Ori's Stories: Jazz in the Clubs
- Written by Ori Dagan
- Category: Jazz Stories
Toronto is full of great musicians, as WholeNote readers know all too well. So abundant is our wealth that certain players get lost in the publicity shuffle – particularly the sidemen, and especially the humble ones. One such unsung hero is pianist Peter Hill, frequently an accompanist to Toronto treasures such as Laura Hubert and Alex Pangman, as well as hundreds of singers at a popular jazz open mic, Lisa Particelli’s “Girls Night Out (where gentlemen are welcome too)” for over a decade now. In music he is dependable and consistent; in person he is pleasant if a bit bashful, with a sense of humour that borders on existential. A veritable whiz at transposing tunes and swinging at any tempo, it is not surprising to learn that he has a doctorate in algebraic topology. We sat down at Faema Caffè on Dupont to discuss singers and players, life and music. This was a path that he naturally followed from a young age:
“Music was in my family. My father played a variety of instruments and my uncle was a professional trombone player so we had an LP of his band. When I was little I would see my dad playing – he was never a professional, but I remember seeing him in the Santa Claus Parade. He was mainly an alto saxophone player but he played piano so he showed me how to read chords. Growing up, I did a little bit of classical – I wasn’t a great student – then I decided I wanted to be Elton John and that lasted about one summer. But I practised a lot that year. And the following year I joined a Dixieland band; I was about 19. I went back and had more lessons in my 20s, with a guy named Darwyn Aitken, who a lot of people studied with at that time. He was from South Porcupine near Timmins, a classical guy but he also played some jazz and Latin.”
His decision to pursue mathematics was more practical than passionate:
“I was fairly good at math in high school but I didn’t go to university after high school – I was playing a fair bit of traditional jazz – but then I decided that I was wasting my life because I wasn’t doing anything during the day. So I went back to school and tried a whole bunch of things. I chose math because there are no essays in it. My undergraduate took forever because I was taking two courses a year and I was playing all through that time. Once I was in graduate school I wasn’t really playing music at all. My PhD took five years – coming out of graduate school is when I started doing stuff with Laura again.”
JUNO-winning powerhouse Laura Hubert, whose fascinating career took her from Kurt Weill to indie-rock stardom then back to the blues, is best known for being co-founder and lead vocalist of the Leslie Spit Treeo. She met Hill while studying drama at the University of Toronto, through mutual friends.
“I did pretty well drag him out of the basement,” recalls Hubert. “I’ve known Peter Hill since 1979. He was in school and I was in school, and there was a party at UC Playhouse and some of his classmates were in the theatre program, and that’s how I met him. Then we just sort of got together every week to learn some songs. We didn’t even have a show, we would just go through the real jazz vocal book and that’s how I got to singing tunes like Don’t Blame Me and Skylark. After my record deal, Jerome Godboo left his Monday night residency at Grossman’s and Christina asked me if I wanted to do Monday nights. I thought, perfect! So I called Peter and we played that gig every Monday for nearly a decade. Grossman’s is where we worked out a lot of these songs. Peter has the fastest left hand in the business. He’s a damn good player, that’s for sure, and he works well with others. He’s my bandleader but he’s more like an old friend.”
Hill’s penchant for feel-good swingin’ is also put to great use by “Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing,” vocalist Alex Pangman. Known for her honest, sentimental approach to music of the 1930s, it’s hard to believe that this sweet-voiced stylist of song is a two-time double-lung transplant. A shining example of how music can provide inspiration, she is an advocate for organ donation, swing music and a huge proponent of Hill as well:
“Working with Peter Hill is a delight,” says Pangman. “He communicates well and really cares. He wants the singer to be comfortable. On top of that he knows a million songs. Often on stage you’ll hear me say: “Peter, we have a request for <insert random song>. What key would I sing that in?” And Peter will just start playing it in my key. I call him a singer’s best friend because of that, and have done so for about a decade! He just never lets me down. I appreciate how steadfast he has been, which in the world of gigging musicians, can be a rare thing. His fidelity to my band, the Alleycats, is honourable and he is very much a supporting pillar to my sound. He’ll write out the changes lickety split if I throw some truly obscure song from 1935 to him. He’s probably so good at all this because his mind works through tunes mathematically (he is a professor after all) but he plays with great colours and has a wonderfully artistic, thoughtful and rhythmical feel to his playing. He’s a pal, a father figure and a really good man to have in the trenches with me when they sound the battle call.”
Hundreds of singers, this writer included, met Hill through Lisa Particelli’s GNO Jazz open mic, where he sensitively accompanies vocalists of all levels along with Ross MacIntyre on bass. The unique jam experience that jam host/founder Particelli set up back in 2005 is all about fostering community, education and connection with no tolerance for bad attitudes, on or off the bandstand. Part of the charm is the variety of talent; all are encouraged to sing, regardless of experience. Hill’s combination of patience and sensitivity, as well as his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook, makes accompanying someone who has never been on stage easy as pie.
“Musicians have talked to me thinking that it must be awful to deal with – the different level of performers – but actually I never have had a problem with it. People are generally doing their best. As with any open mic, sometimes people come up who are not very good, I’m fine with that. Experiences I haven’t liked in music are usually with players that might be fairly good but have an attitude that makes them unpleasant. I haven’t really experienced that at Girls Night Out – maybe once or twice – but those people tend to not come back because they think they are too good for it, so it works out.”
Recently Hill has been holding down a weekly Tuesday night residency at La Rev (2848 Dundas St. W.) where he performs in duo format with a guest instrumentalist each week.
“The prototype for me is an album by Dave McKenna with Joe Temperley on baritone. I played there with Chris Gale, but he has a conflict on Tuesdays because he usually hosts the Rex jam. So I did it with Shawn Nykwist a few times – he is a great player and in my opinion undervalued. I enjoyed that, so I do play with him every third week, and then I do it with other people including people I hadn’t played with before, including some great guitar players like Jesse Barksdale and Reg Schwager. I love that this is on an acoustic piano that the venue maintains – it belongs to the owner, Indira, and she takes good care of it since she is a musician. I always look forward to Tuesday nights.”
La Rev is a real gem in the junction, for those looking for live music paired with Mexican cuisine. Dinner reservations are recommended at 416-766-0746.
Rick Wilkins Back to the theme of unsung heroes, Ensemble Vivant is putting on a very special tribute to saxophonist and arranger Rick Wilkins, taking place at Grace Church on-the-Hill on Thursday, May 11, at 7:30pm, in celebration of his recent 80th birthday. Wilkins is best known for his arrangements for Oscar Peterson, Anne Murray, the Boss Brass and others; he also wrote for Ensemble Vivant for over 25 years, a group which he describes as “the highest calibre chamber music-making.”
Led by pianist Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant’s genre-diverse repertoire culls classical with modern musical styles, and has been acknowledged as a pioneer in the piano-chamber music world. Says Wilson of Wilkins: “Rick’s charts are original, sparkling with imagination, always fresh and always a joy to perform…It has been the highest honour and pleasure for me to work with Rick all these years. Our performances of his music have brought lasting joy to so many audiences of all ages.”
Repertoire at the concert will range from J.S. Bach to Jerome Kern, to Astor Piazzolla, Ernesto Lecuona, Leroy Anderson, Isaac Albeniz, Charlie Chaplin and George Gershwin, to originals by Rick Wilkins. Special guests joining Ensemble Vivant will be jazz greats Guido Basso on flugelhorn, Mike Murley on tenor sax and Brian Barlow on percussion. Proceeds from the concert will benefit EUTERPE, a non-profit charity which among many initiatives brings live high-calibre, interactive performances of classical, jazz and related popular styles of music to children and others who might not otherwise be exposed to these opportunities. For more information visit:
Support live music and on your way out be sure to tell the band how much you enjoyed their performance. Kind words go a long way to making an unsung hero’s heart sing!
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
Who might have guessed – other than Marshall McLuhan – that the world would be literally at our fingertips with the mere click of a touch screen? Imagine it: three of Toronto’s finest at play: Robi Botos commanding the Nord, Mike Downes thumping his bass and drummer Larnell Lewis weaving musical magic last month at Poetry Jazz Café, an intimate venue of 35 seats. Their second set was streamed on Facebook Live, and by the end of the hour, 1000 views were recorded; within a few days that number was 10,000. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it: go to Botos’ Facebook page and enjoy the set!
This newish notion of cultivating online audiences by way of streaming and social media is taking the global jazz community by storm, one day at a time. Back in 2011, thanks to the advocacy of Herbie Hancock, the first annual International Jazz Day – April 30 – was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization General Conference. Each year since, #JazzDay celebrations take place on the last day of April (the month known as Jazz Appreciation Month since 2002) in a host city and around the world. In 2016 alone, #JazzDay performances, education programs and media coverage reached more than three billion people.
“Live streaming and social media are tremendously important to International Jazz Day in that they help us connect directly with our audience, which includes both established jazz lovers and those who may be less familiar,” says Will Ramsey of the Thelonious Monk Institute, lead non-profit organization charged with planning, promoting and producing International Jazz Day festivities. “In many instances, Facebook and Twitter have helped us connect with organizers where email and phone calls have not worked. These sorts of tools also provide an unparalleled promotional resource – in just a few minutes, our social media team can engage hundreds of thousands of people with content from an organizer in Accra, or Tokyo, or Kansas City, or Asunción. From the beginning, social media has made the conversation about International Jazz Day extremely dynamic, in a way that befits its multicultural, multinational pedigree.
“Each year, we conduct grassroots outreach to hundreds of organizers in all 195 UNESCO member states. We have a small outreach team based in the US and France that works around the clock, mobilizing jazz clubs, cultural houses, libraries, NGOs, festival organizers, and even jazz musicians and enthusiasts to ensure that International Jazz Day is meaningfully celebrated on every continent (yes, that includes Antarctica). The centrepiece of the April 30 celebration, the All-Star Global Concert, is made available via live webcast each year from the Global Host City. This is a great tool because it makes it easy for people around the world to participate in Jazz Day – we often encourage them to screen the concert, which includes performances by over two dozen renowned jazz musicians from around the world, as a simple but powerful way to join the celebration.”
Notably, every nation in the world is invited to take part in #JazzDay, including a free listing on their website jazzday.com where one can browse events from Albania to Zanzibar. Ramsey reflects on this point further:
“It is also worth mentioning that many of our partners live in difficult circumstances, including conflict zones, areas undergoing economic difficulties and areas with limited infrastructure. Many organizers, however, including in places like Niger, Mali, Myanmar, Iran and Iraq, have thanked us for thinking of them and recognizing them as someone worthy of partnership. They tell us that no one ever approaches them from the outside with this kind of initiative – they get plenty of calls for interviews to talk about poverty, conflict and war, but never about including them in a global celebration.
“A manager of a music cafe in Niger, for example, thanked us profusely for not forgetting about his people and the artists in his country, saying that when there is so much strife and poverty, people forget that the human spirit needs music, culture and beauty just as much as food and water. He said that even when there is no food, there will always be music. He said he fights everyday to keep culture alive despite the odds and that international support and recognition from us gives him credibility on the ground to keep fighting.
“There is a sense, then, in which International Jazz Day is fulfilling not just a cultural, but a humanitarian mission. Another example that sticks out in my mind: we have an organizer in Nepal, a music school dedicated to jazz called the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, who organizes an event every year. In 2015, just five days before Jazz Day, a massive earthquake struck Nepal – the worst in over 70 years. It was a terrible tragedy and they of course could not carry out their planned celebration on April 30. A few days later, however, the conservatory contacted us and let us know that they still wanted to hold an event. It was tremendously important to them to continue making music and demonstrate their resilience in the face of disaster. We helped connect them with an international artist who made a marathon trip from the US to Kathmandu in June. He conducted clinics and masterclasses with their students and even played in their official Jazz Day concert. It was the kind of powerful story that really shows the impact of International Jazz Day each year beyond just the numbers.”
Scroll down to Canada on jazzday.com and you’ll see that Toronto is part of the action too. On April 30 over brunch at Jazz Bistro, Steven Taetz and Joanna Majoko will celebrate Ella Fitgerald’s 100th birthday with Ewen Farncombe at the piano, Soren Nissen on bass and Eric West on drums.
The centenary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth can be tracked online at #EllaAt100. Some additional Ella celebrations you should know about: on April 24th, Heather Bambrick will salute Ella live on JAZZ.FM91 with Barbra Lica and Tia Brazda. On the First Lady of Song’s actual birthday, Tuesday, April 25: Billy Newton-Davis sings at Poetry Jazz Café; Kalya Ramu sings at The Rex; and yours truly at the Elizabeth Beeton Theatre.
Monk: As much as I love Ella, 1917 was also the birth year of Thelonious Monk, equally prolific as a composer, pianist and groundbreaking thinker in jazz. The delightfully nutty genius of modern music gets a bit of a spotlight this month, and not only because of the connection between #JazzDay and the Thelonious Monk Institute. Here in Toronto we have a very cool ongoing tribute to Monk in what is known as Monk’s Music, one of many side projects for vibraphonist/marimbist/composer Michael Davidson. On account of his musical dexterity, the infuriatingly talented Davidson is highly in demand for studio sessions, leads his own septet and is involved in several other projects.
“Monk’s Music began as a joint endeavour,” Davidson explains, “with drummer Dan Gaucher and myself on vibraphone around seven years ago. We both shared a collective love for the music of Thelonious Monk and approached the Tranzac Club about a regular performance slot. Dan and I felt that Monk’s music was underperformed and wanted to take an opportunity to present it regularly with a varied cast of musicians.
“The Tranzac agreed and we began playing the first and third Sundays of every month from 5 to 7pm. We would invite many different musicians to play with us and enjoyed exploring the music with shifting ensembles each time. After a few years Dan moved back to the West Coast and I continued the series. Over the years, since I have internalized much of Monk’s music, I try and breathe new life into it in each performance while respecting the vast and engaging body of work he has created.
“In the last two years it has settled into a trio formation with occasional guests, featuring drummer Nico Dann and double bassist Jim Sexton. We do free but true interpretations of more obscure Monk tunes like Coming on the Hudson, Introspection, Jackie-ing, Ugly Beauty, Off Minor, and well-known tunes like Pannonica or Criss-Cross. I continue to play his music because it has endless potential for expansion once you learn his harmonic language. It is a music of juxtapositions which makes it wonderfully rewarding and surprising to interpret. It is still not played nearly as much as I think is warranted.
“It has also branched out to another venue in Toronto, the Emmet Ray. We perform the second and fourth Sundays of each month from 6 to 8pm . This evolution marks its transformation into a weekly gig celebrating the harmonically rich, infectiously quirky, dexterously witty, melodic playground of Thelonious Monk.”
There you have it! Happy Jazz Appreciation Month to all loyal WholeNote readers and year-round live music appreciators.
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
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.