2008_-_Jazz_Stories_-_Andrew_Scott.jpgLabel executive, writer-producer, educator and jazz journalist Jeff Levenson is speaking. “Find yourself within this ecosystem” he advises. “You’re a musician, but you’re many other things as well.” 

He is one of a handful of speakers at a music business seminar co-presented by JAZZ.FM91 (jazz.fm) and the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists (ircpa.net) on April 11, 2015, hosted at JAZZ.FM91 in Liberty Village. It’s a well-attended event, with panels curated by community engagement and education manager Mark Micklethwaite and CEO of the station, Ross Porter.

“With the Music Business Seminar, we seek to help Canadian artists gain the knowledge and expertise to succeed in the Canadian music marketplace. We have brought together successful industry professional and musicians to talk about the important topics – booking performance, recording, radio airplay, promotion – and provide a forum for enterprising musicians to ask questions and interact with the experts and their peers,” says Porter.

Founder of IRCPA, Ann Summers Dossena was honoured by the international arts industry in 2012 and again in 2014. She retired from arts management in October 2013 after a distinguished, 55-year career in New York, Rome and Toronto. 

“During these years I was invited to give a number of workshops for emerging artists in Austria, Italy, Israel and the United States, with several colleagues,” recalls Summers Dossena. “When I returned to Toronto in 1977 I opened the office here and soon realized that Canadian artists needed the same help.”

In her decades of important work in the field she gained an unequalled amount of experience pertaining to artist management, personal representation, promotion and marketing. I asked Summers Dossena how the IRCPA has changed since its birth in 1985:

“The Centre now has a formal board and by-laws, and is working on a strategic plan and fundraising on two levels. One to keep our badly needed workshops and the second to create a physical centre for musicians to come together as a community to exchange ideas, share challenges, seek solutions, gain confidence, network and be mentored. We are working toward being able to own our space in a new building by the fall of 2017 to be named the IRCPA Maureen Forrester Centre, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary.”

Back to the JAZZ.FM91/IRCPA Music Business Seminar which was a bargain at $30 per attendant – there was a lot of wisdom to be gained here courtesy of several invaluable panels.

“Be a positive member of the community,” said Carol Gimbel, founding artistic director of the Music in the Barns concert series. “Find people that have a similar mission,” emphasized Barry Shiffman, associate dean and director of chamber music at the Glenn Gould School, Royal Conservatory, and artistic director of summer music programs and the international string quartet competition at the Banff Centre. “If the music is good, it should speak for itself,” underlined Josh Grossman, artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. “Your record, and 50 other records, came today,” advised Brad Barker, music director and host of Afternoon Drive, JAZZ.FM91, so “find a way to be relentlessly polite” and “if you’re thinking about recording another version of “Autumn Leaves” ask yourself if you are adding anything new.”

The recording panel shed light on the process of creating product:  Steve Bellamy, founder and president of Addo Records, and associate dean for the Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts reminded participants that “a lack of planning is where most projects go wrong”; JUNO-nominated drummer/composer and owner of Orange Grove Publicity Ernesto Cervini expressed the importance of having a good producer: “when you’re in the studio you want to be able to just play.”

The final panel of the day focused on publicity and how to make it work for you. “We don’t take artists we don’t believe in,” said Jane Harbury, president of Jane Harbury Publicity;  and Eric Alper, director of media relations, eOne Music Canada and social media icon (588,000 twitter followers as of this writing), urged attendees to “create great content all the time … learn your audience … and take polls.”

Yet, for me, it was Levenson’s opening address that remained one of the seminar highlights. Emphasizing the importance of questions over answers, he stressed the importance of passion, conviction, authenticity and above all, a sense of realism. “Musicians are heroes,” he said, “and I believe they should get paid as much as nuclear physicists, but the marketplace determines the pay.”

The hats we wear: We musicians have to wear various hats, sometimes simultaneously. I’m always reminded of this when I do my taxes. Last year I made money by singing, writing, teaching, licensing, royalties, as well as work in public relations, social media management, website management and booking musical talent. I’m very lucky to be working with music all of the time. The total of all the income sources I have listed may not have amounted to much if compared to a nine-to-five job, but I wouldn’t trade being an artist for anything in the world and one thing’s for sure: there’s never a dull moment.

Andrew Scott: In the Toronto jazz community this juggling act of jobs to support one’s artistic career is far from unusual. Take Andrew Scott, an important member of our community both as a musician as well as an educator, an administrator and an advocate. He describes the various hats he currently wears thusly:

“In terms of performing, I play with my own jazz groups of various sizes that often include the great Jake Wilkinson, Jon Meyer and Joel Haynes; I play in a very fun three baritone saxophone band led by Alex Dean called The Travelling Wall-Baris (appearing at The Rex May 15 and 16). I work in a trio setting with the ever-inspiring octogenarian Gene DiNovi and have a loose cross-border two-guitar group with Randy Napoleon. Outside of jazz, I work with the businessman/singer/entertainer Frank D’Angelo in his 18-piece R&B show band. I also write about music, compose music for film and am extremely proud to teach and work as the current acting director of Humber College’s Department of Music (2014-2015).

Asked what he would do with three more hours in the day: “Easy. With three extra hours each day, I’d spend more time with my wife and our three wonderful children.”

2008_-_Jazz_Stories_-_Chelsea_McBride.jpgChelsea McBride: And here’s Chelsea McBride, awarded the Toronto Arts Foundation’s inaugural Emerging Jazz Artist Award in 2014, in her own words:

“Where to begin! I’m a performer/composer/bandleader first and foremost – probably half or more of my performances are with bands I lead or am very involved in, though the projects I’m a sideperson on are always fun – mostly contemporary jazz groups or pop cover bands that play lots of 70s music. I’m an artistic producer with Spectrum Music – with the other producers, we handle all the logistics involved in putting on four concerts a year. We also all write for these concerts, and with the constantly changing instrumentation, it’s always a new challenge for me as a composer. And it’s lots of fun.

“I found a teaching job in Oakville before I got out of school, so I’m actually out there quite often – I teach voice and piano mostly, along with my main instruments. There’s a lot less demand for woodwinds at the school I’m at, unfortunately...

“In addition to that, I end up doing a lot of administrative work – I’m a copyist for NewYork composer Daniel Jamieson (who’s originally from Toronto), and that occasionally also involves editing/proofreading non-musical stuff, which is something I have done for a long time. And last but not least, I’m slowly getting into the grant-writing thing - this has been tricky because, being so recently out of school, I’m not even eligible for some programs still! But I have been getting lots of practice working with other people on their applications.”

Under the umbrella of bandleader, McBride is busy as a beaver: “Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School, (appearing this month Saturday May 23 at the Rex, 3:30pm), performs exclusively original contemporary jazz music – more groove-based than swing. Most of the music is composed by me, but not all. I also lead a sextet called Chelsea and the Cityscape, which performs more in the singer-songwriter, pop and rock vein. I play standards and a few lead-sheet original jazz tunes that don’t quite fit into either of my other band’s styles around town every so often under the moniker Chelsea McBride Group (appearing this month Friday May 1 at Habits Gastropub). I play in a video game cover band called the Koopa Troop, which is exactly what it sounds like – a bunch of jazz-school nerds playing Nintendo music better than you’ve heard it before. And last but not least, I play in the Brad Cheeseman Group (appearing May 8 at the Jazz Room in Waterloo), which is contemporary small-group jazz music played with a strong focus on the ensemble sound.”

Rounding it off: To close this month’s column, here’s another quote from the JAZZ.FM91/IRCPA Music Business Seminar, this one by Peter Cardinali, owner of Alma Records, which drew from the example of soul-jazz superstar Gregory Porter: “There are a lot of 12-year overnight successes.” As such, there is no substitute for hard work and if as an artist you don’t truly love what you do, you’re in trouble.

Thank you for reading this magazine and supporting live music. Check out The WholeNote’s jazz listings and the new column by Bob Ben, Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz. Be happy while you may, and Happy May!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

2007-JazzStories-Bee1.jpgJAZZ.FM91 producer, host and Jazz Safari bwana, these days Jaymz Bee is one of the Toronto jazz scene’s most fervent supporters. His popular Jazz Safaris involve guiding groups of the not-for-profit radio station’s donors through five venues across town with the help of a magic bus. I asked Bee why he believes the clubs continue to struggle and his response illustrates what sets him apart: an infectious funness, a loyalty to the live music scene and above all a positive attitude:

“Actually my feeling is that we are on a bit of an upswing right now. The Jazz Bistro took about a year to get up to speed but now it’s truly a hot spot. The Rex and Gate 403 book so many bands a week it’s crazy, and places like Hugh’s Room and Lula Lounge are booking more jazz than they used to. I’m a big fan of the wee clubs in town as well – La Revolucion, Habits Gastropub, The Emmet Ray and Blackbird are places I like to talk up lately, but there are so many on Dundas, Ossington...I think Torontonians need to go out more and hit more live venues! It’s too cold out, it’s too hot out – doesn’t cut it with me.”

Of the Safaris, says Bee:

“There are few things I like more than hitting several jazz clubs in one night with a mini coach (and designated driver) to take a group of JAZZ.FM91 donors on the town. I do about 30 nights a year in Toronto (hitting four or five clubs) and spend about the same amount of time with donors in various jazz-friendly places like Havana, Panama City, New York, New Orleans, Chicago and other places.

There are not many challenges in Toronto. On any given night I have 12 to 20 venues to pick from and after eight years of Jazz Safaris I know the streets and we are almost never late; not even five minutes late! I’m so prompt, I’m almost Swiss! In other cities it can be trickier. I have to allow for extra time for traffic so we might hit a venue a bit too early, but that’s better than missing the music…My parents taught me to be fun and polite and to get wallflowers on the dance floor. I’m innately inclusive...nobody is too cool or square for me...so taking a large group of people (18 to 30 per safari) is sometimes challenging but always fun.”

I will return to Jaymz Bee later in this article, specifically to discuss his birthday celebrations mid-month. First though, I have some very exciting news: there’s a new jazz room in town, and I urge you to all support it, even if it means going to have a single drink there or better yet, enjoy some music while drinking and eating.

2007-JazzStories-Hazelton.jpgStori Aperitivo (95 King Street East) located at King and Church, is embarking on a regular Tuesday, Wednesdsay, Thursday series over dinner. The priceless musicians come to you with no cover charge attached – a rare opportunity for all to enjoy some of this city’s jazz talents! The lineup at Stori is stellar:

Tuesday nights with Terra Hazelton and Her Easy Answers starring the two-time Canadian Screen Award nominee and blues singer extraordinaire; sidemen to be confirmed but Hazelton’s band tends to include Nathan Hiltz on guitar, Shawn Nykwist on tenor, Sly Juhas on drums and Jordan O’Connor on bass. Wednesdays will be made wild by longtime Reservoir Lounge staple Bradley and the Bouncers featuring Bradley Harder on vocals, Terry Wilkins on bass, Jeff Halischuk on drums, Adam Beer-Colacino on guitar and Pat Carey on the tenor. On Thursdays Stori welcomes The Vipers which features superlative vocalist Sophia Perlman in swinging company alongside Howard Moore on trumpet and vocals, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Jeff Halischuk on drums and Mitch Lewis on guitar and the occasional stellar vocal. This band kills everything from Dinah Washington to Tom Waits, and I’m willing to bet that The Vipers’ take on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is one Paul Simon himself would treasure.

And More Good News: by the time this magazine goes to print, a second brand new venue is opening its doors: Fat City Blues at 890 College Street. I asked one of the owners, Stephen McKeon, what inspired the creation of this club:

“To fully answer this question I have to give you a bit of background on Cameron, Simon and myself, “ he said. “We have been great friends for a decade, and have all worked in hospitality as long as we have known each other. Cameron and Simon worked the bar together at The Drake Hotel for eight years, while I cut my teeth at the Reservoir Lounge, then went on to manage Wrongbar for the past five years. When we started talking about opening a bar together we knew we wanted a place that focused on classic cocktails, simple food, and of course, live music. When the space came available we saw a great opportunity to marry all of those things, and Fat City Blues was born.

OD: Where does the name come from?

SM: Fat City was the nickname for Metairie, a part of New Orleans that was considered the entertainment district in the 70s and 80s. 

OD: What kinds of music will you be booking?

SM: We really want to focus on supporting the local scene and will be booking everything from delta blues to dirty jazz, solo pianists to five-piece brass bands. If it swings and sings, it has a home at Fat City Blues. (Still fine-tuning a music policy as this magazine goes to print, he was able to tell me that Tyler Yarema plays every Thursday, and other acts will include Patrick Tevlin, Bradley & The Bouncers, and Robert Davis among others.)

OD: What kinds of audiences are you looking to attract to this venue?

SM: We had a gentleman sitting at the bar last night who was from South Carolina, and kept telling us how much the place reminded him of home. We’ve had musicians come in looking for a place to play and to support their peers. We’ve even had someone email us about doing a birthday party here for her husband because they were married in New Orleans. All those people found something here they could relate to, and we can relate to them. That’s our audience.

OD:Tell me a bit about the menu

SM: The menu includes oysters, po’boys, crab legs, beignets...and in the summer, crawfish berl on the patio!

There is a considerable buzz about town with regards to #FatCityBlues: the BlogTo article has, as of this writing, been retweeted 84 times since March 18. Here’s wishing the venue much success all year round.

2007-JazzStories-Bee2.jpgEach April Jaymz Bee celebrates his birthday in style and with beautiful music, and this year is no exception. However, for the first time, one of the concerts will take place not in a club but in a church. On Sunday April 12 at 4pm at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Jaymz Bee Birthday Vespers will be the golden voices of Genevieve “Gigi” Marentette, Carolyn Credico, June Garber and others, to the stellar accompaniment of guitarist Eric St-Laurent. I asked how he got the idea to present “the devil’s music” in the house of God :

“Basically I wanted to see Bee’s Angels singing in this cozy church. Father Al is a donor to JAZZ.FM91 and we’ve become friends over the years. I love jazz in unique settings and this place is magical! Last year I sang there with Don Francks and Tony Quarrington but this year I thought I’d play emcee and just enjoy some of the most beautiful and talented women in Toronto singing sweet songs.”

Bee’s B-Day weeks also includes a celebration at the Old Mill on April 9 with Alex Pangman and her Alleycats, and continues on Monday April 13 – his actual birthday – with a cabaret night at Lula Lounge.

In closing, dear reader, I hope that you consider supporting these new ventures on our club scene. As always with such endeavours, they need your support! Call ahead. Make dinner reservations. Plan a party. Drop by for a drink or two. Live music needs you to stay alive!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

2006-Jazz_Stories_1-Kobi_Haas_and_Bass.jpgOn Wednesday March 18 starting at 6:30pm at The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar it will be difficult to find a seat. At the Spotlight on Israeli Culture event the bill will feature three headlining acts, each exciting for different reasons. The biggest name of the three is Anat Cohen, a seven-time Jazz Journalist Association Clarinetist of the Year and internationally acclaimed saxophonist, known for her virtuosity on various instruments, the richness of her tone and an utterly enchanting stage presence. It will be Cohen’s first appearance in Toronto as leader.

Then there is the precocious Guy Mintus Trio, of which two musicians are America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship winners. Twenty-two-year-old Mintus is the recipient of ASCAP’s Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer award and a full scholarship student at the Manhattan School of Music. Following appearances at the Kennedy Center, the Apollo Theater and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the trio makes its Canadian debut.

The third headliner is Kobi Hass, whose quartet will be opening the show, and who is a wonderful recent addition to our city’s musical landscape. Since moving to Toronto in 2010, the Tel-Aviv-born bassist and composer has mostly worked as a sideman, bringing many positive vibes to live music here with his emotionally charged musical versatility. The original songs to be performed at The Rex have been described as “soulful compositions” in the press release, to which Hass adds:

“The people I will play with are local musicians with whom I perform from time to time – Barry Livingston, pianist, who writes beautiful and soulful tunes, Ernie Tollar, saxophones and flutes, who is in charge of the more experimental writing, and Paul Fitterer, who turns keeping time into a very imaginative and surprising process. Each of us brings in his own tunes, we ‘try them out,’ and I feel that we’ve developed our own sound and atmosphere.

“I find it hard to characterize the music, but I like what was written in the press release. Indeed the music is based on ‘soulful compositions’ that each of us contributed to the quartet. The forms are relatively open, yet the compositions are very classically written. There is a certain harmonic colour that we all like and it helps the quartet developing its own sound. The improvisations do not stay in the traditional jazz idiom, and we try things as we go. Playing the acoustic bass in this format is a very challenging process for me, being an e-bass pop-rock player for many years.”

Hass got his break on the Israeli music scene soon after he picked up the instrument:

“After my military service I moved to Tel Aviv to study choir conducting in Tel Aviv University. Somehow I got a hold of an electric bass and started playing with a neighbour of mine, a jazz piano player. It was just for fun. However, not long after I started playing the bass I received a phone call asking me to play a few gigs with Ofra Haza, a very well-known Israeli singer. One thing led to another, people started hearing about me, and in no time I played in the biggest shows of those days – Yossi Banai, Gali Atari, theatre shows and more. I was a lucky guy!”

If the name Hass rings a bell, a few years back you may recall that at the age of 15, cellist Daniel Hass (son of Kobi) won the Marta Hidy prize among other prestigious awards; turns out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“It was a family decision to move to Canada and we are very happy here. It seems to me a lot is happening here musically, and I am happy to have met some people that I enjoy making music with. The city seems to be very vibrant and there is a lot of music happening. I played in a Toto Tribute Band and got to know some of the rock scene, and I played some jazz music, experiencing what the jazz scene is like.”

2006-Jazz_Stories_1-Robi_Botos.jpgRobi Botos: There’s another very exciting event happening this month, which I personally believe will be a historic night of music. On Thursday, March 26 at 9pm incomparable pianist Robi Botos will release his new recording, Movin’ Forward, at Jazz Bistro with musicians that one simply must hear to believe, and for which words can do little justice. Says Botos:

“Drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts is one of my heroes. I also play drums and I admire him greatly, so it’s extra special for me to have him on this record. Both him and bassist Robert Hurst played with Wynton and Branford Marsalis whose music I grew up on, and seriously Robert Hurst has everything you would ever want from a bass player. I used to listen to this band with Kenny Kirkland on piano, who’s one of my early main inspirations to play piano.”

Produced by the artist in collaboration with Scott Morin, the album marks the first time Robi Botos records with American musicians, with the addition of saxophonist Seamus Blake, born in London England, raised in Vancouver Canada and currently based in New York City.

“Seamus Blake is one of the most complete musicians out there in my opinion. He is perfect for my writing, which has many different influences.”

Consisting of ten original tunes and two standards, the album Movin’ Forward will be available for sale in stores and online on March 24. I must say that one of the perks of the writer’s job is hearing music before it is released, and quite honestly it is the most exciting jazz recording I have heard in a very long time.

“Some of the music you’ll hear on this album is more recent, fresh, and some of them I wrote a long time ago,” says Botos. The two standards I chose are Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and Close to You which is more of a pop tune rearranged in a groovy, funky way. I specifically chose the tunes for the group of musicians. I focused on what would feel good.”

Just how is this album different from his first effort, Place to Place?

“This album represents a lot of my musical sides. From Hungarian Romani (Gypsy) music to straight ahead jazz to funk. It’s also my first recording with American musicians as a leader. I really consider this as my debut album. Also, it is a childhood dream to collaborate with these amazing musicians. I’m very excited to share it and I hope people will like it!”

The event at Jazz Bistro is expected to sell out; reserve your seats as soon as you possibly can at 416-363-5299. Good luck!

2006-Jazz_Stories-Christine_Gaidies.jpgMonarch Fundraiser: On Sunday March 22 from 2 to 6pm a beautiful singer-songwriter, Christine Gaidies, will be raising funds for her new CD at the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street, sharing the stage with a lineup of friends rallying to her cause. I was going to say it’s a list too long to print. But what the heck: Sandi Marie, Diane Baker Mason, Nicole Coward, Andrew M. Smith, Dan McLean Jr, Michelle Lecce, Orit Shimoni, Chris Hess, Erin Ford, Maia Waern, Debbie Fleming, Linda Maruta, Henry Cifersons, Kevin Kennedy, Valerey Lavergne, Eunji Kim, Michelle Denis MacDougall, Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, Alan McKinlay, Niki Andre, Lesley Roylance, Harpin Norm Lucien and others to be announced!) Show some love to Christine Gaidies who could use your support at a particularly challenging time – her cancer has returned and any funding beyond completion of the CD will go towards her treatments – book your reservations through the Monarch for March 22 from 2 to 6pm and check out the GoFundMe campaign for other ways you can help.

Speaking of me! Finally, I hardly ever do this but I thought I’d let you, dear readers, know about two of my own gigs this month, especially since they are both the beginning of monthly residencies, the last weekend of every month.

Friday March 27 from 6 to 8pm I will be performing a Pay-What-You-Can dinner show with two of my favourite musicians at the 120 Diner located at 120 Church Street. The menu is very good and reasonably priced, the owners are kind to the musicians, and the acoustics are excellent – as a wise poet once wrote, “Who could ask for anything more?”

Saturday March 28 from 9:30 pm to 12:30 am I will be back at the intimate Poetry Jazz Café, a hidden gem neatly nestled in the heart of Kensington Market at 224 Augusta Avenue. Like a few other venues in town, this one does not take reservations, except for parties of ten and over, so arrive on time to get good seats. Each month I’m joined by the electric Patrick Hewan on keys, with rhythm section featuring two special guests announced mid-month on my website at oridagan.com.

Thank you for your support, genuinely. In an age when there is an abundance of entertainment available at the touch of a button, I think I speak for all jazz musicians and music venues when I say, “We hope to see you in the clubs!”

Check out Bob Ben’s Mostly Clubs, Mainly Jazz for all the details.

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com

“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” – Charlie Parker

Jim Galloway’s way with a phrase – be it on the bandstand or on the page – was inspiring beyond words. This column is dedicated to the memory of a great artist and a true jazz ambassador whose loss is felt around the world. I’ll have more to say about him later in the column.

2005_-_Beat_-_Jazz_-_We_are_one.pngFirst though, I want to speak of the power music has to unite us all, as manifested in a very special event that takes place on Wednesday February 11 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. That evening, the We Are One Jazz Project will present its sixth annual gala concert, featuring legendary jazz pianist and educator Barry Harris, multi-instrumentalist and Order of Canada member Don Thompson, a big band, a string section, an adult jazz chorus, and at the heart of it all, a children’s choir comprised of 275 members from eight north Etobicoke schools.

This incredibly ambitious undertaking is the result of many days and nights of hard work by countless individuals, most notably Howard Rees, the founder and president of We Are One Jazz Project, and 85-years-young bebop pianist and jazz education pioneer, Barry Harris. The seed of their fruitful collaboration dates back to 1978, when Rees moved to New York City to study with Harris for a period of six years.

“Upon returning to Toronto, it became very important to me to both spread the wisdom that Barry shares so freely with his students and to do my part in documenting his methodologies – which to that point had been an oral tradition,” says Rees. “Over the past 30 years this has resulted in the creation of Howard Rees’ Jazz Workshops, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year; the Barry Harris Workshop Videos, three instructional book/dvd sets featuring Barry and dubbed the ‘bebop bible’ by Tommy Flanagan; an online school featuring over 200 video lessons on Barry’s methodology; harmony articles for Keyboard Magazine; clinics at colleges in 10 or 12 countries, and the We Are One Jazz Voices, a choir that performs Barry’s original compositions and his arrangements of standards.”

In addition to bringing jazz to a wider audience and education to the general public about the jazz tradition, around 2008 Rees and Harris pondered the possibility of using jazz as a force for social change. The result was the founding of the We Are One Jazz Project as a Canadian charitable organization.

“Our purpose is to harness the beauty and power of jazz to inspire and empower young students who don’t have access to high-level music programs at their schools. We accomplish this goal through an intensive four-month program that brings together the students with master musicians in an enriched learning and performance environment. We work with several hundred students in grades 3 to 6 each year. Since 2008 we have brought the Project to 2,000 students in more than 50 schools in six priority neighbourhoods of Toronto. There are many wonderful stories, such as the student who stopped stuttering after being in the program. Another where a student sang a solo at a 300-member choir rehearsal after being mute (unbeknownst to us at the time) since the beginning of the school term. When we began in 2008, the city had identified 13 areas as ‘priority’ neighborhoods. As of this year that number has been revised to 31. So, as for future plans, we look forward to bringing this award-winning and life-changing program to many more students for years to come.”

The music performed at the concert is written and arranged by Barry Harris, and the program’s success relies greatly upon its teachers, including vocal coach Rita di Ghent who has the following to say:

“Being the jazz vocal coach for the WAOJP is endlessly fascinating and rewarding. I’ve always taught university students so for me, teaching jazz to youngsters has added this whole lovely dimension to my teaching career. Barry Harris’ tunes are stunningly beautiful and complex, but our grades 3 to 6 can sing anything you throw at them – not because they’re musically trained, but because they’re little sponges. They don’t know that jazz music is hard! The process of watching the singers unfold over the course of five months really is magical. We get to see children of all backgrounds and psychologies become hooked by the music and the spirit of working together. It changes their lives. And so it changes mine.“

A new addition to the staff this year is children’s choral conductor Sophia Perlman, responsible for rehearsing the choir and making sure that We Are One sings as one.

“Because I grew up with so much choral background in my own early musical life it has been really nice to see it reinforced,” says Perlman. “For me personally it’s interesting to see the way that choral training can reinforce jazz – I don’t think it’s a connection that necessarily gets made all of the time. For example, as an improviser, if you have to follow harmony, you’re going to have an easier time if you’ve had to be responsible for singing the inner parts of a harmony in a choir such as this one.”

Perlman also emphasizes the profundity of having Barry Harris work directly with the children.

“Kids in schools are not taught to necessarily connect composers with living people – generally if you ask kids who are some composers, they will name mostly dead composers. And so for these kids to learn these songs for weeks and weeks and then to sit there and learn the songs from the person who wrote them, and the fact that he will be playing the songs with them on the eleventh, it connects them to the music and the fact that music is made by people, and I think that’s really important.”

NOW BACK TO GALLOWAY ……………………………………………………

2005_-_Beat_-_Jazz_-_Martin_Loomer_and_the_Orange_Devils.pngIt’s fitting to focus on guitarist, arranger and bandleader Martin Loomer, whose 14-piece outfit, the Orange Devils, would likely not exist were it not for the encouragement of one wee yet powerful jazzman:

“I met Jim Galloway in the late 1970s,” remembers Loomer. “His cornetist with the Metro Stompers, Ken Dean, was the father of saxophonist Alex Dean, who was in the band I was in at the time, Shox Johnson and his Jive Bombers. Jim wanted to organize a band like the National Jazz Repertory Orchestra that Chuck Israels was leading in the U.S. Ted O’Reilly booked the proposed band for a CJRT Science Centre concert, forcing us both to get moving. I wrote arrangements by transcribing numbers from tapes Jim gave me, and he organized the personnel and logistics.

Jim introduced me to any number of great bands and artists whose recorded work I continue to mine for pieces the Orange Devils can recreate and perform live once again. He gave me the opportunity to transcribe any arrangement I thought suitable for the band, and to get it played as soon as it was ready. I also met and worked with many great musicians, not only from Toronto, but elsewhere, like Jay McShann, Fraser MacPherson and Clark Terry. Certainly his influence changed the direction of my musical career and most of my endeavors for the past 25 years.”

These days Martin Loomer and the Orange Devils make for happy ears and happy feet when they perform at private functions, from dance halls to weddings, as well as every second Monday of the month at the Monarch Tavern on Clinton Street.

“The band loves playing at the Monarch Tavern,” says Loomer. “The management and staff are great supporters and super co-operative. They’ve been very patient and allowed us the chance to try and develop a following. And they have that great rarity, a grand piano, which they maintain quite well! The ambiance is perfect for what we do. It’s kind of like having a paid rehearsal with a bunch of friends dropping by to listen and party with us. Relaxed and fun. Because of our size and style, we haven’t been able to play many other venues. We’ve done several concerts, notably for the Duke Ellington Society, which are wonderful, but they don’t have the same relaxed atmosphere as being in a club, not to mention the availability of alcohol.”

In addition to reed players such as Merlin Williams, Tom Skublics and Andy Ballantyne, soloists include Scott Suttie on trombone, John MacLeod on trumpet and Richard Whiteman at the piano, to name a mere few. In addition to playing instrumental charts by the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, each gig features a handful of vocal tunes delivered charmingly by Rita di Ghent. Says di Ghent:

“Being the band vocalist in the Orange Devils is a dream gig. Who wouldn’t want to sing on stellar arrangements with A-list players that swing like crazy? And Marty is a dream bandleader. He knows my voice and chooses repertoire accordingly: a lot of bluesy material like Fine Brown Frame and Going to Chicago and complex ballads like Ellington and Strayhorn’s Daydream. He consults with me on every tune. He’s so kind and talented. I’m delighted that his tireless work has paid off and that the Orange Devils are quickly becoming the ‘it’ band with the swing dance crowd.”

Indeed, what has made the monthly Mondays especially marvellous of late is an increasingly loyal following of swing dancers. Says Loomer:

“I have to say, I’m always mindful of the fact that the music we play was originally conceived to be played for dancers. So we’re all very pleased when it can serve its original function and inspire swing dancers to get out on the floor and show their finest Lindy Hop moves. If the dancers are in the mood, then the band falls in the groove and we feed on each other’s energy.”

Monday February 9 will be the next gig for Martin Loomer and the Orange Devils. Ten dollars at the door is the best deal in town, and while enjoying these fantastic arrangements performed by stellar players and joyously interpreted on the dance floor, I challenge you not to smile!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.


Clubs 63Pianist Steve Amirault is a welcome addition to the Toronto music scene. The critically acclaimed Acadia-born musician has been based in Montreal for most of his career; he also lived in New York City from 1990 to 1993 where he worked with Dave Liebman, Sheila Jordan, Eddie Henderson, Joe Chambers and Eddie Gomez. In this country he has had the pleasure of working with Ingrid Jensen, Christine Jensen, Kirk MacDonald, Mike Murley, Seamus Blake and countless others; and since September of 2014 he has been happy to make Toronto his new home, already having performed at Jazz Bistro, The Rex, as well as the Savoury Sweet restaurant in Niagara Falls and the Jazz Room in Waterloo.

“I love it here and have found the scene, fans and musicians very welcoming,” says Amirault.

Known primarily as a pianist with an energetic, thoughtful style, in the past decade he has added vocals to his act, revealing a smooth and sensitive vocal instrument.

“I sang a lot of pop and rock music in high school, but when I went to the University of St. Francis, I put singing aside and concentrated on the piano. Then in my early 30s I became interested in vocal music and I started writing lyrics. It seemed natural to put words to my music and I have always thought myself to be more of a songwriter than jazz composer. I wasn’t planning on becoming a singer, but about seven years ago I started singing one song per set on my shows, to see how it felt, and fell in love with it. I recorded my first vocal CD, One Existence, a few years ago, and I’m now preparing a standards recording.“
On December 11 at 8pm Steve Amirault will perform a solo show at Toronto’s most intimate venue, Musideum.

“I’ll play a mix of original pieces, both vocal and instrumental, and some new arrangements of standards that will be on my next recording. I’m really looking forward to playing my music in this lovely space.”

Clubs 64aThere’s no mistaking that soulful vocalist Sacha Williamson sings directly from her heart, taking listeners on a journey that is frequently spiritual and always expressive. While one can hear jazz, blues and R&B in her delivery, Williamson’s original sound mixes contemporary traditions including new soul, hip hop and electronica. On Sunday December 7 at Hugh’s Room, Williamson celebrates the release of her latest collection of originals.

“I’m all over the place but I think it blends nicely,” she says. “One song is a down tempo soul tune that goes into a bossa nova…another one starts with hip hop beats with Billie Holiday-esque vocals on top. It’s called Love Life and these songs are all about elements of my love life and places I’ve been in love – everything from the joy and the heat of it, to anger and the uncertainty of a relationship.”

With music that often relies on extensive production, one of Williamson’s challenges is in translating it into a live performance.

“You need to have a very highly skilled band – and my thing is with this kind of music I need to have a pianist who definitely knows more than one kind of genre – he needs to know Odyssey Arp and 808 sounds – synth sounds – I guess you can say he needs to have gone through the Herbie Hancock school.”

Joining Sacha Williamson at Hugh’s Room on December 7 will be keys wiz Michael Shand, along with bassist Andrew Stewart and drummer Maxwell Roach.

Clubs 64bTrombonist Chris Butcher keeps himself busy with a variety of projects these days, including the Heavyweights Brass Band, The Lula All Stars, Changui Havana, Roberto Linares Brown, as well as his own quartet, which just wrapped up a residency at the Bellwoods Brewery. This month he is excited about playing a gig with Jay Douglas and his All Stars featuring the patriarch of Jamaican jazz, 82-year-old Ernest Ranglin, who was Bob Marley’s guitar teacher as well as one of the most prolific record producers in Jamaica’s history.

“The last time he was in town he played the main stage of the Luminato Festival on the week of his 80th birthday,” remembers Butcher. “Age has not slowed him down and he is still a pervasive and individual voice on the guitar.”

Ranglin, along with Jay Douglas and his All Stars, will perform an afternoon Sunday Jam at Seven44 (formerly the Chick’n Deli) on December 14 at 4pm. Tickets are $50 at the door or $40 in advance and can also be purchased at Henry’s Records in Scarborough, 130 Shorting Road, or at Crasher and O’Neil Barbershop at 169 Eglinton Ave. W.

In addition to Butcher’s busy performance schedule he hosts Dig! On CIUT 89.5FM every Wednesday from 12 to 2pm.

“The show is largely geared as a jazz show but I have an eclectic taste and deep love for many styles of music so expect to hear anything I’ve been digging on lately. I try and keep the show very connected to the Toronto scene on the ground level. That means you’re going to hear tracks by local artists or people coming to town before they’re released and before the big radio boys in town are playing them. I also have artists in for interviews and features at least on a weekly basis. This means you may hear a renowned musician with an international following like Elizabeth Shepherd or Adonis Puentes or you may hear a local guy like James McEleney, the bassist in my quartet, down playing tracks and talking music. You can tune in worldwide at ciut.fm.”

Speaking of James McEleney, he just let me know of an exciting weekly residency he has been enjoying with The Breakmen Trio for the past few months in Toronto’s west end, Thursday nights at the Passenger located at 2968 Dundas Street West.

The Breakmen Trio is chordless: Bobby Hsu on saxophone, James McEleney on bass and Sly Juhas on drums.

“I have an affinity for this formation,” says McEleney, “because of classic Sonny Rollins recordings like Way Out West and Live at the Village Vanguard, Toronto’s own Time Warp (which is now a quartet but still without chords) and as I player I find it feels very open and free.”

Of his sidemen, McEleney says: “I work in a variety of settings with Bobby Hsu including his group A Sondheim Jazz Project. He and I have very similar tastes in music and he is well-versed in the world of chordless trios, in particular the aforementioned Sonny Rollins records. Sly Juhas is a no-brainer for this gig. He swings, he has very focused ideas and has a way of pushing everybody’s playing up to a higher level. In the past year or so the three of us started to get together regularly to play tunes and work out some musical ideas so we’ve been really excited to share our work. Any day where I get to play music with these two is a great day.”

The Passenger is an intimate space with a cool vibe, great food including some late night snacks, a special cocktail menu and a wide selection of craft beer. There’s no cover for this series, which they call “The J-Train.” Join the Breakemen Trio at The Passenger on a Thursday night for some jazz in the Junction.

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz musician, writer and educator who can be reached at oridagan.com.

Back to top