Ori's Stories: Jazz in the Clubs
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
Whether you are in the band or in the audience, in jazz, the ideal experience is being there when something magical happens. The second best thing is hearing a live recording that captures such magic. Therefore, the production of live recordings, where the band is at its best with an enthusiastic audience, is essential to understanding, preserving and promoting jazz music. Norman Granz knew this and epitomized it; the famed impresario and record producer known for discovering Oscar Peterson and catapulting Ella Fitzgerald’s career was a civil rights hero who worked tirelessly to produce, book and champion his gifted artists. Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award, garnering 13 such trophies in her illustrious career. Between 1938 and 1989, Ella Fitzgerald recorded over 2000 songs.
On Mack the Knife: Live in Berlin, recorded February 13, 1960, something truly magical happened. In front of the perfect audience – rapturously cheering and not a single cough – Miss Fitzgerald was at the Mt. Everest-like peak of her vocal power and accompanied by the best jazz combo Granz could find: music director Paul Smith on piano, Jim Hall on guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Gus Johnson on drums. There is literally not one false eighth-note on this hotly swinging session. On the title track Ella forgets the lyrics and improvises her own (“You won’t recognize it…it’s a surprise hit!”). And equally historic is the nine-minute version of How High the Moon which is arguably the greatest scat solo ever recorded. Using Charlie Parker’s Ornithology as a starting point, Fitzgerald miraculously makes seven minutes of intergalactic wordless fireworks fly by as effortlessly as a hummingbird.
Born April 25, 1917, Ella’s centenary quickly approaches and fittingly there are musical tributes to her left, right and centre. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra will wait until June 6 and 7 to toast the “First Lady of Song,” in a tribute conducted by Steven Reineke and featuring American vocalists Capathia Jenkins, Montego Glover and Sy Smith. For something coming up sooner and featuring extraordinary Canadian talent, as part of the Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) Concert Series, the Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra will celebrate 100 years of Ella Fitzgerald at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on Saturday March 18. The Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra is Darcy Hepner, lead alto saxophone; Simon Wallis, alto saxophone; Michael Stuart, tenor saxophone; Jeff King, tenor saxophone; Terry Basom, baritone saxophone; Jason Logue, lead trumpet; Brigham Phillips, trumpet; Mike Malone, trumpet; Ron Baker, trumpet; Russ Little, lead trombone; Rob Somerville, trombone; Phil Gray, trombone; Bob Hamper, bass trombone; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Pat Collins, bass; Kevin Dempsey, drums; and vocalist, Sophia Perlman, who Hepner describes calls “the only singer the band will ever need.”
SOPHIA PERLMAN: The term “using one’s voice as an instrument” gets tossed around too casually in the jazz world. Vocalists are sometimes not perceived to be musicians. Toronto’s Sophia Perlman is not merely a musician, but an excellent one, thanks to her natural talent, unflinching dedication and a wide variety of musical experiences and influences.
Now a faculty member of Mohawk College’s jazz program, from 2008 to 2013 Perlman worked with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s OPERAtion KIDS outreach program, and during her tenure worked with close to 2000 elementary school-aged students in Toronto creating music and opera, as well as instructing two of their choruses for children as young as three.
Not one to pigeonhole herself, in PerlHaze, her new folk/roots/singer-songwriter partnership with fellow jazz singer Terra Hazelton, Perlman writes, sings and plays a half-dozen instruments:
“One of the things I love about the ways Terra and I have been exploring writing and arranging for two musicians is the multitudes of ways that harmony and counterpoint can help to fill in other aspects of the music like time or harmonic rhythm. I think, as a former choral singer, I tend to hear parts in my head most of the time. When I’m singing especially loosely, or in different jazz settings like playing with my quartet, or when I’m improvising, it’s still largely rooted in writing alternate arrangements in my head.”
What do you remember about your very first experience singing with a big band? I think maybe the first large band experience I ever had was singing in a Mirvish musical at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1996. It wasn’t jazz, but the process of learning music over piano reductions and then having the experience of singing them when those piano parts expanded was incredible to my 12-year-old brain…
I played saxophones and clarinet in high school and got introduced a bit more to big band music through the perspective of an instrumentalist. The way different horn sections were used and voiced seemed very akin to the choral and vocal music I was already singing outside of school. I had a very smart band teacher who found a million excuses to get me to arrange and reduce things. Thanks, Mr. Alberts! The summer before my last year of high school, I went to the jazz camp at Interprovincial Music Camp. I’m almost afraid to list the IMC faculty that summer because since then some of these people have become my colleagues, my mentors and my friends, and I’m afraid I’m going to leave someone out: Lisa Martinelli, Kevin Turcotte, Pat Collins, Mike Murley, Cam Ryga, Lorne Lofsky, Barry Elmes…Hugh Fraser was at the helm and that was my introduction to VEJI and to the incredible Christine Duncan who really reframed my ideas as to how big band music didn’t necessarily mean historical music and it was inspiring to hear compositions go from small band to big band six months later at the IAJE conference in Toronto. My camp friends and I stormed the hall as soon as the doors were open to try and get as close to the front as possible. Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass reunited that night too. I don’t think my 17-year-old self understood how fortunate I was – as excited and inspired as I was.
Tell me a bit about your experience working with the Toronto All-Star Big Band and how the experience influenced you as a musician. I auditioned for TABB in the spring of my last year of high school. It was just artistic director Zygmunt Jedrzejek and a pianist who was very kind and gamely played through End of a Love Affair a second time when I was asked if I could try to improvise…The pianist was Ernesto Cervini. I actually knew him as a pianist and a clarinetist before I ever figured out he played the drums.
That band has turned out a whole bunch of wonderful alumnae. Ernesto has put out some incredible records as a drummer, arranger and composer. Jeff Halischuk and I have been playing together ever since. Melissa Lauren and I overlapped as vocalists, and Elliot Madore, who was the baritone in our vocal quartet is taking the opera world by storm in New York.
What have you learned from working with Darcy Hepner? I first met Darcy Hepner when he pulled up in front of our Toronto apartment to drop off charts for my then boyfriend, this cute piano player. He was starting a weekly big band gig in Hamilton, exploring the music of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra…I started riding the bus out to Hamilton after work to hear the band play almost every week. At some point the piano player put the bug in Darcy’s ear that I sang and he threw a couple of mp3’s my way – Joe Williams with the Band. It’s always a challenge as a female singer to navigate the ranges of some of these charts. You want to try, and you can’t ask a whole big band to transpose. It requires some creativity.
I don’t particularly remember how it went that night but they kept inviting me back and finding things for me to do – an Ella Fitzgerald/Oscar Peterson show during the Brott Festival, and what is becoming an annual gig fundraising for the Good Shepherd’s Society in Ancaster.
The band has so many musicians that I love and respect. I am so grateful that my now husband Adrean Farrugia introduced me to the community of musicians and supporters of music that exists out here in Hamilton. It’s extraordinary to me that they sustained a weekly residency, with a fixed wage for musicians, for an 18-piece big band for as long as they did. And the friendships and musical connections that I made inevitably ended up with my getting involved at Mohawk College and ultimately the decision to move to Hamilton a couple years ago.
JAZZ.FM91 YOUTH BIG BAND/JULES ESTRIN: Established in 2008, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band is a free educational program that provides the opportunity for selected middle and high school students to rehearse with an 18-piece big band and perform with international jazz luminaries. The 2016/17 personnel is Avery Raquel, vocals; Nick Forget, trombone; Aidan Sheedy, trombone; Sam Boughn, trombone; Daniel Strickland, trombone; Leo Silva, trumpet; Daniel Barta, saxophone; Marton Pandy, trumpet; Garrett Hildebrandt, saxophone; Lucas Udvarnoky, trumpet; Gabriella Ellingham, saxophone; Aakanx Panchal, alto saxophone; Evan Garner, trumpet; Martin Pandy, trumpet; J.C. Chung, saxophone; Felix Fox-Pappas, piano; David Cheon, guitar; Jaden Raso, bass, Jackson Haynes, drums.
On March 7 at Lula Lounge, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band will appear in a double bill with the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra. Teaching teenagers to play jazz in the 21st century is a noble endeavour. I spoke with Jules Estrin, director of the Jazz.FM91 Youth Big Band:
How does this gig compare and contrast with leading a big band of adults? During my career I have had the good fortune of leading big bands ranging from middle/high school, community bands and professional groups.
The difference between the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band and a professional group would be that professional musicians are normally great sight readers and section players. They already have maturity in their playing: phrasing, articulation and dynamics are instinctual and professional players can make the music happen the first or second time in performance.
In contrast to this the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band can sound quite polished with a couple of rehearsals. I still need to teach/discuss each of the above concepts as they relate to their repertoire. The expectation for the JAZZ.FM91 kids is that they come to rehearsal with their music learned so that we are working on polishing the music not learning it in rehearsal.
The JAZZ.FM91 kids are quick learners and often do not need to be taught a concept more than once. Which is very helpful…and they practise a lot!
Who are some of the musicians you have been most wowed by who we might hear from in years to come? We have plenty of alumni from the program who have gone on to some pretty incredible things! Matt Woroshyl (saxophone), Jonny Chapman (double bass), Marika Galea (double bass), Sam Dickinson (guitar), Andrew Marzotto (guitar), Sam Pomanti (piano), Anthony Fung (drums).
Brandon Tse (saxophone) and Kaelin Murphy (trumpet) are the most recent graduates that I would keep a look out for! Kaelin took the bus each week from Owen Sound to participate in the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band program. He attended nearly every rehearsal and endured eight hours of bus travel every weekend. He is a great player with great dedication.
What are some of the most memorable performances put on by the Youth Big Band over the years? The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band presently performs nearly 20 concerts per year! Which is a lot of performances and shows the dedication of the students. Each one of those concerts equals about ten rehearsals in terms of the band growing musically and maturing.
We have had the opportunity to perform with some pretty incredible musicians over the past ten years including: Randy Brecker, Lew Tabackin, Bucky Pizzarelli, Tom Scott and Joey DeFrancesco. We have also featured some of Canada’s greatest musicians: Guido Basso, PJ Perry, Al Kay, Shirantha Beddage, Kelly Jefferson and Brian O’Kane.
Perhaps the most notable for me was having the opportunity to open for Al Jarreau at the Brantford International Jazz Festival in 2010.”
“Like many other people who participate in the ensemble, this was my first experience playing in large ensembles and I was still developing my musical abilities. By the end of my time with the band, I was a completely different bass player - I could hold my own in both the big band and in other ensembles I was working in and I had confidence in my playing that I never had before. Jules’ continued support and refusal to accept anything but my best from me changed my playing for the better.”
Now an undergraduate student in the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Toronto, she is studying privately with Order-of-Canada- member Dave Young.
“Different ensembles provide me with unique experiences. In the UTJO, we work on such a range of material – from classic big band arrangements by Neal Hefti, to iconic Canadian writings by Rob McConnell and Ron Collier, to modern composition and arrangements by Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue. Working on this material with Gordon Foote, who has such a wealth of knowledge about the history of the music and the musicians is truly inspiring. Sonuskapos, on the other hand, is completely outside of an academic setting and performs primarily compositions and arrangements of Mason Victoria. In this setting, we are the first band to play these pieces and it is so satisfying to see how the music changes shape as we work with them.”
Of playing in larger ensembles, Harrett observes:
“There are so many wonderful things that happened after I started working in big band settings. My sense of intonation and articulation and other important aspects of musicality became heightened. I had to quickly develop a strong sense of confidence in my musical abilities. One of the biggest things that I did not expect to get from playing in big bands was such a strong sense of community from the members of the band.”
Bassist of the University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, Irene Harrett will be performing at Lula Lounge on March 7. Dinner reservations guarantee seating: consult our Jazz Club listings.
Never too late: Finally, to close on a cool note one whole month ahead of April being Jazz Appreciation Month, it’s never too late to pick up some jazz chops! If you know an adult who has been playing jazz as a hobby and is looking to improve his/her skills, I invite you to send them to Anthony Rice’s Vegas North school, which features a variety of instrumental jazz workshops including adult jazz band, big band and salsa, with new courses starting in April: vegasnorth.ca.
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
As challenges abound in the 21st century music business model, many struggle to fix flat tires, while others proudly re-invent wheels. Last month (January 2017) I found myself at the Jazz Connect conference in New York City, a meeting of many a musical mind. Artists, presenters, journalists, record labels, media outlets and other key industry professionals attended the conference panels, workshops and lectures. I came away not so much with answers as with a sense of how many of the questions being asked also apply to the health of our own musical city.
Right off the top, the decline of the artist’s rights in the digital age was the subject of Maria Schneider’s haunting keynote address, and a constant conference refrain: to quote a blues tune of note: “Things ain’t what they used to be.”
Patreon: At Jazz Connect’s “Direct to Fan for Income Maximization” session, Carlos Cabrera of Patreon inspired the crowd, many of whom had not heard of this platform before. The idea of Patreon is to provide a way for creators to invite fans to become patrons who contribute either on a monthly basis or by creation. In this way a model of engagement can be built on the fact that in the Internet age, audiences can be reached across the globe, as opposed to the old sequential model of local, national and then international success. You can find all sorts of creators on the Patreon platform, from musicians to visual artists to poets, and even publications like The WholeNote.
Following the session I sent Cabrera some questions by email:
Q. What inspired Patreon’s creation?
A. Jack Conte (Patreon founder) had spent years making music and posting his videos on YouTube, and he was searching for a way to do that sustainably. After years of feeling dissatisfied with the income he earned from ad revenue, one project really brought things to a tipping point: he had spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars producing a music video called Pedals and, even though it delighted tens of thousands of fans, he only received around a hundred bucks in revenue. Hundreds of hours of work, thousands of dollars invested, tens of thousands of fans delighted, but a ridiculously low economic return. That’s when it finally clicked in Jack’s mind that the system was broken, and he developed Patreon to fix it.
Q. What are the statistics on Patreon currently in terms of where patrons are coming from? Which are the Top 5 countries?
A. Patreon has patrons in nearly every country in the world. The US represents our largest market, and we’re also popular in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and essentially everywhere that people appreciate art and creativity.
Q. As of this writing, to what degree are there jazz and classical musicians on Patreon?
A.We are really excited to see more than 1,000 jazz and classical musicians on Patreon - they’re close to our hearts because so many of us play jazz and classical music in the office on a daily basis. Jacob Collier is a noteworthy example of a successful jazz musician who earns over $9,000 per song on Patreon. Cyrille Aimée is one of my personal favourites; she earns over $1,300 per song on Patreon.
Connecting the dots: It’s funny how one thing can lead to another. Take Cabrera’s mention of Cyrille Aimée. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, and so inspiring is this lady’s scat singing that I happily just joined her on Patreon. Interestingly enough, I had also just picked up a CD by Aimée, “Live at Smalls”– for US$10 – at Jazz Connect by Aimée. The Brooklyn-based French singer recorded “Live at Smalls” in 2010, currently the best-selling record on the Smalls Live label, with a hot band that features pianist and Small’s owner and manager Spike Wilner on it. Which fact neatly takes us to the next part of this story.
Thinking Smalls: Spike Wilner. For almost a decade, Wilner has famously been live-streaming cutting-edge jazz of today from his intimate basement club, Smalls Jazz Club, to screens across the globe. Memorable music has been archived including sessions by Mark Soskin, Jimmy Greene, Joel Frahm, Johnny O’Neal, Ian Hendrickson-Smiths, Lage Lunds, Ari Hoenig, Tim Ries of Rolling Stones fame – who teaches jazz studies at the University of Toronto – and Spike Wilner himself.
“I’ve been a professional musician my whole life and started performing at Smalls right in the very beginning in the first couple of months of the club’s existence, back in 1994 when my partner and friend Mitch Borden created it,” he tells me in a phone interview. (He’s on his cell phone, taking a cab uptown from his Greenwich Village club.) “That club, the original Smalls, was shut down around 2002, it went bankrupt after 9/11 due to a lot of economic problems that took the city – there was a huge shift then and the model for Smalls was no longer a viable one and he went under.”
In 2007, after an interim period when the space was temporarily re-fashioned into a Brazilian club by a third party, Wilner was approached by Borden to become partner and manager. He celebrates ten years this month, a true labour of love. “The live streaming started back in the old Small’s – we had a recording device on stage and got into the habit early on of recording each show. When I took over I had a strong sense that we needed to archive the work. So I installed a more sophisticated recording system and we started recording every show, kept a log of who was on each gig. That started to grow very quickly, as weeks and months rolled by. So it became necessary to organize this library that was growing. I was thinking along the lines of back in the old days, in the 1930s, they used to put a radio wire in a club, and do live radio broadcasts in the clubs – that’s how Count Basie was discovered by John Hammond, who was driving his car in Chicago and turned on his AM radio and caught Basie’s band somewhere in Kansas City. The idea is that even if you have a small club you can shoot out the music electronically somewhere and it made sense to try the Internet. It got some traction right away, and this led to what has now become ‘Smalls Live’ which is a digital media company that has two components: live streaming, and our audio video archive that we have been working on since 2007. We wanted to make it all public and try to see if there was a way to make it all fair and beneficial for everybody. So we started to explore the ideas of what would be a fair model for sharing with artists and sharing with the public.”
Wilner organized a couple of town hall-style meetings at Small’s where they invited musicians to come and speak and ask questions. “And we also did a couple of meetings with Union guys at the local 802 and musical reps – the idea was to ask what would be the fairest system in terms of payout, and we eventually came to the system we now have, which we call the Smalls Live Revenue Share project. Live streams are free, but if you want to access the archive you become a subscribing member – we call them “supporting members” and it’s $10 a month. That allows you unlimited access to our library, which right now is about 12,000 recordings in there, and almost 2,000 musicians. We made partner with a tech guy and we designed a system whereby subscribers go to the archive and listen to shows or watch video.”
The system records the number of seconds that subscribers are watching. Every artist at the end of a certain period is tagged with a total number of seconds that he or she was watched, either as a leader or a sideman on a gig. “So if someone watched the show and you’re associated with it, you’re going to get time credit, and so the money you get comes from how much you have been listened to. The other component that we offer is the fact that the recording itself is owned 100% by the artist. So if you come to Small’s and you play, that is your property, you have the right to not make it public, sell it any way you like, you keep 100% of the publishing and you keep the royalties from any original music. So we really endeavoured to make the fairest royalty paying system for musicians. That got launched in October 2015, and we are trying to build subscribers now. We are closing in on about 800 people that are paying $10 a month at this time which doesn’t sound like a huge amount but it is enough to run this system. The artists have had two payouts where we gave away about $8,000 to artists.”
The amounts sound small, but the top 15-20 musicians in our system are getting substantially better payouts than what they would see from Spotify or any of these other services where they would be getting fractions of a penny. “They’d be getting a few hundred bucks, which can be a game-changer in an artist’s life. And of course as our subscriber base grows, so will their payouts. It’s been an interesting project – very successful, a lot of work. I don’t think our website is utilized the way it should be yet – I don’t think people are aware yet of what a resource it is. The number of recordings we have there is outstanding, including artists who are no longer with us. My goal is to hit 5000 subscribers worldwide.”
How does it feel to be seen as a visionary, an innovator, an inspiration to jazz clubs around the world?
“My hat is off to anyone that wants to run a jazz club anywhere – I have sympathy and love for anyone willing to take this path, it is a very thankless and generally speaking profitless job, but a very important one. Anytime I meet someone who is presenting this music, I support it heartily. The trick with a small business is that the guy who owns it has to work, you can’t really afford somebody to do your job. I’m glad to have all this responsibility. I relish it – I love my club and I love working there and performing there, I love the community of artists that hang out there. I think it’s a miracle that it exists and I want to keep going as long as we possibly can. All I can say is you have to work your ass off and not really expect much in terms of dough. People need jazz – they want it and need it – it’s a real service to humanity.”
Following the success of Smalls, Wilner expanded the business to open Mezzrow, a magical haunt adorned by a Steinway, just a few doors down. One admission buys entry to both clubs on the same night.
As our industry struggles to thrive and grow in an ever-changing world, we must keep an open mind; in clinging to the old, we must embrace the new. So subscribe to Smalls Live, support an artist on Patreon, and most importantly, go out to enjoy live music. Now’s the time!
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com
more sophisticated recording system and we started recording every show, kept a log of who was on each gig. That started to grow very quickly, as weeks and months rolled by. So it became necessary to organize this library that was growing. I was thinking along the lines of back in the old days, in the 1930s, they used to put a radio wire in a club, and do live radio broadcasts in the clubs – that’s how Count Basie was discovered by John Hammond, who was driving his car in Chicago and turned on his AM radio and caught Basie’s band somewhere in Kansas City. The idea is that even if you have a small club you can shoot out the music electronically somewhere and it made sense to try the Internet. It got some traction right away, and this led to what has now become ‘Smalls Live’ which is a digital media company that has two components: live streaming, and our audio video archive that we have been working on since 2007. We wanted to make it all public and try to see if there was a way to make it all fair and beneficial for everybody. So we started to explore the ideas of what would be a fair model for sharing with artists and sharing with the public.” Wilner organized a couple of town hall-style meetings at Small’s where they invited musicians to come and speak and ask questions. “And we also did a couple of meetings with Union guys at the local 802 and musical reps – the idea was to ask what would be the fairest system in terms of payout, and we eventually came to the system we now have, which we call the Smalls Live Revenue Share project. Live streams are free, but if you want to access the archive you become a subscribing member – we call them “supporting members” and it’s $10 a month. That allows you unlimited access to our library, which right now is about 12,000 recordings in there, and almost 2,000 musicians. We made partner with a tech guy and we designed a system whereby subscribers go to the archive and listen to shows or watch video.” The system records the number of seconds that subscribers are watching. Every artist at the end of a certain period is tagged with a total number of seconds that he or she was watched, either as a leader or a sideman on a gig. “So if someone watched the show and you’re associated with it, you’re going to get time credit, and so the money you get comes from how much you have been listened to. The other component that we offer is the fact that the recording itself is owned 100% by the artist. So if you come to Small’s and you play, that is your property, you have the right to not make it public, sell it any way you like, you keep 100% of the publishing and you keep the royalties from any original music. So we really endeavoured to make the fairest royalty paying system for musicians. That got launched in October 2015, and we are trying to build subscribers now. We are closing in on about 800 people that are paying $10 a month at this time which doesn’t sound like a huge amount but it is enough to run this system. The artists have had two payouts where we gave away about $8,000 to artists.” The amounts sound small, but the top 15-20 musicians in our system are getting substantially better payouts than what they would see from Spotify or any of these other services where they would be getting fractions of a penny. “They’d be getting a few hundred bucks, which can be a game-changer in an artist’s life. And of course as our subscriber base grows, so will their payouts. It’s been an interesting project – very successful, a lot of work. I don’t think our website is utilized the way it should be yet – I don’t think people are aware yet of what a resource it is. The number of recordings we have there is outstanding, including artists who are no longer with us. My goal is to hit 5000 subscribers worldwide.” How does it feel to be seen as a visionary, an innovator, an inspiration to jazz clubs around the world? “My hat is off to anyone that wants to run a jazz club anywhere – I have sympathy and love for anyone willing to take this path, it is a very thankless and generally speaking profitless job, but a very important one. Anytime I meet someone who is presenting this music, I support it heartily. The trick with a small business is that the guy who owns it has to work, you can’t really afford somebody to do your job. I’m glad to have all this responsibility. I relish it – I love my club and I love working there and performing there, I love the community of artists that hang out there. I think it’s a miracle that it exists and I want to keep going as long as we possibly can. All I can say is you have to work your ass off and not really expect much in terms of dough. People need jazz – they want it and need it – it’s a real service to humanity.” Following the success of Smalls, Wilner expanded the business to open Mezzrow, a magical haunt adorned by a Steinway, just a few doors down. One admission buys entry to both clubs on the same night. As our industry struggles to thrive and grow in an ever-changing world, we must keep an open mind; in clinging to the old, we must embrace the new. So subscribe to Smalls Live, support an artist on Patreon, and most importantly, go out to enjoy live music. Now’s the time! Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
As in jazz, in writing this column it’s sometimes delightful how one small thing can lead into another. Mid-November, publisher David Perlman and I found ourselves in attendance at the Ken Page Memorial Trust gala at the Old Mill (see last month’s column), where each guest received a jazz recording tucked under the napkin on their table. Mine was courtesy of Humber College from their “New Standards” series. All recordings on the Humber Records label feature performances by Humber students and faculty; making the recordings is not only a priceless experience for all involved, but also a neat way to archive the talent that goes through the program.
Speaking of talent, and how one thing leads to another, one of the musicians featured on track two of said New Standards collection was someone I was planning to write about in this month’s column. Ladies and gentlemen, there are three chances this month for you to see and hear rising star clarinetist-saxophonist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, who recently graduated from Humber College’s prestigious jazz program.
As it happens, I got a chance to ask him a few questions, this month, including of course, why in the world he would choose the clarinet as his main instrument.
JG: My mother had a lifelong dream that her son would be a clarinet player, and at age eight (after about a year and a half of playing recorder) I finally received my first clarinet to try out. Although the clarinet was almost twice my size and I had to play it while sitting down, with the bell propped up on my feet, I felt immediately compelled to continue pursuing music and, in particular, the clarinet.
While in my early studies, I was influenced first by many traditional clarinetists/classics, such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Pee Wee Russell, Woody Herman, and, of course, Buddy DeFranco. About two years after I began playing clarinet (at age ten), I would attend a life-changing workshop in Toronto with the one and only Buddy DeFranco, with whom I would jam on Moonglow - which I remember was one of the few tunes I really knew at the time. In this one masterclass, Buddy DeFranco gave me so much of the encouragement and support I needed in order to continue seriously pursuing a career in performance with a focus on clarinet/woodwinds. Studying privately with Vladimir Belov and Peter Stoll, I eventually began to pick up the other woodwinds (alto first, followed by tenor saxophone) and now am equally at home switching between the various doubles. In the midst of my studies, I would be influenced greatly by Eddie Daniels and Canadian clarinetist, James Danderfer. Both these clarinetists are highly inspirational, as they push the sonic boundaries of contemporary jazz clarinet while also being exceptional saxophonists/composers and arrangers. They would have a huge influence in shaping my perception of what it means to be a jazz clarinetist in the 21st century.
OD: You’ve included two vocal pieces in your album, performed by Denzal Sinclaire. Tell me a bit about this experience and working with singers in general and what that means to you.
JG: The album features two vocal pieces sung by Denzal Sinclaire. He is an incredible musician and, in my opinion, is easily one of the greatest male jazz vocalists in Canada, not to mention an incredibly warm and kind-hearted, supportive human being. I had the pleasure of performing with him around a year ago at a few Soulpepper Cabaret concerts and instantly thought his voice would be the perfect fit for a couple of my original songs. It was a real thrill to have him join us in the studio, and I am so thankful for the opportunity and experience. I have always had an interest in lyrics and songs, and it is an absolute delight to be in Toronto where there is such a vast wealth of singers and songwriters. I have been honoured to have shared the stage with so many great Toronto singers, such as Jackie Richardson, Divine Brown, Sophie Milman, Julie Michels, Don Francks, Laura Hubert, Denzal Sinclaire, Denielle Bassels, Andrew Penner, Big Rude Jake and many more. It is such a delight to be surrounded by so many strong and compelling voices, and they have all helped in their own way to shape my playing, expression, and exploration into song/lyric writing.
OD: Tell me a bit about your experience studying at Humber College. What were your favourite aspects of this post-secondary program, and what are the most important lessons you learned there?
JG: While at Humber, I received music lessons and attended classes/ensembles under the tutelage of some of the top musicians in the city and country, such as Pat LaBarbera, Neil Swainson, Geoff Young, Mark Promane, Kirk MacDonald, Drew Jurecka and so many more. The environment of the school welcomes musical exploration and creativity while honing the theoretical, rudimentary and technical skills of jazz and contemporary idioms of music. It was an honour to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable teachers, as well as a prosperity of talented up-and-coming musicians, so many of whom will become the voice of the next generation of professional musicians in Toronto’s music industry. The strong sense of community within Humber provides an incredible support for creative development/collaboration and experimentation. This environment (and the amazing musicians within it) was truly a great setting for me to explore my personal musical ambitions and further pursue my interest in composition and original music.
Jacob Gorzhaltsan’s Fly Softly CD release is December 1, at Jazz Bistro at 9pm; he’s also at the Emmett Ray on December 19 at 7pm and at the Burdock Music Hall on December 30 at 8:30pm.
“Humber College taught me the importance of memorizing a plethora of jazz standards; I also learned how to rhythm read at brisk tempos. Lenny Boyd taught me Miles Davis solos. Don Thompson allowed me to believe that it is possible to change and revolutionize jazz, as he is one of the great innovators of the double bass. If he could be potently lyrical and play those peaking, clear lines that made your stomach sink, then I also could somehow contribute to the art form via exploration and hard work.”
Disterheft is currently on tour celebrating her latest Justin Time release, Blue Canvas, featuring 80-years-young piano legend Harold Mabern with dazzling drummer Joe Farnsworth. Always one to choose her collaborators carefully, Disterheft reflects upon the experience of working with these two particular musicians:
“Harold’s piano playing reflects that potent, romantic nostalgia one can only achieve from a lineage of years of living and hearing the music. His focus while entering that “dream world” when performing reminds me of when I had the opportunity to play with Hank Jones. It seems nothing can get in the way of their music, and it’s their special place. Harold is also a gracious human being who innately supports people. Joe and I have been a rhythm section team as sidemen for numerous records under the bandleader and alto hard-bop player Vincent Herring (Smoke Sessions Records) with other world-class players such as Cyrus Chestnut and Jeremy Pelt. Playing with time with Joe is to effortlessly soar across the sky while holding onto an oversized helium balloon gliding over a raging river. His finesse and power is something I experienced when I was in my early 20s when Laila Biali and I opened for Pharoah Sanders at the Toronto Jazz Festival. Joe was playing drums, and you never forget hearing him live for the first time.”
The very same can be said of Disterheft’s own approach to music. In her hands the acoustic bass drips gloriously with a well-oiled liquid groove, and what makes her exciting to watch is that she always goes for it, with each solo resulting in surprising smiles, nods or hollers, depending on the audience.
In his review of Blue Canvas in the September WholeNote, Raul da Gama wrote that “listening to her is like putting your finger into a naked power-socket,” later adding that she “handles her bass violin with as much visceral audacity as the great Charles Mingus once did…A particular highlight of the recording is Disterheft’s vocals which play off her bass, but in an altogether different palette of thrilling, luminous colours.”
If you get this memo in time, catch Brandi Disterheft on December 3 at Jazz Bistro where she will be celebrating Blue Canvas with Mabern and Farnsworth on the bandstand – do not miss this gifted composer whose interpretations of standards are always fresh. Cheers to Brandi, Jacob, everyone at Humber College and most of all to you, live music lovers, who keep us all going!
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
Pianist, singer, composer and arranger Laila Biali was born in Vancouver and has been celebrated worldwide, from the North Sea Jazz Festival to Tokyo’s Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. She’s toured with Grammy award-winners Chris Botti, Paula Cole and Suzanne Vega, and has toured and recorded with Sting.
These days, seeing and hearing her is a profound experience, especially when she works in trio setting with such musicians as bassist George Koller, drummer Larnell Lewis, or her husband, drummer Ben Wittman. This is masterful, world-class music—accessible, soulful, intelligent and deeply moving.
Currently on the Laila Biali website there are dates posted in Australia, Switzerland, Poland, Germany—and Canada. After living in Brooklyn for a few years, Biali has recently moved back to Toronto, and is making her Koerner Hall debut on December 1. In addition to the musicians named above, she will be joined by trumpet ace William Sperandei, sharing the bill with Italian vocalist Pilar.
I wrote to Biali to ask her about her process, and about the music that inspires her to keep doing what she does.
Who are your three greatest musical inspirations and why?
Greatest three musical inspirations (though there are many and it’s hard to pick my top three!):
- Keith Jarrett. As a classically-trained pianist who moved into jazz later in life, I was inspired by Keith's ability to bridge the two worlds in a way that was familiar and compelling. When in college, I was so struck by the profundity and depth of his solo piano recordings, they would bring me to tears. His music touches a very deep place that transcends words.
- Björk. I'm not sure I've encountered a single artist as unblocked and free in their creative expression as Björk appears to be. She moves boldly and fluently through genres, various artistic media, science and technology, all the while creating art that is, in my opinion, a sumptuous feast for the senses.
- Joni Mitchell. No one tells a story like Joni does. Poetry and power, wisdom and whimsy, beauty and brashness all co-exist happily on her albums. She's a veritable force, a bright star within our great lineage of Canadian singer-songwriters.
You seem to be pushing yourself consistently to play, sing, write and arrange better and better...where does your musical motivation come from?
As a human being and as a musician, my primary desire and goal is to connect with others. Playing, singing, writing and arranging thus become instruments of communication and a means of connection within the world. I'm also driven by a thirst for the divine, and music provides a way of reaching beyond ourselves, to something greater.
When it comes to cover tunes, how do you select these?
I used to pick cover songs myself. [That] began when the CBC commissioned me to put together the project From Sea to Sky, which featured material from the Great Canadian Songbook (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, etc.). But now, I crowdsource covers through an initiative we call the “request-o-matic”. In short, I invite listeners to submit songs they'd like me to arrange personally and unveil at upcoming shows. A couple such songs have become fixtures of our live performances and are actually featured on the new album. You'll hear two or three of these at Koerner Hall on December 1!
For tickets to Biali’s December 1 show at Koerner Hall, head to http://performance.rcmusic.ca/tickets/seats/12403.
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at www.oridagan.com.
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
On November 8, my vote goes to Dave Young, for two reasons. First, that Tuesday evening will be the night that the legendary Canadian bassist/composer celebrates the release of his new recording This Way Up. Second, the release takes place at Jazz Bistro, which has another reason to celebrate: namely the fact that Sybil Walker, who for 15 years ran the Top o’ the Senator jazz club (1990-2005) and has been the general manager of Jazz Bistro since its doors opened in 2013, has been announced as this year’s recipient of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Lifetime Achievement Award
Anne Page, founder of the KPMT elaborates: “Sybil’s versatile career in the restaurant and hospitality business has spanned several decades during which she has become a devoted and respected member of Toronto’s jazz community. Sharing her creative expertise and extensive knowledge of the music, she has donned the roles of program director, general manager and presenter of both Canadian and international artists at the city’s top jazz clubs, festivals and restaurants. As one of our unsung heroes, Sybil is a most worthy recipient of this award.”
Among the hundreds of artists Walker presented in the heyday of the Top o’ the Senator were Bill Evans, Joe Pass, Dexter Gordon, Shirley Horn, Blossom Dearie, Betty Carter, Jimmy Smith, Lou Donaldson, Ray Brown, Terence Blanchard, Christian McBride, Russell Malone and a budding Diana Krall, whose career she greatly aided. Yet to those in the Toronto jazz community, Walker is known not just as the booker of international talent, but as a loyal supporter of the jazz scene. For decades she has been an advocate for live music, ensuring that musicians get paid fairly and that audiences listen. To illustrate just how much she means to Toronto musicians, I asked two of her favourites for some words.
“Huge congratulations to Sybil Walker on this award,” said multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson. “She has been a major force in Toronto’s jazz scene for many years. A lot of great music happened because of her hard work and dedication, and the rest of us owe her a huge thank you.” Bassist Neil Swainson had the following to add: “So many musicians rely – whether they know or acknowledge it or not – on a very few equally dedicated individuals, for an outlet for their talents. Without these few, there would be no flourishing jazz scene in this city. Sybil Walker has for the last 20 years, given as much to this music as we have.”
Sybil Walker’s award will be presented at The Old Mill Dining Room at the Ken Page Memorial Trust Fundraising Gala on November 17. The gala will feature an all-star team of musicians – jazzmen, if you will, since no women were selected – billed as the finest masters on the international jazz party circuit. They are Terry Clarke, drums; Alastair Kay, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet; John MacLeod, trumpet; John MacMurchy, clarinet and saxophones; Mike Murley, tenor saxophone; Ken Peplowski, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Reg Schwager, guitar; Neil Swainson, bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Don Thompson, vibes/piano; and Warren Vaché, cornet.
Now back to Dave Young (who I had the privilege of interviewing, on the fly, a couple of weeks back at The Rex). To see him live is to witness a soulful player, as well as an incredibly efficient technician. Those fingers. Gigantic yet graceful, with a swinging way of walking quartet notes that will knock you out.
As bandleader, Young’s arrangements are clear and accessible, and as a trustworthy captain he navigates the ship effortlessly. Also on board that night were some of this country’s very best: Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Perry White on saxes, Terry Clarke on drums and Gary Williamson on piano. As Young says, “You’re only as good as the musicians you play with.”
Young was born in Winnipeg in 1940 and showed musical promise early on. Before long a young, ambitious Young started out playing the violin, switching to the guitar for five years in his teens. “There were a lot of very good guitar players in Winnipeg, including, of course, Lenny Breau. Then, I didn’t exactly give up the guitar but I took up the bass. Actually I was playing guitar in a dance band when the leader said, if you want to keep this gig, I’m firing the bassist, so come back with a bass. The bandleader was an old buddy of mine named Vic Davies, in the late 50s, probably 1956 or 1957. So I went out and bought a bass and came in the next week with a bass! (laughs).”
Young famously toured with Oscar Peterson for a few good decades, and also enjoyed symphonic work as principal double bassist for the Edmonton and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestras and the Hamilton Philharmonic.
As a master of both classical and jazz music, he observes that they are entirely different artistic experiences:
“Playing either one of those disciplines is pretty demanding, so when you’re playing one you kind of have to divorce yourself from the other. Especially when you’re playing in the classical setting. The phrasing and the sound is quite different, and obviously there’s no amplification. You get there and you have to read!”
Young decided to leave the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for the irresistible offer of touring with Oscar Peterson.
“I met Oscar in Banff in 1974, it was the very first Banff summer school program for jazz. This was organized by Phil Nimmons and he invited us both; that’s how we met. When I got the offer to work with him I said, ‘Who’s in the band?’ The lady said, ‘There’s you and Oscar. It’s a duo for six months.’ My first engagement was four weeks in Japan, 1975, and it was my first time there. I remember that it was relentless. We seldom had a day off. We were always on trains going here and there.”
Summarizing his new recording: “The music is in the hard bop, East Coast jazz tradition, with a few standards. As for the originals, I’m inspired by the writing of Cedar Walton, one of my favourite pianists, as well as by the great Joe Henderson. Also by a guy named Marcus Belgrave, who just left us recently. He was a trumpet player from Detroit. And Freddie Hubbard has always figured big in terms of composition. I play a lot of tunes by these guys and they inspire my own writing.”
At 76, Young remains one of the shining diamonds of the local scene. A decade ago he was inducted as an Officer into the Order of Canada, tonight he is playing The Rex Hotel on a Wednesday evening, probably for 100 bucks and change. There are fewer gigs than there used to be, and more competition. So, what has kept him motivated to continue creating all these years?
“You keep motivated by hoping that you’ll play better tomorrow or next week. That’s the whole carrot that’s dangling in front of you. I can play better, improvise better, get a better sound, that’s what keeps me going.”
Here’s to timeless music; to endless commitment and invaluable dedication; to jazz heroes and heroines alike.
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.