It’s not as bad as it sounds. It is, of course, the start of a new season. Goodbye to the festival merry-go-round and hello to September Song.

It is interesting, albeit somewhat disheartening, to observe the downward spiral in Toronto – and you can substitute almost all the cities in North America that had a reputation for being “jazz” centres – since the glory days when there were touring bands and a circuit of clubs within driving distance which made it possible to go on the road with a group. There were places for musicians to hone their skills, and a recording industry in which the major labels at least paid lip service to leaders such as Horace Silver, “Cannonball” Aderley and Thelonious Monk, to name only a few. I can remember when The Cav-A-Bob, a club at the foot of Yonge Street, actually hired bands  for a month at a time – bands that included such great jazz players as “Doc” Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Rudy Powell, Red Richards and Buddy Tate!

But the cutbacks kicked in, and a group which normally would have been a sextet became a quintet and the first musician to be left at home would invariably be the bass player, unless, of course, he happened to be the leader. Not much point in going to see the Mingus band if he wasn’t there! The economics of the business became tougher and eventually, instead of an organized group touring, individual artists would come to town and play with a  local rhythm section for a week, sometimes two weeks, until the week became maybe Thursday through Saturday.

Eventually all of those venues fell by the wayside and we are now in a situation where a week-long engagement in a club just does not exist in this city. Today, the concert hall or festival stage has become the only way of seeing and hearing “name” performers. It is a fact of life, and we have to accept it.

So what is in store for Toronto jazz audiences this fall? Quite a lot, as a matter of fact, given the above realities. One of the big events is the opening of Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music and on September their first jazz concert will feature the Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke & Lenny White Trio with Sophie Milman opening for the main attraction. This new venue is something the city has needed for a long time, a custom-designed performance space with a capacity of just over 1,000 seats. It is beautifully designed, and if the acoustics sound as good as the hall looks it will be a winner.

Located across the street from the Roy Thomson Hall, Quotes Bar & Grill will get underway on September 18 with a new season of Friday evening jazz from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. It’s the fourth year of presenting “Fridays at Five,” featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet with a guest instrumentalist each week. Saxophone great Pat LaBarbera is the featured guest for the launch. This club has really caught on with fans who like their jazz straight ahead and swinging and it’s a great way to start the weekend.

Looking ahead a little farther, on Thursday September 24 Roy Thomson’s sister venue, Massey Hall, will present Ornette Coleman. His revolutionary musical ideas have been controversial and  his unorthodox manner of playing changed the way of listening to jazz for a lot of people. His primary instrument is the alto saxophone, although he is also a violinist and trumpeter and began his playing career on tenor sax in an R&B band in his native Texas. He has influenced almost all of today’s modern musicians and some of his compositions, such as Lonely Woman and Turnaround have become minor standards.

The Home Smith Bar at The Old Mill is becoming a little oasis of jazz in the West End of the city. Starting September 11, a jazz vocal series called Fridays to Sing About! will run every week from 7:30 to 10:30 pm. Carol McCartney kicks it off with John Sherwood on piano and Dave Young, bass. The following weeks will feature Melissa Stylianou and Heather Bambrick. Meanwhile, the Piano Masters Series will continue on Saturdays, with the cream of local pianists in solo, duo or trio settings. It is a piano player’s heaven because The Old Mill, showing an admirable commitment to their jazz policy, recently installed a new Yamaha C3 grand piano – and the musicians love it!

26AlexanderThe Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander’s career is well documented: Canada’s first black Member of Parliament, observer to the United Nations, a Companion of the Order of Canada and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1985 to 1991. But perhaps less publicized is his great love of jazz. The Jazz Performance and Education Centre, (JPEC) is presenting A Tribute Evening to Lincoln Alexander on October 1 in the Glenn Gould Studio, featuring some of our leading Canadian artists, including Archie Alleyne (drums), Peter Appleyard (vibes), Guido Basso (trumpet and flugelhorn), Russ Little (trombone), Joe Sealy (piano), and vocalists Arlene Duncan, Michael Dunstan, Molly Johnson and Jackie Richardson. Full details can be found at www.jazzcentre.ca. It is a fitting tribute to a great Canadian.

So you see, there is quite a lot of live jazz to hear in the coming weeks – and I’ve only mentioned a few of the venues in town.

It’s true: “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” but “Nevertheless,” “The Music Goes Round And Round,” and even although I can’t truly say “It’s All Right With Me,”“I Can Dream, Can’t I?” I hope “Autumn Leaves” you with a good feeling, and that you will enjoy some jazz listening in the coming weeks. Just make sure that some of it is live.

It’s June and the festival season kicks into overdrive with events from coast to coast, and groups of musicians doing the festival circuit. For the most part, they arrive, play the concert and move on, without many opportunities to hear other musicians and hang out. That’s life on the road. Another phenomenon, the jazz party is, from a social point of view, somewhat different: for three or four days a group of musicians have the chance of spending time together and socializing.

Last month I was in Midland/Odessa, Texas, for their 46th annual jazz party: a three-day event featuring a lot of the usual suspects, including, among others, Harry Allen, John Allred, Jake Hanna, Ken Peplowski, Bucky Pizzarelli, Allan and Warren Vache, and relatively new additions such as bassist Nicki Parrott and pianist Rossano Sportiello. Over the course of the weekend I was reminded of how much pleasure is derived from the social aspect of these get-togethers. The party circuit is made up of a relatively small band of modern day minstrels who travel huge distances to make their music. For example, Warren, Rossano and I saw each other three times over a period of three weeks in May, but to do so we each travelled over 10,000 miles!

Read more: Sumer Is Icumen In

The human voice is the oldest form of musical expression, and in its earliest use was untexted: think of throat-singing and Celtic mouth music, for example.When one considers some of the current pop-music trends, thinking of the voice as a musical instrument might be a challenge, but even the spoken word can be like music to one's ears. Actor James Earl Jones, for example, has a beautiful voice, although he had to overcome a severe stuttering problem and into his teens he had to communicate with teachers and classmates by handwritten notes! From an earlier generation Ronald Colman had a wonderful, resonant voice that made music just by speaking.

This being the choral issue of The WholeNote, I thought I would give voice to my thoughts on vocal jazz groups. The beginnings of the music go back to ceremonial chants, work songs, field hollers and chain gangs, giving us the origins of the blues, which, in turn became an integral part of jazz. In other words, the roots of jazz were very much vocal, although early jazz bands used singers only intermittently.

Read more: Words and Music

Who is 90 years old, male but known as “mother”, brought new meaning to the word vibrato, can hear a wrong note from fifty paces, has more yarns than a knitting store and still plays a sexy saxophone?

The answer is Gordon Evans, one of the great musicians in Canada who celebrated his 90th birthday last month. We had a party for Gordon and rarely has a room been more filled with love and good vibes. Musicians, friends and admirers were there - young and old - all with lives touched by Gordon Evans.

22_Gordon Evans1

Read more: Jazz Notes: April 09

I’ll start off this month with mention of a few upcoming events which caught my eye and should catch your ears.

Mavis Staples with special guest James Hunter will be onstage at Massey Hall on March 21. Both artists have appeared here in recent years at the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival and both were knock-out successes. From her early days with the family group, The Staples Singers, to her present day solo performances, Mavis Staples has been steeped in her gospel traditions. She has a great voice and she’s also a pretty neat lady. By contrast, English born James Hunter’s background is classic R & B. In the 80s he borrowed the name of classic blues performer, Howlin’ Wolf and in the 90s sang back-up for Van Morrison, who later described him as one of the best voices in British Soul music. Massey Hall will rock.

Read more: March Hears
Back to top