AS THE WINTER WEEKS DWINDLE down to a precious few, here are some good excuses to head straight to the clubs:

A Four-Day Live Music Wonderland

Who knew Toronto was such a hotbed of folk, roots and blues talent? Meet The Association of Artists for a Better World, organizers of Winterfolk. This entirely volunteer-run, all-ages festival is now in its 9th season of emulating multi-stage rural summer festivals, right here in the city. The 2011 edition will showcase 150 artists over four days (February 18-21) at six venues in the Broadview and Danforth vicinity. Ranging from sports bar to church, the venues this year are: Black Swan Tavern, Mambo Lounge, Eastminster United Church, Danforth Café, Dora Keogh and Terry O’s Sports Bar. All shows will be free of charge with the exception of Saturday night’s “Brass Roots: Big Bands for Your Buck” at Eastminster United Church, a quadruple bill of multi-genre big bands for only $15 ($12adv).

Jazzers will notice guitarist Tony Quarrington’s name all over the performance schedule – he is well-known in the folk scene as both a performer and songwriter. Popular blues acts also appear on the bill, including Gary Kendall of the Downchild Blues Band fame, charismatic Danny Marks and breathtaking multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Bowskill; other promising billings include veteran jazzman Big Rude Jake, Latin chanteuse Laura Fernandez and acclaimed singer-songwriter Noah Zacharin.

Budding musicians should take advantage of the free workshops offered, which cover everything from blues songwriting and improvisation to songs of social justice and fingerstyle guitar.

The fourth and final Family Day is highlighted by two sets with Beth Anne Cole, familiar to many from her 22 years on Mr. Dressup and Sesame Street. The Winterfolk venues can all be found in our “In The Clubs” listings.

To find out more details about this exciting festival, visit

Salsa for Everybody!

47_luismarioochoaA surefire destination for latin jazz, The Lula Lounge has recently embarked on a weekly series that looks like it’s here to stay. The new Sunday Family Salsa Brunch is an authentic fiesta with live music by the incomparable Luis Mario Ochoa Traditional Cuban Quartet. Lula has made a grand choice because this man is not only an exquisite musician but also a world-class entertainer. Whether he is singing, strumming the guitar or keeping impeccable time on a maraca, Ochoa lights up a room like a lantern. $25 cover pays for the band, a beginner salsa lesson by Miko Sobreira as well as a wholesome buffet brunch, coffee, dessert, tax and tip. Free for kids 12 and under, seating at 11am and 1pm. For more info visit:

Balkan-Jazz-Funk-Fusion for the Brave

48_tovaSpeaking of salsa, I find Tova Kardonne’s music to be delectably spicy, or as she puts it, “tipsy, sexy music for the brave.” Indeed, this talented vocalist/composer has concocted a daring recipe of jazz, balkan, funk and afro-cuban music fusion for her eight-piece ensemble, The Thing Is. Nearly every piece Kardonne writes is composed in odd meter, each arrangement augmented with dynamic twists and turns, dissonance aplenty and lyrics poetic enough to recite a cappella.

What is it that compels Kardonne to write such challenging music? “There’s no denying…my peers find it challenging and my musical superiors find it challenging too, but only until they can sing it, which inevitably, everyone in the band can, whether they’re playing the melody, the bass line, or the most hidden inner harmony. It’s all singable, groovin’, and highly intuitive. Once everyone’s playing it, it becomes hard to remember why it seemed so challenging at first.” Not exactly dinner music, but a few good listens will likely warrant cravings for the band’s appealing complexity. The Thing Is: Tova Kardonne on vocals, compositions, lyrics and arrangements, with Graham Campbell, guitar; David Atkinson, piano; Amy Medvick, flute; Mike Wark, alto sax; Christian Overton, trombone; Trevor Falls, drums; and Chris Kettlewell, bass. The band plays The Rex Hotel on February 13 at 9:45pm. Fancy a sample? Hear The Thing Is here:

This Time the “Quote’s” on Me

Instrumental jazz is consistently respected in the “Fridays at Five” series happening at Quotes Bar & Grill, located beneath Barootes Restaurant at 220 King Street West. That’s where the Canadian Jazz Quartet (Gary Benson, guitar; Frank Wright, vibes; Duncan Hopkins, bass; Don Vickery, drums) have been entertaining audiences for nearly 5 years now.

Much like at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar, there’s a clever policy of “No Reservations” which encourages music lovers to get there early to snag the best seats. And they do, without fail! To keep things interesting, each week the CJQ welcomes a special guest, usually a horn player of the highest order who gets to call the tunes. For instance, The WholeNote’s own Jim Galloway will be gracing the bandstand there on February 11th.

On February 18th the quartet will be calling the tunes themselves, as they launch a brand new recording. “Brazilian Reflections” features famous musical works of art by Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Zingaro”, “Desafinado”), Luis Bonfa (“Samba de Orfeu”, “Menina Flo”) plus pleasing originals by the quartet’s leader, Gary Benson (“Everytime I See You”, “Don’t Quote Me”).

I was able to obtain an advanced copy of Brazilian Reflections, and you can quote me when I say it captures the warm essence of bossa nova so well, you’ll forget all about winter.

As long as there is life, there will always be the gift of music. But live music requires an audience to be present in order to survive, and it is a challenge. When it comes to “getting bums in seats,” this challenge is typically addressed by artists, venues and, if publicists are lucky, the media. Judging by the state of live music venues in this city, audiences may not realize how much they are a part of this art form. As Avishai Cohen recently said, “People who come to the concert are the concert as much as the artist.”

p27Enter the Toronto Music Lovers, a local branch of the popular Meetup website ( This thriving social networking group perfectly exemplifies the mission statement of Meetup: “to revitalize local community” by creating groups that “are powerful enough to make a difference.” After four-and-a-half years, the group boasts nearly 850 members, has graced 200 events and continues to make a great difference in our music community. This difference could not be made without Marg Cameron, the group’s dedicated founder and host.

A Torontonian since 1979, Cameron works for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, where she runs their library and facilitates several support groups for caregivers. She also studies expressive arts at ISIS, belongs to a pottery studio and thinks of herself as a full-time music lover.

“I have always loved music. I was active in a number of choirs and studied piano when I was younger. As a teenager, I would occasionally get to visit Toronto, and can recall going to the Riverboat in Yorkville for folk music on New Year’s Eve, and attending the Mariposa Festival when it was still on Centre Island. I fell in love with the magic of live music way back then and it’s with me still.”

Establishing the Toronto Music Lovers Meetup Group came about completely by accident, she explains.

“On the site you can start a wish list for any type of group you want if one doesn’t exist. At the time there were no groups for live music, but wish lists for lots of different genres – jazz, blues, folk. As I have very eclectic tastes, I figured I’d start a group that went to all types of live music and encourage some of these people to join. I thought perhaps I’d get a few members and then there’d be someone to go out with when I wanted to see a live band. Now there are nearly 850 members and counting, and we average about 20-30 or so at each event.”

Cameron is a very committed volunteer, ideally suited to spearheading such a group. She is friendly, organized, inclusive and full of positive energy.

“I love hearing live music, meeting new people, making new friends. It’s been a very positive experience for me. Some members have told me that the group has been a lifeline for them in hard times, which is both rewarding and humbling at the same time. If I can bring some joy into other people’s lives then so much the better. I think music is a great way to bring people together, a positive focus in one’s week, therapeutic and uplifting at the same time. For the main part, the members of TML are wonderful people and I love having them in my life.”

With over 200 events since 2006, Cameron and the TML have graced a majority of the venues in The WholeNote’s directory. Not that there haven’t been, or don’t continue to be, challenges.

“There are several challenges actually. There aren’t a lot of places with live music large enough to hold a group of more than 20. Some venues aren’t very good at promoting their events in advance so it’s hard to always give group members adequate notice of upcoming events. Some places that do have live music don’t really highlight this feature properly, what with stages sort of stuck in the middle of nowhere so the bands can’t be seen and poor sound systems so that the music can’t be heard… It would be nice to find some new places big enough to hold a large group of people that actually play live blues and jazz on a regular basis, take good care of their musicians and actually appreciate our patronage.”

Future plans for the Toronto Music Lovers Meetup Group? “To continue having great turnouts for events, to use our numbers to support worth while causes – in the past we’ve gone to benefit concerts for WarChild and ArtsCan. Soon we’ll be also out in support of CAMH and the Second Base Youth Shelter.”

What should readers know about joining the Meetup group? “They can find us online at There is no fee for joining. We have approximately three or four meetups each month. We are not a singles club – just lovers of great live music. Our members are very friendly and easy going. Everyone is welcome, there’s no age limit. If you love live music, like to have fun, and want to actively support the local music scene, then you should consider joining us.

Blues singer Raoul Bhaneja has developed a close rapport with the Meetup Group; the group attended his sold-out tribute to Little Walter CD release last May. “As an artist these days,” he notes, “I’m told that our future relies on corporate sponsorship and partnerships of that kind. But TML reminds us that the focus of a grassroots organization can be just as powerful and in fact more relevant. When Cameron arrives at a show with anywhere from 15 to 50 Toronto Music Lovers, not only does it change the dynamic of the band by providing a secure income, but it changes the energy of the room – and for that I am truly grateful.” Bhaneja’s band, Raoul and the Big Time play the Rex Hotel on December 18 and January 16.

Club Sampling

p28In other news, one of Toronto’s most versatile vocalists will be performing at Ten Feet Tall on January 15. A self-taught singer/songwriter, Debbie Fleming is a remarkable talent who is equally at home singing R&B, jazz, folk, country or classical music. She can frequently be heard singing soprano with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and has fronted several of her own bands over the years including the a-cappella group Hampton Avenue and the folk/roots trio Choir Girlz. Fleming is also highly skilled as a choral arranger, and you can hear some of her Christmas charts when the precocious Ault Sisters take the stage at Hugh’s Room on the afternoon of December 12.

Speaking of Hugh’s Room, the legendary singer, pianist and songwriter Bob Dorough takes that stage on January 19 for what promises to be a sensational sold-out event. Dorough is a legend in the jazz world for memorable compositions like “Devil May Care” and “Comin’ Home Baby.” Catchy and hip, his songs have been recorded by Miles Davis, Blossom Dearie, Mel Tormé and Diana Krall. He is perhaps even more famous for setting the multiplication tables to music on ABC-TV’s “Schoolhouse Rock,” a Saturday morning cartoon series that ran from 1973-1985 featuring songs such as “Conjunction Junction,” “My Hero Zero” and “Three is a Magic Number.”

This sample just barely scratches the surface. See our Club Listings, beginning on page 58, for great music in December and January. Season’s Greetings to one and all – get out to hear some music and have a ball!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can best be contacted at

There’s no place like the Tranzac. Home to countless artists and audiences for nearly 40 years, it’s far more than a building rich with history. Initially intended to promote and foster Aussie and Kiwi cultures, with the passing decades the Toronto Australia New Zealand Club has become less focused on “Down Under” and more inclusive of “all over.” In other words, it has become a truly Canadian institution which values diversity, freedom and respect.

Read more: There’s No Place Like Home

My column is generally intended to focus on what goes on in the clubs, but every once in a while something that I feel is worthy of attention happens outside of them. (Who am I kidding – this is the first time this has happened! Thankfully I haven’t been fired.) Following the spotlight on Avishai Cohen, this column continues on page 49, drawing directly from the club listings.

p12As part of a global tour promoting his 11th recording, Aurora, Israeli-born, New York-bred jazz phenomenon Avishai Cohen makes his Toronto debut on October 19 at the Isabel Bader Theatre. A visionary composer, Cohen is a virtuoso on the bass who first came to fame when Chick Corea took notice of his talents in the 1990s. After recording 4 albums on Corea’s Stretch label, Cohen formed his own Radraz Records in 2003, releasing albums which have garnered him countless accolades over the past seven years. He is today considered one of the jazz world’s most important contemporary figures. The latest recording features several firsts for Cohen; he has added to the mix his own singing and was signed to a major label. Cohen’s busy schedule did not permit a phone interview but we did exchange a brief Q&A via email:


Read more: The Ever-Evolving Avishai Cohen

The Queen West spot with the hottest name, The Tequila Bookworm, will no longer be presenting live music, while a Cabbagetown hidden gem, Plum 226, has gone under, never to be unearthed. Are there any philanthropists out there who might consider opening up a jazz club in Toronto? All you’ll need is a good location, excellent music, great food, friendly service, business savvy, wisdom, luck, patience, verve and nerve. Inspired? Yes, you’ll have to be!


Ori1The Reservoir Lounge adds Thursdays to the Après-Work Series, so now Tuesdays through Thursdays enjoy jazz from 7-9pm. Last month’s cover girl Alex Pangman’s “First Tuesday” house gig has changed to every “First Thursday” of the month. Other highlights in the series this month include talented blues singer Chloe Watkinson on the 14th and splendid saxophonist Shawn Nykwist on the 21st.


Toronto happily welcomes back jazz legend Sheila Jordan! ( Known in the jazz world for originating the “bass & voice” duet, Jordan is one of the world’s first and finest jazz educators as well as one of the hippest 81-year-olds on the planet. In early 2009 I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing this legendary vocalist for The WholeNote and she had this to say when asked about being in the prime of her career at 80:

“I’m not as successful as most people think I am…not in America anyway. But I don’t care! I never wanted to be, you know, ‘a star’. That’s not my purpose, that’s not my calling. My calling is to be a messenger of this music, and I’m very happy being that. I’m very thrilled with the awards I’ve won and the recognition that I’ve gotten.”

from 10AM - 5 PM. Participants $120 full day / $60 half day, Auditors $50 / $30. Location to be announced. Contact:

Ori2OOH, WHAT AN ELLING! Speaking of not-to-be-missed jazz vocalists, the incomparable Kurt Elling ( rides a colossal wave of professional triumphs: the 2010 Grammy Award Winner and 9-time Grammy Nominee was voted DownBeat Magazine’s ‘Male Vocalist of the Year’ for 10 consecutive years and was recently described in the New York Times as “the standout male jazz vocalist of our time.” From Elling’s deeply spiritual approach to ballad singing to a gracefully virtuosic scat style to his awe-inspiring ventures into vocalese, it is virtually impossible not to acknowledge his masterful musicianship. Mr. Elling opens the Thursday Night Jazz Club Series at The Old Mill on the evening of Thursday, September 16th. This show will definitely sell out so you want to reserve your tickets lickety-split.

RHYMES WITH PEGGY Split between the jazz and classical world, Ottawa-based double bass virtuoso John Geggie will be making a rare appearance in Toronto on Friday, September 17th at Chalkers Pub. Geggie ( is an extremely versatile musician, composer and collaborator who performs in the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and teaches double bass at Queen's University, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. Geggie is known to invite jazz artists from across Canada and the world to play with him in one-time-only groups, in which they perform material written by each of the artists, as well as jazz standards. Joining John Geggie at Chalkers Pub will pianist Nancy Walker, drummer Ethan Ardelli and special guest tenor saxophonist, Jerome Sabbagh from Paris, France!

GUITAR ACE Local guitarist Harley Card ( recently represented our country as a semi-finalist at the Montreux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition. Here in Toronto Mr. Card is an active member of several ensembles including Monk’s Music, Hobson’s Choice, God’s Gift to Yoda as well as his own group which features compositions that draw from modern jazz, improvised music, folk and rock. The Harley Card Trio plays at The Emmet Ray on College Saturday September 11th from 7-10pm. 


Fellow member of the group Hobson’s Choice, vocalist Felicity Williams leads The Al Purdy Project, for which she has composed and arranged music set to the great Canadian poet’s words. The end result is as hauntingly beautiful as it is conceptually ambitious. The cherry on the cake is that Williams’ voice is sonically stunning, reminiscent of a young Joni Mitchell. The Al Purdy Project is comprised of: Felicity Williams, leader/voice, Robin Dann, voice, Rebecca Henessy, trumpet, Michael Davidson, vibes & marimba, Harley Card, guitar, and Dan Fortin, bass. Sample the scrumptious sounds here: and then experience The Al Purdy Project live at The Tranzac on September 21st at 7:30pm.


In 2007, the Juno Award winning Canadian fusion group Manteca ( reassembled at the Toronto Jazz Festival nearly a decade after disbanding. Appearing in Toronto for two nights only this season, September 22nd and 23rd at The Glenn Gould Studio will be rare two-night appearance by the 9-piece original jazz group that has been 31 years in the making, known for breathtaking compositions and explosive playing. In its current reincarnation, the band consists of: Henry Heillig, leader/bass, Matt Zimbel, leader/percussion, Charlie Cooley, drums, John Johnson, saxophones, Kelly Jefferson, saxophones, Art Avalos, timbales, Mark Ferguson, trombone, Steve Mcdade, trumpet and Doug Wilde, keyboards.

Ori Dagan ( is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can best be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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