder of JPEC.

I’ve known Ray (a retired founding partner of the law firm Koskie Minsky) and Rochelle (a retired schoolteacher) casually as dedicated jazz fans for close to 40 years now. As JPEC is clearly a labour of love for this jazz-loving couple, I decided to begin by asking Ray a little about how he and Rochelle became such avid fans.

(from left) Joe Sealey, Rochelle Koskie, Jackie Richardson and Ray Koskie at the Paintbox Bistro January 2013.WN: How did you and Rochelle catch the jazz bug?

RK: We both grew up in Forest Hill and met when we were in our late teens. Rochelle was a couple of years younger but way ahead of me; she was already musically educated, played piano and cello and had accumulated some jazz records. I mostly teethed on stuff my father listened to at home – Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and so on. Live jazz was kind of the soundtrack to our romance as some of our first dates were at the Town Tavern, where, thanks to part-owner and manager Sammy Berger, we were able to get in despite being underage. He took a shine to us for some reason and made a spot for us in the back room where we could nurse Cokes and split a club sandwich – about all we could afford in those days – while listening all night to incredible music by the likes of the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, Art Blakey, Illinois Jacquet, Jackie and Roy, Ben Webster and many others. It became clear before too long that we were both hooked and we’ve never looked back.

I graduated from Law School around 1961 and we got married and eventually started a family. The late, great John Norris was a big part of us getting to know more about jazz in those years and during this time we became regulars at Bourbon Street where we heard the likes of Chet Baker, Barney Kessel, Dexter Gordon, Al and Zoot, Paul Desmond and so many of the great Toronto players – Ed Bickert, Don Thompson, Bernie Senensky and Terry Clarke, among many others. In fact, that’s where we first heard you play, Steve. The rhythm section for the upcoming Brubeck/Desmond concert with Bernie, Terry and you is a nod toward those days. After Bourbon Street closed we frequented both the Café des Copains and the Montreal Bistro where we enjoyed the hospitality of Brigitte and Lothar Lang while hearing great music from people like Johnny Guarnieri, Jim Galloway, Doc Cheatham, Rob McConnell, Jay McShann, Geoff Keezer, Dave McKenna, Oliver Jones, Joe Sealy and so many others.

How did JPEC get started?

After The Top O’ the Senator and the Montreal Bistro closed we were approached by some other well-known Toronto jazz people to help in obtaining alternative jazz venues and as result a working committee was formed. Part of this involved examining the concept of the successful Jazz At Lincoln Center (JALC), which we thought might be a new model for presenting jazz in Toronto. Following a tour of that beautiful facility and being supplied with certain pertinent documents, we recommended to the committee that this approach – i.e. becoming a not-for-profit charitable organization – might be the best way to go under the circumstances. Although this might prove more challenging than creating another jazz club, we felt it would likely have a longer shelf life. As a result, JPEC was incorporated in August 2008 as a not-for-profit charitable organization.

What were some of the early challenges?

Some members of the committee felt that the charitable organization route, while laudable, was too ambitious, which led to certain people leaving who were replaced by those who believed more in the JALC concept. Lack of funding was an early problem with respect to meeting some of our objectives, but various fundraising events were held and Toronto jazz fans really pitched in. When we began to make progress certain members of the TO jazz community mistakenly seemed to believe that we were in competition with their endeavours even though we were all supposedly working for the same cause, namely the furtherance of jazz. We went on to succeed despite such misguided thinking because there were many others who supported our efforts and believed in our objectives.

What are those objectives?

To provide performance opportunities for Toronto’s jazz musicians, including jazz students, and to properly compensate them. To promote jazz in this city and reach out to new audiences. An educational element, namely to present community-based workshops in underserved areas at schools having little, if any, music education. This is something Rochelle, as a former schoolteacher, feels very strongly about. And eventually to establish a fulltime jazz hub similar in concept to, but smaller than, JALC.

After the inevitable early struggles, what kind of support have you received over the years?

We’ve been lucky to have the benefit of corporate sponsors such as TD Bank, BPA, LiUNA and private donors such as Jack Long of Long & McQuade, who has supported jazz so generously over the years. My law firm Koskie Minsky absorbs our administrative costs, which leaves more money for fulfilling our mandate. JPEC has been blessed with a talented board of directors and many other dedicated volunteers who have worked tirelessly to help deliver our mission.

How does JPEC plan its concert programming and choose the venues?

We try to present both international jazz stars and Toronto-based talent and often to combine them in one concert or even one band, as for example with Americans Ernie Watts and Brad Goode recently being backed by a crack Toronto rhythm section of Adrean Farrugia, Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke, with Rich Brown’s band opening. We like to present performance opportunities for up-and-coming musicians – all of JPEC’s shows include pre-concert duos or trios consisting of students from the three GTA jazz institutions or Mohawk College. As with most things JPEC, the programming is designed by a committee, some of the members of which are musicians, marketing people and those involved with the technical aspects of staging. All committee decisions are subject to board approval. As to venues, we’ve preferred more intimate concert ones with seating ranging from 150 to 300 people, such as the Glenn Gould, the George, and for the first time with our upcoming concert, the concert hall in the Aga Khan Museum, which we’re very excited about.

There’s also a community-outreach aspect to JPEC which is tied to both programming and education. In addition to the 170 music workshops we’ve presented in underserved schools over the last decade, we’re proud to be supporting and participating in the initiative of the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists, an outgrowth of the old “Jazzmobile” model, using a mobile facility to present events in more isolated communities that will benefit the talent in those areas as well as the talent of Toronto’s musicians. In other words, if the people can’t get to the jazz, then take the jazz to the people – good jazz makes for a good society and vice versa.

Not that I think it’s an odd idea, but why a Brubeck/Desmond concert at this particular time?

In consideration of JPEC’s tenth anniversary, we wanted to reach out to a broader jazz audience by presenting a tribute to two such well-known and respected musicians who achieved enormous popularity not only internationally, but with Desmond in particular, on a local level. Desmond’s late-career appearances at Bourbon Street were unforgettable to those of us lucky enough to have heard them, and his ringing musical endorsement of Ed Bickert in particular – but also Don Thompson and Jerry Fuller – gave Toronto jazz a major shot in the arm. Hence the addition of Reg Schwager on guitar to reflect Desmond’s career after Brubeck. Unless Ed Bickert himself were to come out of retirement, it would be hard to imagine a guitarist more suited to the task.

What do you see for JPEC moving forward and do you think you’ve made a difference?

We’ll continue to present quality concerts such as this one and of course the outreach workshops will continue. And we’re still seeking to create a fulltime hub. As for making a difference, I like to think we have. In July of 2018 Rochelle and I received a special award and donation to JPEC from TD Bank for: “Giving back to the community by bringing jazz to public schools, educating students young and old, and providing Toronto with outstanding jazz concerts.” I think that sums it up nicely.

Me too. Thanks for your time, Ray, and for all you and Rochelle have done for jazz in Toronto over the years. 

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

NOV 8, 5:30PM: Old MillKen Page Memorial Trust Annual Fundraiser. The Lairds of SwingWarren Vaché, cornet and musical director; Guido Basso, flugelhorn; Russ Phillips, trombone; Ken Peplowski, reeds; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Reg Schwager, guitar; Neil Swainson, bass; Terry Clarke, drums. I’ve written in greater detail about this star-studded event in the past – simply put, the finest in modern mainstream swing with both an international and local thrust.

NOV 16, 8PM: Toronto Centre for the Arts – Jazz at the George. Etienne Charles – Carnival. This concert by the brilliant young trumpeter/composer who explores his calypso/Caribbean roots in tandem with jazz, kicks off the five-concert Jazz at the George season.

Patricia Cano appears in the COC's Jazz Series on November 28.NOV 28, 12 NOON: Canadian Opera Company – Jazz Series “Songs In the Key of Cree.” Tomson Highway, piano and vocals; Patricia Cano, vocals; Marcus Ali, saxophone. Never mind whether it’s jazz or not, do not miss this rare chance to hear the musical – and I mean musical – side of one of our greatest playwrights. And Cano is a vocal powerhouse.

DEC 4, 8PM: Toronto Centre for the Arts – Jazz at the George. Dianne Reeves Christmas Time Is Here – For my money, the best jazz singer on the planet singing Christmas music can’t fail to put you in a festive spirit.

DEC 5, 5:30PM: Canadian Opera Company – Jazz Series. “Music From the Claudia Quintet Playbook – McGill Jazz Sextet, John Hollenbeck, director. This is highly recommended mostly for Hollenbeck, a highly original drummer/composer with an audacious taste for combining – and bending – musical genres.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at Wallace-bass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

Jazz is forever being pronounced dead, or at least sickly, yet it has continued to survive and grow, if not in terms of audience share, then at least musically speaking. On the local level it’s a little difficult to assess the state of the music’s health these days, and I’m often flip-flopping on the subject. On the one hand there’s a pool of talent in Toronto growing deeper and more diverse all the time, but there are fewer gigs and places for everyone to play. It’s certainly harder to make a decent living playing jazz than in the past, yet the music is being played at a higher and higher level. Part of the problem in assessing all this is the disconnect between financial and musical success: there’s a lot of the latter but not much of the former for many. Further on the local Jekyll-and-Hyde axis, we have the continued success of the new grassroots Kensington Market Jazz Festival, contrasted with the recent troubles of JAZZ.FM91, which I’ll return to later.

We’re always being told by its keepers that jazz, like everything else these days, is a business. But to those who truly care about it – the fans, who consume it, and the musicians, who produce it – it’s not a business, it’s a music, a form of art and entertainment. (Louis Armstrong and countless others having long ago proved that the two are not mutually exclusive.) We care about it in terms of music, not dollars, and are thought to be naïve for this, yet saying that it’s primarily a business rather than an art form is putting the cart before the horse: the only reason there’s a business aspect to jazz is that people are willing to spend money to hear it because they’re drawn to its artistry; it’s that simple. The moment people stop being attracted to jazz as music there will be no business, because they’ll stop spending money to hear it. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people fail to see it. We’re constantly being told that the business side must take precedence otherwise there will be no music, but I think it’s the other way around. I’ve always found that when the artistic/real side of jazz is stressed and presented honestly then it thrives, as in the case of the KMJF, but woe betide when that focus gets lost amid too many extrinsic considerations.

I’m not going to comment too much further on the JAZZ.FM situation because it’s still up in the air and on a jazz musician’s salary I can’t afford a legal dream team, but I will say this: There’s a lot of angst and outrage in the jazz community over a recent turn of events, which is seen as another black eye for jazz, a fail which the music can ill afford. As currently constituted the station probably can’t continue, but there is a movement afoot to save it by making some changes. For those interested, I recommend going to savejazzfm.com and signing up; you’ll be casting a vote to salvage jazz on the air in Toronto, with some changes in management and philosophy, some lessons learned, greater accountability and more input from listenership.

But even if the station goes under, I hasten to point out that JAZZ.FM and jazz itself are not the same thing, not even close. Sooner or later another jazz station will crop up because there’s clearly sufficient interest in having one. In the meantime, make up for the dead air by going to hear more live music.

Jazz Survival 101: A Primer

Jazz Humour – With all the adversity the jazz life entails, how does one carry on? By boosting one’s morale, that’s how. What follows is a kind of jazz survival kit – to translate an old cliché into jazz terms: “When the blowing gets tough, the tough get blowing.” The first requisite is developing a sense of humour. I’m biased, but jazz musicians are the funniest people I know, mainly because they have to be. Jazz humour is laced with a gallows irony, a dry “laughin’ to keep from cryin’” wit. Here are some examples: Back in the early days of fusion when some jazz musicians were accused of selling out by trying to reach a wider audience through playing more rock-oriented music, Jim Hall turned to Paul Desmond (or perhaps it was the other way around) and asked ”So…. where do I go to sell out?”

Or “How do you make a million dollars playing jazz? Start out with two million.”

Or the one about a musician hiring another for a jazz gig, boasting that it pays “three bills” – two tens and a twenty.

Because jazz musicians improvise so much, the humour pool is constantly expanding on the fly, as when I recently bumped into Lesley Mitchell-Clarke on my way to a gig with John Alcorn at the KMJF. Lesley, well-known to WholeNote readers, is a jazz survivor extraordinaire on many fronts and one of the funniest people I know. She asked, “Steve, do you realize we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the venerable $100 jazz gig?” I doubled over and nearly dropped my bass because the line was so darkly funny and true. While house prices have at least quintupled over the last 20 years, the pay for many jazz gigs has stayed the same. This may not seem funny to many, but to jazz people it has an inverse, “do your worst” kind of sick irony. What else can you do but laugh?

(Two asides, in the interests of fairness and full disclosure. After many years, The Pilot Tavern recently upped the pay for its Saturday jazz matinee to $120 per musician, to which I remarked “Hey, alright! Tonight we eat!!” And just to show that not all jazz gigs top out at $100, the aforementioned Alcorn trio gig at the tiny Jazz Poetry Café was sold out and paid almost twice as much as we were expecting. This is because the KMJF volunteers collect the cash and then give all but a tiny fraction of it to the band. Somehow or other this very direct jazz economy works, so not all is lost.)

Peter LeitchTake A Week and Learn the Classics

This was guitarist Peter Leitch’s dryly sarcastic advice to a jazz beginner long ago. As in “listen to some records, for God’s sake,” and fortunately it takes much longer than a week. If the present seems chaotic and less than rosy, turn to the embarrassment of riches found in the back catalogue of great jazz records. This is not a matter of burying your head in the sand or living in the past, but rather a way of renewing yourself by taking a bath in the glories of the music while perhaps reminding yourself of why you love jazz in the first place. And you no longer need an extensive/expensive record collection to do so, because almost all of it is available on YouTube, another mixed blessing. Somehow things don’t seem so bad when you’ve just heard some Hot Fives, the 1938 Basie band, Spiritual Unity or whatever else takes your fancy. I do this all the time and it buoys me up, sending me off to a gig with a spring in my step and my musical sights set higher because I’ve just spent some time in the company of the masters.

Herbie NicholsA variation of this is checking out some jazz history by reading about it, which can bring some much-needed perspective. You think things are rough now? Try reading Mark Miller’s superb Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist’s Life, which tells the story of the pianist/composer who literally died from neglect and yet lives on through the efforts of people like Miller, the late Roswell Rudd, who curated his music, and The Herbie Nichols Project, which keeps his music alive by playing it. This is called inspiration and can also be found in books such as Robin D.G. Kelley’s exhaustive biography of a better-known giant who also endured much adversity – Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Or one I’m currently reading about clarinettist Pee Wee Russell. Not only did Russell never own a house, he mostly lived in shabby apartments, was perpetually broke and often out of work. And yet he earned permanent jazz immortality because of his singular and fearless individuality. Things were always tough, why would they be any different now?

Communal SupportThe local jazz community is a symbiotic relationship between fans, musicians and those employed as enablers of the music – writers, broadcasters, promoters, presenters, and so on. Essentially they’re all jazz fans and offer support to one another by attending jazz shows and events, which is crucial. But even more important is the palpable moral support shown by this group when the chips are really down. A good example – among many – is the recent memorial service for Kiki Misumi, who died at 58 in late August after a long and brave battle with cancer. Kiki was a very talented and creative cellist, singer and songwriter who was married for many years to one of our great stalwarts, guitarist Reg Schwager. Her memorial, held in early September at a facility of the Buddhist society to which she belonged, was packed to overflowing with her fellow Buddhists and members of the local jazz community who had known her for decades and came to pay their respects. Despite the overwhelming sadness of her too-early passing, it was a singularly moving and inspiring service, marked by some uplifting chanting, some lovely music and eloquent speeches, including one by Reg which staggered everyone – he’s normally quite reticent and I still don’t quite know how he managed it. Kiki fought fast-moving terminal cancer and ten gruelling surgeries for 12 years through a unique, self-styled blend of prayer, chanting, diet, humour, and sheer courageous positivity. We could all learn a lot about dealing with adversity from the way she lived her life and faced her death. Rest in peace Kiki, we will all really miss you. And come what may, I’ll take my chances with a jazz community as stout as this every day of the week. This video shows what Kiki was all about far better than I ever could in words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU0sZo13YWY.

I continue to face the fragility of jazz with a mixture of defiance and ambiguous world-weary irony, as in this paraphrase from the refrains of Mose Allison’s Gettin’ There: “I am not downhearted. I’m not discouraged. I am not disillusioned… But I’m gettin’ there. Yeah… I’m gettin’ there.”

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

Jackie RichardsonOCT 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 AT 6:30PM: The Rex Hotel 194 Queen St. W. - Jazz Ensembles from U of T and Humber College – The regular regimen of Monday performances by students and graduates from the jazz programs of these two schools. The music is varied, stimulating, honest, often surprising, and always worth hearing.

OCT 11 AND 12, 9:30PM: The Rex Hotel 194 Queen St. W. – The Mark Eisenman Quintet. I’m maybe biased (because I play in it), but this is one of my favourite Toronto bands, one which plays a bristling brand of contemporary bebop often laced with Eisenman’s compositions, many of them ingenious contrafacts on standards. John MacLeod, cornet, Pat LaBarbera, saxophone; Mark Eisenman, piano; Mark Micklethwaite, drums; and yours truly, bass.

OCT 14, 4:30PM: Christ Church Deer Park 1570 Yonge St: Jazz Vespers: The Drew Jurecka Trio – An opportunity to hear one of Toronto’s most brilliant and versatile multi-instrumentalists in a quiet and reflective setting.

OCT 18, 7:30PM: Garage at the Centre for Social Innovation 720 Bathurst St. Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band, directed by Martin Loomer, special guest Pat LaBarbera, soprano saxophone. With its lively and retro repertoire, this unique band is always worth hearing, but having the encyclopedically talented LaBarbera as a guest soloist makes this a must-attend.

NOV 3, 7:30PM: Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts – FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre 250 St. Paul St., St. Catharines: “Voices of Freedom Concert”For those willing to travel further afield, a concert featuring two of Canada’s best-loved jazz singers, Jackie Richardson and Molly Johnson, backed by a superb trio of Robi Botos, piano; Mike Downes, bass; and Larnell Lewis, drums.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at Wallace-bass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

Jazz Takes a Holiday: As with most things, when the dog days of summer hit, jazz slows down a bit, particularly after the festival season ends in early July. There was still jazz to be heard at the usual Toronto venues in July and August, but many of the gigs I attended or played were sweaty, sparsely attended affairs, owing to so many people being away on vacation or simply trying to dodge the stickiness of the city. Even The WholeNote takes a break and it was certainly a slow summer for me and many of my colleagues in terms of work, but I didn’t mind so much because a lot of the time it was too hot to play jazz, or even think about it.

But now that September is suddenly upon us and the jazz programs resume at York University, Humber College and U of T, live jazz will be back in full swing, pun intended. The two are not unrelated; increasingly, the Toronto jazz scene is impacted and shaped by the young musicians studying and playing the music, interacting with so many of the city’s veteran jazz players – the usual suspects - teaching it. There have always been promising young players on the Toronto scene – I myself was one of them over 40 long years ago – but I can’t remember a time when there were so many as now, and their presence will be felt at the clubs in September and the coming months.

For one thing, the students form a large and enthusiastic audience at jazz gigs, and for another, Monday nights at The Rex will again feature student ensembles from U of T and Humber playing short sets. This allows for a wide array of styles ranging from the contemporary to the traditional (“traditional” now meaning “bebop,” not Dixieland.) I plan on attending these regularly and I urge Toronto jazz fans to do so as well. Not only to support the students, which is important, but because these evenings offer a kind of one-stop-shopping opportunity to hear varied and interesting music played by talented young people who represent the future of jazz. Well-known Toronto players not only direct these groups but often play in them as well. This interplay between the young and old(er) can produce satisfying musical results; jazz is grown this way.

I want to touch upon one group that has sprung out of this student-teacher cooperation which will play a couple of times in September and which I find interesting, despite the fact that I’m in it: Harrison Squared. It’s named after two young men who graduated from the U of T jazz program in April: drummer Harrison Vetro and tenor saxophonist Harrison Argatoff, with tenor saxophonist Mike Murley and me cast as the mentoring oldsters. Not that either of these young men need mentoring, as both are well on their way as advanced players; we all simply enjoy playing together. We’ll be playing at The Rex on September 1 and on September 30 at The Emmett Ray, another venue where young Toronto players can be heard frequently and to advantage. There are plans to record early in 2019, which I look forward to.

The group hatched out of a chance encounter between Harrison Vetro and me in early 2016 at U of T. His drum teacher, Nick Fraser, was on tour and asked me if I would teach Vetro a lesson, reasoning that he might benefit from some pointers from a veteran bassist. We worked on a few tempos and rhythmic feels and I liked his drumming straight away: it was quiet but intense, creative yet swinging. About halfway through the lesson he asked if it would be okay if his friend Harrison Argatoff joined us on saxophone for a few tunes. Glad of some melodic content I said sure thing, while wondering what was up with all the Harrisons all of a sudden – my ensemble that year had a very fine guitarist in it named Harrison Bartlett. Like Vetro, Argatoff is a thinking, creative player, very much in the Lennie Tristano/Warne Marsh vein. I cautioned Argatoff not to play so far behind the beat and told Vetro not to follow him when he did so, but otherwise I really enjoyed the instant musical chemistry between us. We resolved to get together and play again but scheduling made this difficult, so finally the two Harrisons took the bull by the horns, landing a gig at The Rex in September of 2016 and asking Murley and me to join them; thus was a band born. We didn’t rehearse, just agreed on a selection of standards and some out-of-the-way jazz originals. The gig had a very open, spontaneous feeling and was immensely satisfying – having played together on countless occasions, Murley and I enjoyed the stimulus of playing with fresh partners and the Harrisons upped their game playing with such muscular and experienced veterans!

In their own words, here are Vetro and Argatoff on what they’ll be up to musically in the near future:

Harrison VetroHarrison Vetro: “I’m leading my own project called Northern Ranger. I will be releasing a CD under this name on October 20 at Gallery 345 in Toronto. It has been funded by the U of T Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association. The album features Lina Allemano, Harrison Argatoff and Andrew Downing, as well as a few others. This is a student/teacher project and we had Nick Fraser come into the studio as a producer. It was a lesson in leading a band, making decisions as a band leader, using studio time efficiently.

The Northern Ranger album is inspired by the Canada 150 celebration and is a series of compositions following my cross-Canada travels in 2016 and 2017. My curiosity for Indigenous music propelled me to visit specific locations within the six Indigenous cultural areas in Canada: Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains and the Eastern Woodlands. My compositions offer a new perspective on the landscape of Canada.

Proceeds from this album will assist outreach programs for youth with limited access to music education. I have a tour booked for this album release and will be performing at The Jazz YYC (Calgary) and Yardbird Suite (Edmonton) winter jazz festivals, as well as The Bassment in Saskatoon and some other dates on the east coast this November. I have also been invited by Jazz YYC to give an improvisation workshop in a high school on one of the reserves in the Calgary area.

I also have a residency at the Tranzac on the fourth Wednesday of every month, where I will present new music.”

Harrison ArgatoffHarrison Argatoff: “Having graduated from U of T this past spring, my current plan is to continue making music in Toronto. This fall I’m excited to be releasing my first CD, Dreaming Hears the Still, a collaboration between pianist Noah Franche-Nolan and myself. The CD exclusively features our original repertoire, most of which uses precise composition as a framework for improvisation. I am also currently working on music for my solo saxophone project and the Harrison Argatoff Quartet (both of which are in their infancy). Having grown up a Doukhobor in the interior of British Columbia, teachings of pacifism, communal music making and respect for life and nature have deeply affected my personal and artistic endeavours. I’m currently focusing on developing a modern approach to music through original composition for a variety of ensembles, and also for solo performance. My music combines the study of free improvised music, traditional jazz music and contemporary classical music.”

As their words indicate, both young men are interesting and dedicated creative young musicians and I hope many of you will come out to hear them in action with Murley and me at The Emmett Ray on September 30, as well as in their own future ventures.

Toronto’s young jazz players and students will also be taking a significant part in two September music events. One, the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival (TUJF), taking place September 4 to 8 at The Frog pub, Mel Lastman Square and Jazz Bistro, is devoted entirely to them. And, as in the past, young players will have a role in the upcoming Kensington Market Jazz Festival, September 14 to 16. Both of these festivals are covered in detail elsewhere in this issue.

Miss Aretha. A brief word on Aretha Franklin, whose recent death packed a momentous, end-of-an-era kick in the gut even though we knew it was coming. Her music transcended musical genres, politics, international boundaries and even race; only a handful of artists have made so many feel so good for so long. As we mourn her passing, we can only feel grateful to have had her here on earth with us for so many years. Few thought of her as a jazz artist but her early records on Columbia belie this, as did her piano playing; she was a great singer but the real magic happened when she sat down at the piano to accompany herself. R.I.P. Aretha.

JAZZ NOTES QUICK PICKS

William ParkerSEP 4, 8:30PM: The Frog, TUJF. The Anthony D’Allessandro Trio. A chance to hear one of Toronto’s best and hardest-swinging young pianists in an intimate setting playing his choice arrangements of standards and jazz classics.

SEP 13, 8PM: Guelph International Jazz Festival, River Run Centre. A double bill with the Nick Fraser Quartet featuring Andrew Downing, cello, Rob Clutton, bass, and Tony Malaby, guitar; and Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones. A chance to hear one of Toronto’s most creative bands and a highly adventurous international one.

SEP 15, 10:30AM: Royal City Church, Guelph International Jazz Festival William Parker, bass. One of the giants of contemporary avant-garde jazz in a solo performance. ‘Nuff said.

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera” which can be accessed at Wallace-bass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

The 32nd TD Toronto Jazz Festival will run June 22 to July 1, with 23 ticketed shows in various venues and approximately 150 free concerts. For the second straight year, the festival will be centred around Bloor-Yorkville, with seven core venues: outdoor stages on Cumberland St. and Hazelton Ave., The Pilot Tavern, Heliconian Hall, the Church of the Redeemer, the Isabel Bader Theatre and the Village of Yorkville Park. This year’s festival also has some new initiatives, including four ticketed concerts at Trinity-St. Paul’s; an opening night celebration co-produced with the Royal Ontario Museum called “Jazz Club,in which the ROM will be transformed into a giant nightclub featuring jazz, swing and dancing throughout the evening; and a partnership with CBC Music and the JUNOs rotating between two Yorkville stages and highlighting Canadian musicians who were either nominated for, or won, JUNO awards this past year. The showcase will feature eight bands on June 30, including David Braid/Mike Murley, the Okavango African Orchestra, Hilario Durán, Shirantha Beddage, Autorickshaw, Beny Esguerra and New Tradition, and more.

With the festival fast approaching, I sat down for a conversation with Josh Grossman, now in his ninth year as artistic director, about this year’s festival and its continuing evolution.

Josh Grossman - Photo by Marie ByersWN: Walk us through the move away from Nathan Phillips Square into Yorkville, which began last year. What has this change brought to the festival?

JG: There were programming-flexibility and other issues involved in having the big tent in Nathan Phillips Square as the festival’s central venue. These involved noise by-law requirements which limited us to three shows a day – one at noon, one in the late afternoon and one in the evening – and we wanted to be able to present more. Also, the tent held 1,200 people and the pressure of filling it for ten straight days proved to be a challenge. The sound was often less than ideal and so was the atmosphere – we lacked the budget to decorate the square to give it more of a festival feel as it had during the Pan-Am Games. The move to Bloor-Yorkville allows us to present smaller shows, but more of them, and in a variety of indoor and outdoor venues that provide more flexibility and variety. Also, with its pre-existing history, Yorkville provides a village-within-a-city feel that makes a jazz festival feel like more of a festival, which is hugely important. It has a built-in community and neighbourhood vibe and offers many other advantages. It’s in the centre of the city, easily accessible by public transit and, with seven venues, it offers a flexibility of programming. It’s also close to some of the hard-ticketed venues such as the Danforth Music Hall, Koerner Hall, the ROM and Trinity-St. Paul’s, so there’s a sense of concentration. We want people to be able to catch a variety of shows each day by simply walking or taking a short subway ride. Because Yorkville is relatively small, many of the venues, even the outdoor ones, offer an intimacy which suits the music being presented. Heliconian Hall for example, where we’ll be presenting ten free concerts, holds just 100 people, has wonderful sound, a good grand piano and a great stage. The Church of the Redeemer is similar and both these venues have a history within the city, which it’s nice to take advantage of.

What has response from the Yorkville community been like?

Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and the Bloor-Yorkville BIA have been very supportive, which has allowed us to increase the Yorkville footprint of the festival this year. It’s helped that CEO Howard Kerber, who formerly ran TIFF in the community for several years, has been involved. There are still noise by-law issues – no more than 85 decibels and nothing past 11pm – but most shows will wind up by ten. And the local businesses certainly appreciate the influx of 5,000 people into the neighbourhood.

Apart from affordability, availability and avoiding repetition from year to year, what drives your selection of acts for the festival?

We focus on the audience in Toronto, being aware of who’s popular in the city, and of the increasing cross-cultural aspect of the community with an eye toward promoting this. With the ticketed big-name shows we look for variety; we want the acts to be exciting and vibrant as well as financially viable. It’s certainly not a matter of me as artistic director just indulging my own tastes; there have been many times I’ve wanted to bring in an artist I love but have been shot down by the board. It’s surprising, but there are a number of artists with huge international jazz reps who simply don’t sell well in Toronto. The free concerts are easier because there’s no box office pressure and the possibilities are almost endless.

There’s a perception that the festival has grown smaller in the last couple of years – is this true?

Not entirely. There have been slightly fewer big-name, hard-ticketed events the past couple of years, but the total number of presentations has held steady at 170 to 180. Part of the perception that we’re smaller is we no longer involve, under the festival umbrella, many clubs which present jazz part time. This is largely because they didn’t allow us input into their booking of artists. The exceptions this year are the Home Smith Bar, The Rex (which does its own booking but we wanted to maintain a partnership with because it presents so much jazz year-round) and The Pilot Tavern, an obvious choice given its location and long history.

I’ve often thought that with jazz festivals, smaller can be better.

Yes, we’re finding that can be true – that musical quality and variety matter more than size.

You’re likely sick of this question – as am I – but what do you say to the inevitable criticism that there are acts in the festival that aren’t really jazz?

So when we bring in someone like Willie Nelson, or Alison Krause this year … I’m not going to argue that they’re jazz artists, but they serve a certain purpose in attracting large audiences, which helps the bottom line, which in turn helps us afford other artists. But whether they’re jazz or not, nobody can argue that they’re not great musical artists. And there’s a hope that their fans, who may not have been exposed to jazz before, may catch some other shows and say “Hey, I like this, why haven’t I heard this before?” Also, it’s not really fair, because those critics often seize on one or two artists out of the 170 being presented, most of which in some form are legitimately jazz. The music has evolved and cross-pollinated so much that it now comprises many elements of world music, R&B, soul, blues, funk and so on, so who can say anymore in absolute terms what jazz is, or isn’t? Particularly in the summer, jazz becomes a bigger, more inclusive tent. Besides, some of these more popular artists can surprise you – for example, a few years ago the Steve Martin booking was roundly criticized, but in my opinion his performance offered more improvisational content than a lot of the so-called “straight jazz” ones did that year.

How long does putting together each festival take?

With all the logistical challenges and coordination of booking, organizing and planning, it’s pretty much a year-long process. The team generally allows itself some time off to bask in the afterglow of the current festival, then it’s on to organizing the next one.

What would you like to say about this year’s festival?

I’m pretty excited about it, the expanded presence in Yorkville and some of the new venues, artists and initiatives being offered, such as blues legend Bettye Lavette heading up a Blues Revue for the first time in the festival and the first-ever Toronto appearance by The Bad Plus featuring their new pianist, Orrin Evans; the Industry Exchange, a new series being held in the Stealth Lounge of The Pilot, aimed at promoting emerging local talent from diverse musical backgrounds. The Yorkville venues have given us the flexibility to present a lot of Canadian talent, both established and lesser-known. I feel we’re offering a program with a lot of range, featuring some legends such as Herbie Hancock as well as some newer artists, in some of the city’s most attractive venues.

Bettye LavetteAll told, you’ve done seven or eight of these, so what do you consider a successful jazz festival to be – how does that look?

Well, attendance and the bottom line are important of course and it helps if the weather cooperates. But mostly, it’s the vibe of the festival, the feeling of its interaction with the city itself, positive feedback from audiences, seeing familiar faces and some new ones at the shows. Having artists express an interest in returning is always nice and often happens because this is such a vibrant city with so much musical talent. And it’s a good sign when I see a lot of local musicians in the audience.

Full disclosure! Aside from playing two Yorkville concerts with Reg Schwager’s Songbook and the Barry Elmes Quintet, I plan on being one of the local musicians in the audience Josh Grossman spoke about. I like the eclecticism and look of this year’s lineup, some of the new initiatives and the overall scope and size of the festival. Above all, I feel its setting allows for some musical intimacy and the potential to be what a jazz festival should be at the end of the day – festive. I wish everybody an enjoyable time at this year’s festival and a happy summer of listening.

To see more detail about this year’s lineup and schedule, visit torontojazz.com

Toronto bassist Steve Wallace writes a blog called “Steve Wallace jazz, baseball, life and other ephemera,” which can be accessed at Wallace-bass.com. Aside from the topics mentioned, he sometimes writes about movies and food.

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