intheclubs gary-bensonThe jazz community mourns the loss of guitarist Gary Benson, who last month peacefully succumbed to Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, a rare and incurable degenerative neurological disorder. In his accomplished 75 years, Benson was deeply respected as a musician, composer and educator, as well as for his amiable personality and sense of humour. Over 300 mourners attended the funeral, including many members of Toronto’s jazz community. In recent years Benson performed regularly with the Canadian Jazz Quartet, a group he formed in the late 1980s.

Speaking at Benson’s memorial service on March 19, his cherished friend and musical associate for over a half-century, Don Vickery, said:

“Gary started the original Canadian Jazz Quartet in 1987 with Gerry Hoelke on bass, Gordie Fleming on accordion and me on drums. The great Bob Price later became our bass player, and Frank Wright joined the group to establish our current sound over 20 years ago. Duncan Hopkins has been our bass player since B.P. passed away in 2002. In 2006, we found a home at Quotes, where we were the resident band for nearly seven years, backing up international jazz players during the Toronto Jazz Festival every year – and every week, featuring all the best musicians in Toronto.”

“That’s where the CJQ really came to prominence, and during that time, recorded two more successful CDs and were featured in two global live-to-air broadcasts on JAZZ.FM91. Gary loved the gig and everyone loved Gary. When Quotes was sold, we moved to KAMA where we are to this day. And we were lucky enough to have Gary with us there until the last few months. We miss him as our friend, as our leader and as a wonderful talent. We will never forget him and I know we are all better people, and better musicians, for having him in our lives.”

The Canadian Jazz Quartet continues to perform every Thursday from 5 to 8pm at KAMA on King St. W., featuring guest guitarists and as always, a featured weekly guest horn player. Consult our In the Clubs jazz listings for further details.

Walk With Jordan: On the evening of Thursday, April 24, I hope there will be a full house at the intimate Musideum (401 Richmond Street West) for what promises to be a night of heartfelt music for a worthy cause. Starting at 7pm, vocalist Vivia Kay and her band Blacksparrow will present “Send Love South: A Fundraiser for the Walk with Jordan Scholarship Foundation,” in memory of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old Jacksonville, Florida teen who was fatally shot for listening to loud music.

For those unfamiliar with the tragedy, during the American Thanksgiving weekend of 2012, Jordan Davis was in an SUV with three of his friends, listening to hip-hop while parked outside of a convenience store. Forty-seven-year-old Michael Dunn, parked adjacently, asked them to turn down that “thug music” and when they refused, he fired indiscriminately and shot at the SUV, killing Davis. The Florida jury convicted Dunn of three counts of second-degree attempted murder but the jury was deadlocked on the murder charge.

intheclubs vivia-kay-alternateVivia Kay had never met Jordan Davis, but being a Florida native herself, followed his trial closely.

“Growing up around the societal and systemic racism that breeds these kinds of violent crimes, I followed both the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis trials with a great deal of interest. Particularly after the Jordan Davis trial, I felt enraged and horrified — Jordan Davis was murdered because he was listening to music,” says Kay.

“Growing up in the small-town South, driving around and listening to music was what I did, what we all did on a weekend night. I read that Jordan Davis’ last words were “turn it up.” That’s exactly what I would have done as a teenager. I wouldn’t have been targeted by a racist like Davis’ killer, because I’m not black. But I wouldn’t have turned down my music, either. That’s why Jordan Davis’ murder resonated with me on such a personal level. And it’s why I’m doing the Send Love South benefit.”

The artists are donating their time and Musideum owner Donald Quan has generously waived much of his usual fee for the space, so beyond the small rental fee every penny of show proceeds will be donated to the Walk with Jordan Scholarship Fund, a scholarship set up by Jordan Davis’ parents in his memory. The Scholarship Fund aims to support students from the Florida/Georgia border region in pursuing a college or university education, which as someone who struggled to pay for university also resonates deeply with Vivia Kay, who recently earned a PhD in ethnomusicology at York University. With a performance background in classical singing as well as jazz vocals, her dissertation examines Southern Gospel music and the culture that surrounds it. On April 24, Kay’s band Blacksparrow will feature Mark Kieswetter on Musideum’s Bechstein piano and bassist Jordan O’Connor.

“The music that we are presenting is a selection of gospel, jazz and rock songs along with two originals I’ve written for the occasion. Mark and I have been rehearsing and working together on the arrangements, and I am really excited about them. The music will be centred around laments regarding injustice and evil in the world as well as hopes for justice and better times. I think it will be an emotional and cathartic evening, but it isn’t going to be an entirely mournful one. I believe that love and hope are radical acts in today’s world, and that is the ultimate message of the show.”

For those unable to attend, there is an opportunity to contribute to the cause by visiting the foundation’s website:

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

Lisa Particelli’s commitment to what she does week after week since January of 2005 is inspiring to anyone who has ever hosted a jazz jam. In her newsletter, the creator and host of the Wednesday night Girls Night Out (where gentlemen are welcome too) at Chalkers thanks her audience for supporting live music and living musicians.

“Live music improves the quality of our lives,” she writes. “Whether we choose to simply listen or to participate in the creation of live music, we wire our brains to pay attention, we create social connections and best of all, we truly experience the full range of human emotion.”

With that in mind, before I get to an exciting story at Chalkers, I’d like to single out a group that WholeNote readers might remember from our 2011 summer double issue cover story (and if you haven’t read it yet — no worries, it’s googleable).

TheWholeNote-June2011-FullFinal(Cropped) Page 01Heavyweights: In just a few years, the Heavyweights Brass Band has fused traditional and contemporary jazz into a sound all its own. Their first album introduced listeners to a group both light-hearted and hard-working: Christopher Butcher (trombone); Paul Metcalfe (saxophone); Jon Challoner (trumpet); Lowell Whitty (drums); and Rob Teehan (sousaphone). Don't Bring Me Down certainly brought these five young guys way up, with festival appearances across the country and a sold-out show at Koerner Hall with Grammy-winning percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo. Now the group releases Brasstronomical, their sophomore release on the new Lulaworld label, which features several surprises, including the addition of a sixth member.

“Our original trumpet player Jon Challoner was back and forth between Toronto and NYC to study at Juilliard,” says Heavyweight trombonist, composer, arranger Christopher Butcher. “We had long-time friend and fellow former Winnipegger John Pittman filling in for Challoner while he was away. Then we had a couple big gigs where we could fly Challoner up and we decided to ask both trumpets to join us. One more trumpet makes a huge difference and they really complement each other while making our sound bigger, thicker, more intricate and well, heavier. I would say all those adjectives could be used to describe Brasstronomical. It sounds bigger and is bolder than our first record. We also experimented with some production techniques. Paul brought the baritone saxophone into our arsenal and there are points where you may even hear two Christopher Butchers.”

The group is increasingly innovative, but firmly steeped in the jazz tradition. Brasstronomical features guest appearances by Giovanni Hidalgo and Jane Bunnett. Just what did the band learn from performing with these masters?

“Working with two international artists on the level of Giovanni Hidalgo and Jane Bunnett has been a dream come true,” asserts Butcher. “Our concert at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall was the highlight of our career. There aren’t words to describe how it feels to share the stage with the pre-eminent percussionist of all time. Someone who has played with not only jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey but with Tito Puente, Paul Simon, Phish and D’Angelo brought something out of our music and pushed us to new heights. When he agreed to play on our record and be part of Brasstronomical we were elated! Jane is a national treasure and a true inspiration to all of us in the group. She has constantly taken chances throughout her career and her playing is similar, it always sounds fresh. She is likely the most important musician after Dizzy Gillespie in fusing elements from Afro-Cuban music with jazz. This cultural collaboration is really interesting to us.”

The Brasstronomical CD release concert takes place at Lula Lounge on Thursday March 6.

1906 jazzintheclubs1Back to Chalkers Pub and Lisa Particelli, who is excited to be presenting NYC-based jazz master Sheila Jordan for the second time. Jordan has called herself a late bloomer; inspired by Charlie “Bird” Parker, she sang throughout her teens but recorded her first album at the age of 32. It wasn’t until she was 58 that she quit her day job. An underground sensation, she continued to record throughout the 1970s and 80s and today has over 25 albums to her credit. Since the 1990s, Jordan’s career has really picked up and she has toured this earth many times over. Now 85, this sweet and brilliant little woman is a wonder of the jazz world.

The two evening concerts at Chalkers will find Jordan in fine musical company: Don Thompson on piano and Neil Swainson on bass.

“I have worked with Don and Neil before and it’s a real joy to be able to sing with them again.  Don is a fantastic accompanist, and being a lover of the bass I am thrilled to be singing with Neil.  Great guys who put their heart and soul into the music. How lucky can I get?”

Recently named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts for her contributions as a performer and educator, Jordan has been teaching jazz since the 1970s. She will be giving a Sunday afternoon vocal jazz workshop for singers of all levels; there are limited spots to participate but ample seating for auditors.

“I was first able to observe Sheila teach during an Art  of Jazz workshop and was impressed at her warmth and insights as she carefully listened to each student participate,” recalls Particelli. “She handled every singer with warmth, gentle care and keen observations coupled with super advice. This woman’s wisdom, heart, positive attitude, great ears and genuine passion to spread the message of jazz is contagious. Sheila sings from the heart, and she teaches from there, too.”

Don’t be surprised if Jordan drops by the Wednesday night jazz jam at Chalkers on March 19 — she sings GNO’s praises:

“I am so happy that Lisa’s jam session is still happening,” says Jordan. “I believe that jam sessions are the most important part of the jazz tradition. Singers can learn all these wonderful tunes from their teachers but if you don’t have a place to try out what you’ve learned and a place to take chances what does it all mean? We need places to try out tunes; even if we fall on our faces we can pick ourselves up and start all over again like the song says! With jam sessions like this one, all of this is possible. We need more Lisa Particellis on the jazz scene.”

Sheila Jordan appears at Chalkers Friday March 21, 7-10pm, Saturday March 22, 6-9pm and the workshop is Sunday March 23 from 2-6pm. Tickets are available at

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

jazz in the clubs 1 - hot fuzzSILVER ANNIVERSARY: Browsing through The WholeNote always allows for countless opportunities to discover new music and new musicians – new to the reader, that is. Occasionally, the same thing happens to me when I write this column. The Hot Five Jazzmakers are hardly newcomers to the Toronto scene – this month they celebrate 25 years of Saturday matinee performances at C’est What? – but hopefully they are new to some of you as well. This band specializes in traditional jazz of the 1920s and 30s, boasting an impressive 600 tunes in their repertoire, from forgotten gems to familiar ones. Many of these rhythmically infectious, charmingly sentimental tunes might make you dance against your will.


The Hot Five Jazzmakers is led by trombonist Brian Towers, a brainy Brit who moved to Canada to pursue a career in international banking some 35 years ago. Working with dollars for several decades, the figures in his heart were clearly musical ones all along.

“I had made a subconscious decision that I was not targeting the presidency of the bank as a career goal,” he laughs. Besides which, “playing jazz in good company, after a hard week at the office, is like recharging one’s batteries.”

Towers developed his passion for New Orleans style ensemble playing studying the work of bone players such as Kid Ory, Honoré Dutrey and Wilbur De Paris, to name a few, and was deeply inspired by the late Kid Bastien. His passion extended far beyond the bandstand as a founding member of the now defunct Classic Jazz Society of Toronto, and he also wrote the “View from Canada” column for the Mississippi Rag until it ceased publication. Towers is married to the very talented Janet Shaw, who functions like the jewel in the crown of this band, not only with her superb musicianship on various reed instruments, but also with her delightfully smoky vocals. (Check out their YouTube videos!)  Like her husband, Shaw is recently retired after a career in the pharmaceutical industry; she is now self-employed with her own consulting company.

“I can safely say that having a musical partnership with one’s spouse is a huge benefit to the band’s development” Tower says. Janet and I have very similar tastes in jazz and we have always developed our arrangements and repertoire 24/7 ... Also, traditional New Orleans jazz in the ensemble choruses is, for me, like a conversation. The counterpoint and polyphony is so much easier, when there is a close personal relationship between the individuals. Financially there are big benefits too. On tour we save the promoters a room!” Reflecting on a quarter century of gigs at C’est What?, Towers begins by reminiscing:

“It was February 11, 1989 and we were on trial. We had already had 12 months together playing in Guelph – were we good enough to attract support and audiences in downtown Toronto? Would it work and would we be allowed regular Saturday matinees? Thankfully, they liked us. Their speciality was traditional ales and beers and meals and traditional jazz seemed like a good mix to them. Management bravely allowed us to begin regular Saturday matinees on Saturday March 11, 1989. In those very early days our playing area was on the direct route between the kitchen and the dining area. We had to avoid clashes with waiters travelling at high speed, carrying heavily laden trays!”

Due to an excellent sound system and friendly management, they were able to tape record every session. “While occasionally depressing, it was a wonderful way of improving the band sound and dynamics. I have dozens of cassette tapes from those days which I cannot bear to throw away!”

Since 1989, The Hot Five Jazzmakers have produced 16 recordings – several of them captured live at C’est What? – which can be purchased directly off the stage. Along with Towers on trombone and Shaw on reeds and vocals, the band’s members are Jamie Macpherson on banjo, Andrej Saradin on trumpet, Reide Kaiser on piano and Gary Scriven on drums and washboard. Yup, washboard! Join the group in celebrating their silver anniversary milestone at C’est What on Saturday, February 8 from 3 to 6pm.

jazz in the clubs 2 - linda ippolitoFRITES WITH SALSA: A valued player on stage and in every level of court in Ontario, Linda Ippolito is a classical pianist, litigation lawyer, alternative dispute resolution practitioner and teacher.  “I actually see them as one world, not as separate but integrated fields” she says, “music and law braided together on separate ends of the scale.”

A PhD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, Ippolito’s doctoral studies focus on the intersection between collaborative music making and group negotiation, conflict resolution and transformation.

“My interest in the potential of one field to inform the other inspired my doctoral study,” Ippolito explains. “The study explored the question of whether or not we could shift the learning and skills development in conflict resolution away from our dominant culture mindset – one that focuses primarily on “war” and “game” metaphors – through the use of a music-based metaphor for negotiation and problem-solving – namely, the musical ensemble. Basically encouraging conflict resolution practitioners to not only “think like lawyers” but to look at problem solving from a more creative and collaborative perspective and to “think like musicians.”

Ippolito the performer is not only as intelligent and deeply nuanced as one might expect from the above paragraph, but also tasty and playful; her return engagement to the Jazz Bistro, is titled “Frites with Salsa”:

“The program features music by three of my favourite 20th century composers: The “frites” are the French selections by Poulenc, a group of his Improvisations and his Trois Novellettes. I adore Poulenc – his jazz-like ‘quoting’ of himself and others. The “salsa” is Ginastera’s  Creole Dances and Three Argentinian Dances – so multi-layered, polytonal and rhythmically vibrant. In the middle there is Albéniz’s “Evocation,” the first piece in his Iberia Suite, a piece I have never gotten a chance to play until now - and I cannot wait to hear it on the Red Pops Steinway which I regard as one of the finest instruments in the city.”

“Her music may be classically rooted, but the skillful way she weaves these intimate programs together speaks to a jazz heart,” says Sybil Walker, who books the talent at Jazz Bistro. “As in all great cabaret evenings, you always leave knowing a little more than you did when you arrived.”

Ippolito’s “Frites and Salsa” performance takes place at Jazz Bistro on Tuesday, February 18, with sets at 7:30pm and 9pm.

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

1904 jazz clubs 1Acclaimed actress and singer Jenni Burke is happy to be leading “Saturday Swing-Along” brunches at Jazz Bistro, taking place December 7, 14, and 21 at 12:30pm. Burke’s charming voice and warm stage presence, along with special guests and sing-alongs will offer folks from one to ninety-two a chance to get into the spirit of the season.

“I love this time of the year when I remember to take a moment to remember what it’s all about,” says Burke. “For all the material hoopla associated with the holiday season, its meaning doesn’t lie in the perfect gift, the obligations, the running around, all the glitter and bows, but in the birth of something lovely and new inside our hearts ... we are reminded at this time of year that we can be more than we are. That we can and should be the force of love in this world. A time to count our blessings and be grateful and experience the joy of giving.” Jazz Bistro will be accepting food donations at the door in support of Daily Bread Food Bank and CBC’s Sounds of the Season; those who bring a non-perishable donation will be admitted free of charge.

Anyone looking for a bargain on New Year’s Eve should hurry up and make reservations at Gate 403. Cover is only $10 for the evening, with entertainment provided by the Denielle Bassels Jazz Band. A recent graduate of Humber College, Bassels is a brilliant talent with more than just a gorgeous voice. Reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse, the singer-songwriter’s music is all at once classic, contemporary and appealing. Gate 403 is an unpretentious venue, and one of the only clubs in Toronto that features live jazz and blues seven days a week. It’s certainly deserving of your continued support, and there is hardly ever a cover charge. That being said, most of the money the musicians take home for their hard work comes from the Pay-What-You-Can jar, so be sure to contribute, especially if you enjoy their performance. Generous tips make for excellent karma!

1904 jazz clubs 2A few months back I had the honour of playing a gig with Canadian jazz legend Don Thompson. Afterwards we chatted about some of our favourite singers. He asked me whether or not I had heard Diana Panton, a vocalist he has been working with for years, with whom he recently toured Asia.

“Oh, they just love her over there ... people revere her singing over there,” he said. “They come to meet her after the show and they are in tears. She is so honest and beautiful and they really get it.” Asked whether she would be playing here anytime soon, he said no, I better just listen to her records, and so I checked out some of her work. Panton’s sensuous voice and her pared-down approach translate beautifully on recording, often sounding like she is whispering in your ear. Thankfully, some gigs have been booked since then, and we can all see and hear the Diana Panton Trio live on a few occasions in the near future. With the exquisite backing of Don Thompson and Reg Schwager, Diana Panton will perform Christmas material on December 12 and 13 at Brampton’s Rose Theatre, and on January 25 the three are at the Paintbox Bistro as part of an exciting series booked by the Jazz Performance and Education Centre, JPEC. As part of the same series, piano master Randy Weston will appear at the Paintbox on Friday, January 11; tickets for the series can be purchased at

If you’ve never been to Hugh’s Room, there are some great reasons to check it out in the coming months. On Friday and Saturday, December 6 and 7, singing guitarist Leon Redbone makes a rare appearance. As reclusive as he is spellbinding, the enigmatic performer has amassed a sizable following thanks to his signature style; check out his YouTube channel for a taste of his tasteful talents. Meshing old-school jazz, folk, blues and ragtime with self-effacing comedy, the singular troubadour will be accompanied by pianist Paul Asaro and bluesman Colin Linden.

1904 jazz clubs 3Speaking of troubadours, Toronto’s very own Rik Emmett will also be performing at Hugh’s Room, on Friday December 20, with Dave Dunlop on guitar. One of the founding members of famed 1970s/80s Canadian power rock outfit Triumph, Emmett struck out on his own as a singer-songwriter 25 years ago and has never stopped rocking. I had the pleasure of studying songwriting with Emmett at Humber College, where he performed new songs for the class week after week; his gift for melody, enchanting voice and performance style make this performer one Toronto should treasure.

The music of Chet Baker appears to be inspiring plenty of singers these days, including Shannon Butcher, who has just released an EP of seven songs made famous by the icon. Butcher has always been fascinated by Baker’s “Dark and aloof personal life, burdened by addictions, contrasted by his evocative performances that deeply connected him to his audience.” The resulting Butcher Sings Baker ranges from the melancholic "Almost Blue" to the effervescent “Happy Little Sunbeam,” and features Rebecca Hennessy on trumpet, a lovely choice for this project. The album can be found on iTunes or in hard copy, autographed live in person. Butcher performs at the Dovercourt House for the Saturday Night Swing Dance on December 21, and in duo with bassist Ross MacIntyre at Musideum on January 30.

Guitarists and lovers of jazz guitar should take note of an exciting few days at Chalkers Pub with Gene Bertoncini. Born and raised in New York City, the 76-year-old master guitarist has been playing this music for nearly seven decades, fusing together jazz, classical, pop and bossa nova styles on both acoustic and electric guitar. He has worked with Benny Goodman, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Buddy Rich, Wayne Shorter and Michel LeGrand, to name a few. On January 25 at Chalkers Pub, Bertoncini will appear in duo format with Dave Young; the following afternoon, January 26, he will be teaching a guitar clinic, and performing solo that evening. Anyone interested in hearing the guitar sing should not miss it!

Thank you all for reading and for your continued support of this vibrant scene, made all the more bright by your attendance and applause. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and plenty of live music in 2014! (Our jam-packed In the Clubs listings start on page 61.) 

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

bbb - jazz in the clubsIt’s always good to practise what you preach, so after filing last month’s column, I scooted down to Bloom Restaurant to enjoy a fantastic prix-fix dinner paired with the musical adventures of Jane Bunnett, Hilario Duran and young Cuban vocalist Daymé. To experience such brilliant music in an intimate setting is delicious for the ears, requiring a recipe that’s simple yet challenging: Quiet!

Since most restaurant patrons are accustomed to chewing the fat while they eat, the only way such a series can work is if the music is preceded by an announcement, which in the case of Bloom, is delivered by owner Luis Mario Ochoa, a self-described “full-time musician, teacher, arranger, composer, lyricist, guitarist, leading 3 bands of my own, producer, you name it!” In addition to the monthly music series Ochoa books, his ensemble performs traditional Cuban music on the last Thursday of every month at Bloom, a 44-seat restaurant in Bloor West Village that is a true gem for foodies, especially those who fancy Latin American and Spanish dishes “made in a Nuevo Latino style which is a contemporary haute cuisine reinterpretation with a slight North American twist.”

“I got into the restaurant business by accident,” Ochoa explains. “In 2004 my brother in law opened Bloom to expand his restaurant business. He also owns Focaccia Restaurant on 17 Hayden Street, but was not able to handle two places at the same time, so my wife — his sister — who is a travel executive and I, went crazy and decided to take it over and keep it in July of 2010.”

He admits that it was no easy feat to learn the restaurant business from scratch. “But we are a stubborn couple that does not give up easily, so we gave it all we had and little by little we changed concept, got the right people in the kitchen, led by Chef Pedro Quintanilla and now we have a great front of the house team led by maître d’ Pedro Salvin. I started introducing music once a month with traditional Cuban music, and now we started expanding with a second date featuring some of the best Latin and jazz performers in town. Bloom is on a great track now, mostly because my wife is even more stubborn that I am, so she deserves most of the credit.»

For the music and a sensational three-course prix fixe menu, all you pay at Bloom is $35 and your undivided attention. This month catch acclaimed Latin songstress Eliana Cuevas on Thursday, November 14, who will perform with Jeremy Ledbetter on keys and Daniel Stone on percussion. Reservations are essential.

CD Release? Speaking of reservations, most venues do accept them, and they come in particularly handy for CD release events, of which there are quite a few this month. Over at the Paintbox Bistro, two vocalists celebrate new recordings early in November. Elegant and sincere, Allyson Morris possesses the sort of pure, powerful voice that quickly catches a listener’s ear. She releases her debut album, I Saw the Light on November 2, joined by Bernie Senensky on piano, Russ Boswell on bass, Nathan Hiltz on guitar and Ben Riley on drums. As of this writing the event is almost sold out, so if you miss it you can also find her at Morgans on the Danforth on a Sunday afternoon: November 3 with Michael Shand or November 17 with Mark Kieswetter, both shows between 2 and 5pm.

Also at the Paintbox, Sam Broverman celebrates a new recording on November 9 at 8pm: Leftover Dreams, a tribute to the music of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, both born a century ago in 1913. A professor of actuarial science at the University of Toronto since 1980, he has been singing in the Mendelssohn Choir for the past 30 years. With an abundance of respect to the Great American Songbook and its creators, Broverman delivers these songs with ample passion and deep sensitivity. Joining him at the Paintbox will be Mark Kieswetter on piano, Jordan O’Connor on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums. If you miss the release, catch Broverman at Gate 403 on November 15 at 5pm.

Jeff Jones:One of the neat things about writing this column — and about being a fan of jazz, in general — is that there is always exciting talent to discover, of any age. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing vocalist Jeff Jones for the first time, though he has been performing around town for decades. A proficient scat singer with his soul deeply drenched in the blues, Jones is a rare talent who, upon hearing, is easy to remember and so hard to forget. Putting his signature stamp on familiar songs such as “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Danny Boy” and “Stella By Starlight,” he was reminiscent that night of Mark Murphy in his prime, treating every song like a shiny vehicle for the most daring improvisational flights. It was magical not only for those in the audience but also in the band, as they were kept on their toes and with a smile for the entire evening. Mr. Jones will be special guest when Tom Szczesniak hosts a Jazz Party at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar on Thursday, November 7.

Over at the Rex Hotel, there is a great cross-section of music one might describe as “jazz” — here are just a few special evenings of note. On Monday, November 11 at 9:30pm, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, usually led by Josh Grossman, will be feature guest conductor — last year’s JUNO winner — Montreal’s Christine Jensen. The evening will feature music from Jensen’s recent release on Justin Time, Habitat. Don’t expect traditional “big band” — this harmonically sophisticated, symphonic music can be likened to an extravagant cup of coffee: intense, dark, bold and rousing.

Also at the Rex, on Wednesday November 13 at 9:30pm, a young quintet celebrates a sophomore recording of original music. Tesseract is a collective of players who met as students last decade at Humber College: Julian Anderson-Bowes on bass, Derek Gray on drums, Edwin Sheard on alto sax, Leland Whitty on tenor saxophone and Patrick O’Reilly on guitar. Tesseract is anything but square: playing with drive and drawing from a variety of influences, this group is definitely worth checking out.

Young Artists: Finally, over at Jazz Bistro — my new place of work — I’ve been given a great opportunity to book a series of up-and-coming talent, the Young Artist Series. From Tuesday to Saturday, between 6 and 8pm, you can enjoy blooming talents such as pianists Patrick Hewan, Ewen Farncombe and Sam Kogen, to name a few, on the club’s signature “Red Pops” Steinway. There is no cover charge for these performances, and your presence is, as always, priceless. See you in the clubs! 

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

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