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!

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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.

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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
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