Oin the clubsn the surface, it is the sound of her voice — an instrument of astonishing depth — that might take your breath away. But her ability to bring an audience to its feet is rooted in so much more. Jackie Richardson is an acclaimed actress who has won Gemini and Dora awards, with a musical versatility that extends from her roots in gospel to musical theatre, jazz and everything she touches. Whether breathing life into a familiar ballad or wailing the blues like nobody’s business, there is an unflinching honesty behind Richardson’s every word, sung through big eyes that sparkle with passion. And beyond all this, a genuine humility that puts this lady in a league of her own.

This month promises to be memorable for Richardson: on October 19 she performs at Koerner Hall as part of the Royal Conservatory’s tribute to Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, with Joe Sealy on piano and fellow vocalists Arlene Duncan and Ranee Lee. Two days earlier she will have received a great honour: the Ken Page Memorial Trust lifetime achievement award for contribution to the arts in Canada, which will be presented on Thursday, October 17, at the Old Mill as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Gala. How does it feel to receive such an honour? She searches for the right words:

“It takes my breath away ... I know when I think of my idols, I want my idols to be recognized. I want people to never forget Peter Appleyard. And that people would honour me with an award that they might have given Peter Appleyard, it blows me away, it truly does,” she says. “I am such an admirer of other people in the field, and I am such a fan. There are people in the field that I consider myself their groupie. So that anybody else would feel that way about me ... it just doesn’t fit in my day! (laughs) To me, I’m on such a learning curve, there’s so much more I have to learn and do! I know in my head how I want to sound. I want my breath to be better. I want to be able to phrase more. I’ve got all these goals, and I hear a sound in my head that I want to use more, and all that stuff is yet to come.”

She grew up in a musical family (“I was always on the bottom”) and had many musical idols, but a few stand out.

“I loved Aretha — we all sang our share of Aretha, but as far as where I lived in Toronto and who I listened to and who I wanted to sound like, that was Dianne Brooks. She could sing everything — she could sing the R&B, she could sing the jazz, she could sing the country, she could knock you out with gospel, her voice was so unique and she was so soulful,” Richardson recalls, and reflects. “I don’t know why, but for whatever reason the universe decided that she wasn’t going to be known like Aretha Franklin or Nancy Wilson, but that was the calibre of Dianne Brooks. But all of us — in Toronto in that era — we all wanted to sound like Dianne Brooks. She ruled.”

On paying tribute to Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan at Koerner Hall:

“When you want to study, when you wanna go to masterclass, that’s who you put on. People like Sarah and Dinah and Ella and Carmen. That’s masterclass every single time you put it on. There are still those incredible times even if I played it 100 times, listening to Sarah do songs and the way she just in a blink jumps up two octaves and then hits that lower octave like it was twiddling her thumbs — the effect of it is so absolutely amazing. And what I love about all those singers, they did these incredible things with their voices, but they never lost the sense of what they were singing about. It wasn’t about the technical — the acrobatics of the voice — it was ‘This is my point of view, and me singing it like this, me picking these notes, I hope you understand where I am coming from.’ And it’s the same with Aretha — every note comes from such a true place — and what singers today don’t get that are trying to do Aretha is they don’t hear the story or they don’t put any value in the story, it’s all about the notes and the riffs and how high can I go — it can bore you to tears.”

That being said, there is one young singer that Richardson calls “a mesmerizing performer with musicality way beyond her years.” Cuban sensation Daymé (pronounced “Dimey”) made a memorable Canadian debut on May 30 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, as part of “Funny Girls and Dynamic Divas,” a fundraiser for the Sistering foundation. Jackie Richardson was in the audience that night to witness Daymé’s triumphant set of three original tunes and an arrangement of a traditional Cuban song; at the end of her set, the audience erupted into a rousing standing ovation.

Since graduating from Cuba’s prestigious music schools and studying piano, voice and percussion at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory, Daymé has been causing a stir on the Cuban jazz scene, melding together classic jazz, soul and Afro-Cuban sounds into a fresh new sound. Canadian jazz luminary Jane Bunnett and her husband Larry Cramer discovered Daymé a few years back while on a JAZZ.FM91 safari at the Havana Jazz Festival, and were so impressed that they have been mentoring her ever since.

“When Larry and I saw her, she was performing with her own group,” recalls Bunnett. “I had never seen anybody — a young female — in Cuba at that calibre — and with that kind of poise and musical strength! I realized that my jaw had dropped as I was listening to her. And then the next level was when I was playing the next night and I invited her to jump in with us — to see her capabilities of really improvising — not like she just has her thing and she does it — she’s got incredible skills hidden under her belt that are there to be uncovered! That’s pretty exciting to see how far she’s going to go. I’ve never met a singer in Cuba that loves Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone — she’s really drawn to that — she knows where she’s going and that’s really special ... also, she writes great music, at her young age. Very thoughtful, unique compositions ... her dedication at her early age — she’s so focused —
it’s really inspiring to me.”

There will be two opportunities to catch Daymé in Toronto with Jane Bunnett and Hilario Duran this month: on Saturday, October 5 at the Paintbox Bistro and Thursday, October 10 at Bloom Restaurant.

Toronto Jazz Central: Speaking of bloom, Toronto Jazz Central is a brand new organization which hopes to grow audiences for Toronto jazz locally, nationally and internationally. The idea for Toronto Jazz Central originated at the Imperial Pub several years ago, when members of the jazz community — musicians, presenters, venues, educators and fans — collectively brainstormed the need for such an organization. A group of volunteers from a range of disciplines has since worked to create a non-partisan way of showcasing the range and diversity of jazz in this city.

“The main component of Toronto Jazz Central is a website being launched in December 2013,” says Josh Grossman, musician, bandleader, artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. “On the website, musicians and industry members can promote their activity by creating profiles, listing upcoming shows and other news items and uploading audio and video tracks for inclusion on an onsite playlist. With the website, music fans, whether from the area or visiting, will have a ‘one-stop shop’ for all things jazz in Toronto.”

The goal, Grossman says, is to make torontojazzcentral.com accessible; musicians and industry members will be able to create basic profiles for free, and the general public will be able to access the information on the site for free. However, musicians, members of the public and others in the industry are being encouraged to become members for a small fee — musician and general public membership is $25 per year; industry membership $100 per year.

More details about the benefits of TJC membership and how to join are coming soon — and The WholeNote will pass them along as they do. In the meanwhile, these club listings show the fertile soil TJC will have to work with. And if you are planning to see Jackie Richardson or young Daymé buy your tickets in advance! Your ears mean the world to musicians. 

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

Over a cup of joe at his favourite neighbourhood espresso bar, English conductor Simon Capet spills the beans. We’re here to talk about the inspirations behind his buzzed-about projects: the weekly Classical Social sessions at Fionn MacCool’s and the monthly Monday night concerts at Lula Lounge with his exciting new group, Euphonia. A bit of chit-chat on how his surname is French in origin — pronounced Ka-pay — and his recent relocation to Toronto after 15 years as a Vancouverite, and it isn’t long before we get down to the nitty gritty: what he feels is wrong with classical music performance these days and how to make it right.

in the clubs - 1“I often make the analogy between music and food; one sustains the body, the other sustains the soul,” he says emphatically. “I feel like if you look back at how food was in the 1970s it was either overcooked beef and vegetables or it was pompous French cuisine, and classical music got itself stuck into the pompous French cuisine mold. And actually my greatest inspirations for what I am doing are culinary ones — the Jamie Olivers and the Anthony Bourdains or before that the Raymond Blancs — these men actually managed to break down those barriers and now people of all social backgrounds are experimenting with different kinds of food. That’s what I want to see happen with classical music.”

The weekly Classical Social series at Fionn MacCool’s (181 University Ave.) is a case in point. These Sunday evenings are similar to jazz jam sessions, with the main difference being that the music is not improvised, but sight-read.

“One of the things that is wonderful about Classical Social is that we are performing some of these great arrangements that have literally been sitting in the U of T library for decades. Things like the arrangement of Haydn’s Symphony No.6 by Salomon — the entrepreneur who brought Haydn to London in the 18th century. Back then, this was the equivalent of taking home a CD from a gig! The way that it used to work with publishers in those days, they made no money from the sale of their symphonies, other than an initial commission; the way they made money was by writing arrangements of their symphonies for all sorts of things. Beethoven arranged his symphonies for mandolin and piano, and those he sold and made money from. And this was true up until the 20th century.”

Who knew that Bach, Beethoven and Brahms would go so well with a pint? Bringing this music to the bar has proven to be a brilliant idea. Not only for the musicians, who rarely get to perform in jeans and sandals, but also for audiences who in some cases stumble upon this music for the first time. In many cases customer from Fionn MacCool’s end up in the audience at Lula Lounge, where Capet’s 16-piece ensemble, Euphonia, appears every month.

I attended the August concert, and was surprised to find the group situated on the dance floor, rather than the stage; another surprise was the invitation to “keep your cell phone on” during the performance, encouraging the audience to tweet throughout the evening. The orchestra members — a diverse group of women and men — wore a variety of vibrant colours. As for the music, Capet’s selections for the evening functioned as sweet and salty flavour combinations that were just right, from the obscure to the familiar: Paisiello, Salieri, Mozart and Haydn. In addition to the conductor, if there was another star that night it was exuberant Tanya Charles on violin, the featured soloist on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.4 in D Major K218. To keep things innovative, Capet had Charles conduct that piece as well as present her own original, playful cadenzas. Reflecting on the experience, Charles had this to say:

“It was a challenge for us all, but as an ensemble, I feel that we learned a lot about each other. For me, it was about learning how to lead efficiently and how best to communicate with musicians for phrasing and time changes. For the ensemble, it was about trusting one another and watching and listening with a more heightened sense of awareness in order to play together and with the same musical intentions. From my experience, it was the most comfortable and relaxed performance I have played because I was literally in the centre of the ensemble and the centre of the sound (rather than being steps in front of it), and I was backed by a great band of my colleagues and friends who were truly supportive. One of our goals is to continue becoming a more cohesive group and truly finding and honing our own sound and I feel like we are on the creative track to achieving that!”

There was something about the performance by Tanya Charles that really struck a chord with the audience, and it wasn’t because every note was technically perfect; rather, it was more intense and exciting, and her beaming expression throughout the performance was absolutely contagious. For Capet, this must have been a triumph; back at the coffee shop, he expressed his desire to take perfectionism out of the classical music tradition.

“I don’t go to symphony concerts. I’m bored,” he explains. “We live in a wonderful time now, because of the internet there are so many recordings of 20th century music that are available to us, from about 1900 onwards. And if I was to give you a dozen recordings of Brahms’ First Symphony, say between 1900 and 1910, I could find you a dozen totally different takes and sounds on that orchestra. But if I took them from the last decade, they’d all sound rather similar, because what happened in the history of recordings in the 1960s and 1970s is that big companies like Deutsche Grammophon and EMI, etc., put millions and millions of dollars into the uber stars — the Karajans and the Bernsteins — and these uber orchestras, the Chicago Symphony and the San Francisco and Vienna. So what happened from the very beginning of the recording industry is that, as a recording became available, everything changed and it became “listen to this  — it’s the way Beethoven intended it!” with the full orchestra. The pretension of the recording industry became “what we have is better than what you had” and so it grew and by the time Bernstein and Karajan were around, it became the battle of stereophonic sound — “our orchestra is more perfect than your orchestra,” and Bernstein’s recording of Mahler was “the definitive.” As if we can have a definitive recording of anything, or would want a definitive recording of anything. Can there be a definitive Shakespeare? Or the definitive cover of a Cole Porter song? It’s ridiculous,” Capet scoffs, almost out of breath. He takes a sip of coffee and continues.

in the clubs - 2“But to get the big money, the recording contracts, you had to be perfect. And this was the analog world, this wasn’t the cut and paste world of digital technology. You had to be able to do this in a take or a couple of takes, so accuracy would lead towards getting those contracts. A friend of mine in Copenhagen, after reading some of the press about Euphonia, started to have a conversation among his colleagues, and they were saying, “when did we get so afraid of pushing ourselves outside of the comfort zone?” And it’s true: musicians tend to feel that they’re really good when they play within this comfort zone ... but the excitement is, for example, Tanya Charles directing her piece for the first time, placed her outside of her comfort zone; us playing at the Lula Lounge, places us outside of our comfort zone because we have no acoustic to make life easy for us. If we play in a church, or at Koerner Hall, there is a little bit of resonance that will help us tune, but we have to be so much more accurate at Lula because there is no acoustic to help us. But the audience isn’t complaining about our tuning, or the occasional wrong note; what they are responding to is the authenticity and energy of the experience. And that’s where music comes alive, because music is an emotional communication between human beings, and it starts with the musicians, not with the music.”

Here’s hoping you’ll all check out what Simon Capet is doing at Fionn MacCool’s and Lula Lounge; these are exciting times for the ensemble. For those who wish to plan ahead, Euphonia will be back at Lula Lounge on September 16, October 21, November 11 and December 16. Admission is pay-what-you-can, suggested $10.

On a closing note, isn’t it great when risks pay off? Readers may recall that the Fridays at Five series featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet was forced to pause when Quotes (220 King St. W.) closed its doors. A few months back, the series moved a few doors down and one day back. Thursdays at Five takes place at KAMA Classical Indian Cuisine (214 King St. W.) and word is that it has been incredibly successful.

“We’ve been thrilled with the big crowds we’ve been generating all summer,” says Fay Olson, who books the series. “Summer is a time when a lot of clubs don’t want to risk that attendance will go down. We took a chance after only having been going for a few weeks when it was summer, but I think the fact it’s on Thursdays (instead of Fridays) is why it’s working. Even on long weekends when a lot of people leave town on Fridays, we’ve done really well on Thursday nights.”

According to what I’ve heard, the buffet is spectacular and manager Ken Clarke has arranged for a Jazz Menu on Thursdays, featuring classical Indian takes on sliders, nachos and wings!

Let’s be sure to keep this excellent series going. The Canadian Jazz Quartet features Don Vickery on drums, Gary Benson on guitar, Frank Wright on vibes and Duncan Hopkins on bass. Their exquisite horn playing guests this month are Dave Dunlop on September 5, Kelly Jefferson on September 12, Mike Malone on September 19 and Colleen Allen on September 26.

Happy fall to all, and here’s hoping to see you in the clubs! 

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

in the clubs brownman - photo by nils blondonSummer solstice renamed: the Toronto Jazz Festival is calling Friday June 21 Free-For-All Friday, as participating venues all over the city will charge no cover. Tough choices that night: David Buchbinder’s lush tones at Lula Lounge; the swinging hi-hat of NYC veteran Victor Lewis at The Rex; the sparkling voice of Molly Johnson enchanting a packed house at the Jazz Bistro ... she will be back the following evening, by the way, with tickets priced at $35.60.

On Free-For-All Friday, trumpet player Brownman will be playing at the Mây Cafe on Dundas West, but if you miss that gig, sweat ye not: he plays a gig every single day of the festival, culminating in a two-night CD release event for his Brownman Electryc Trio CD featuring NYC bassist Damian Erskine.

“It’s actually 13 gigs in nine days,” the Trinidad-born, New York-schooled, Toronto-based Brownman tells me. “Two private gigs don’t appear on the schedule ... It’s pretty crazy. One’s gotta stay organized.My book literally has an hour by hour breakdown of what I’ll be doing over those nine days. There’s so much going on behind the scenes! Like all the logistics of flying in the mighty Damian Erskine, who appears on the new Electryc Trio CD and who will be the featured bassist during the two-night CD release extravaganza on June 28 and 29. Dealing with his airport pickups, hotel accommodations, trying to set up a bass masterclass for him that I’ll host, and a hundred other details means essentially every hour of each day has to be carefully planned out. And, of course, the entire week leading up to the fest is stacked with rehearsals. For every one of those gigs, there’s a corresponding rehearsal. The one that makes me the most nervous is the big Freddie Hubbard Tribute to launch the fest. We’re doing two sets of Freddie’s material — his acoustic material in the first set, and a set of his electric stuff — and only have a single rehearsal to mount all those tunes. That’ll be a nail-biter for sure. But the cats are some of the best in the city, so I’m not that worried. I’ll definitely need to be taking my vitamins that week.”

A leader of no fewer than seven groups, Brownman dabbles in many varieties of jazz, from Latin to electric, and is also actively connected to the urban music scene.

“You’ll notice I’m at Mây for a lot of the Jazz Festival dates. I did a hip hop show there in winter and ended up hanging out with the owners until 4am that night. That led them to ask me if I’d be interested in booking and curating their whole Jazz Festival program. It’s a great space with huge potential for live music and they were happy to give me artistic licence to book as I pleased, so that led to the exhausting work of putting that program together. It’s a strong cross-section of some of the city’s finest multi-faceted jazz artists and will hopefully provide the city with another venue with strong jazz programming during the TD Fest.”

Speaking of strong programming, it is tough to choose just one quick pick for every day of the festival, but here goes:

Thursday June 20, 8pm: country music legend Willie Nelson with an opening set by Canada’s “sweetheart of swing,” Alex Pangman. Massey Hall. $59.50-$125.

Friday June 21, 7pm and 9:30pm: homegrown talent too rarely heard: Mary Margaret O’Hara with Yvette Tollar. Musideum. Free-For-All Friday!

Saturday June 22, 8pm: gospel and soul queen Mavis Staples and the pride of New Orleans, Dr. John. Nathan Phillips Square. $56.50

Sunday June 23, 10pm: blues legend James Cotton at the Horseshoe Tavern. $37.85.

Monday June 24, 7pm: solo jazz piano master, Fred Hersch. Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront. $28.39.

Tuesday June 25, 7:30pm: 19-year-old sensation Nikki Yanofsky at Koerner Hall. $48-$70.50.

Wednesday June 26, 8:30pm: octogenarian treasure Don Francks & Friends at Dominion on Queen. $TBA.

Thursday June 27, 7:30pm: Canadian Jazz Quartet: Gary Benson, guitar; Frank Wright, vibes; Duncan Hopkins, bass; Don Vickery, drums; with NYC’s Randy Sandke, trumpet. Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Inn, $40.

Friday June 28, 8pm and 10:30pm: arguably Italy’s greatest jazz export of all time, the exceptionally polished vocalist Roberta Gambarini at Jazz Bistro. $40.10.

Saturday June 29, 7:30pm: Gord Sheard’s Brazilian Experience: Brian O’Kane, trumpet; Colleen Allen and Andy Ballantyne, reeds; Alastair Kay, trombone; Rick Shadrach Lazar, percussion; Aline Morales, percussion and vocals; Rob Gusevs, keyboards; Collin Barrett, bass; Max Senitt, drums; Gord Sheard, piano and accordion. $25.45.

A toast to jams: Between the Festival’s mainstage acts and the club series one will find far more than swing and bop: blues, country, roots, soul, folk, hip hop, avant garde and electronica. There’s really only one thing this reporter wishes there was more of: jam sessions. Jazz by its very nature is about improvisation and nowhere does this become more quintessential than when fate unites players from across continents to collaborate on the likes of “It Could Happen to You.” On the bright side, when the festival is over you can enjoy some jazz jams all year long in Toronto.

Chalkers Pub is the home of Lisa Particelli’s Wednesday night 8pm to 12am session, GNOJAZZ, which stands for Girls’ Night Out Jazz (where gentlemen are welcome too). Now in its eighth year and still going strong, the vocalist-friendly evening is a cherished place for singers of all levels to hone their performance chops, form musical connections and become inspired by their peers. By providing a safe musical environment that includes the rock solid rhythm section of Peter Hill on piano and Ross MacIntyre on bass, Particelli has given countless individuals a place to make music comfortably, thereby strengthening this community immeasurably. Most importantly, it is not a competitive diva-fest but rather a friendly place for singers and listeners to gather, share, learn and grow. Hundreds of singers have attended over the years, including vocal teachers and students, professionals and amateurs alike.

“The singers have been wonderful, of course, but it’s the loyal listeners that keep it going,” says Particelli. “These are people who simply appreciate the talent of others and make a special point to come out and support them. Without the support of listeners, the jam session would not be able to survive, so we are truly grateful for our regulars.”

Over the years Particelli has instilled education into the jam in various ways: celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month, organizing workshops by guest artists and for the past three years by fundraising for a vocal jazz scholarship at Humber College. The money is raised by special concerts billed as “GNOJAZZ All-Star Vocal Showcases” and the next one takes place as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 30 from 7pm to 10pm at Chalkers Pub. Congratulations to the 2013 recipient of the scholarship, Daniella Garcia!

Gathering inspiration from Lisa Particelli, some of the singers who have been coming out to GNOJAZZ have started jam sessions of their own, including Pat Murray who is starting up her “Jazz Jam-Gria” at 417 Restaurant & Lounge on the Danforth, Tuesday nights. This is particularly good news considering that The Rex Hotel, home of the Classic Rex Jazz Jam, has recently taken the jam out of their programming. At Jam-Gria, instrumentalists are encouraged to bring their axes, with vocalists also welcome:

“Jam-Gria is an east end jazz jam that encourages all levels of musicians to sit in with a house band of mentors or colleagues,” says Murray. “It draws Toronto’s A-level players as well as those musicians taking their first leap of faith into the world of improvisation. The new digs at 417 are exquisite! Very chic decor and cuisine to die for!”

Also on the east side of town, Laura Marks started a Monday night session called Bohemian Monday earlier this year at Rakia Bar.

“Last New Year’s Eve I dropped in to the Rakia Bar New Year’s Eve party,” recalls Marks. “The owner said that they’d like to set up a regular program of music there and asked me if I would work with him on a jam that is mostly jazz but open to other genres. We started in February and have gradually been building it ever since. Up until last Monday it was held every two weeks. Now it will happen every Monday.”

Marks has chosen to invite different musicians each week. Among those who have made up the house band are Mark Kieswetter, Ross MacIntyre, Brendan Davis, Reg Schwager, Lee Wallace, Peter Hill, Shawn Nyquist, Adrean Farrugia and Chris Gale. New to Bohemian Monday in June will be Amanda Tossoff with Brendan Davis on the 10th and Bernie Senensky and Duncan Hopkins on the 17th.

“All the musicians who have played with us remark on the great atmosphere, food, drink and hospitality,” adds Marks. “We’d like to encourage anyone who plays an instrument to come and play.”

Just got word that also on Monday nights, but on the other side of town at Runnymede and Annette, saxophonist Nick Morgan has started up a jam session at Annette Studios. There is a Fender Rhodes on location for piano players, an amp for guitar players, a microphone for vocalists and a new Gretsch jazz kit for drummers.

Here’s a toast to all these jams! May they all thrive in bringing new ears to this music. Hosting a jam session is not an easy job, so please remember to tip generously. Happy listening! 

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

1808-jazzintheclubsHighly eccentric and strangely fascinating — much like the man himself — the music of Gia Ionesco is anything but background music. To describe his unconventional artistry in words seems like an exercise in futility, but it’s worth a try. Classically trained from a young age, Romanian-born Ionesco is a formidable pianist who plays with fiery passion, sometimes playing multiple keyboards at once (!) but his unique writing style makes him a composer first. Considering the arrangements, instrumentation and influences associated with his writing, there is a lot to digest here, perhaps even too much for certain listeners. While on the one hand Ionesco’s rollercoaster-like blending of jazz, world, fusion and progressive rock might be dizzying for some, on the other, his growing fan base ranges in age from 6 to 92, a compliment that speaks volumes. Actually, judging by the smiles on their faces alone, some of his biggest fans include guitarist Reg Schwager, percussionist Alan Hetherington and saxophonist Johnny Johnson, all members of Ionesco’s band, Gia & The Unpredictable Update.

Around this time last year, I saw the band in action at The Rex Hotel, and will not forget the contagious joy that emanated from the stage that night. It was a sight to behold, as if a gifted group of middle-aged men were rocking out like teenagers in their parents’ basement! In particular, Johnny Johnson — one of the most sought-after horn players in the country, frequently seen and heard around the globe with Molly Johnson and Holly Cole — seemed like he was having the time of his life, so I asked him a few questions, starting with his first impression of Ionesco’s music:

“It was like hearing the past, present and future of music, all at once,” he said. “So of course, the first time I heard Gia’s music I was speechless. My mind needed some time to process it all ... What makes this music unique is its compositional versatility. Because Gia incorporates so many styles in his writing there are any number of directions the band can take during a performance ... Honestly you never really know what’s in store at the end of the song but we do know it will be fun getting there. And there are a lot of songs. I’m guessing Gia has written over 250 songs and I’m sure there are at least that many more in that crazy creative brain of his.”

Big news: on Monday, May 6, 8:30pm at Hugh’s Room, the band will perform a concert to celebrate their upcoming tour of China, which will culminate in an appearance at the prestigious Shanghai Spring International Music Festival. This is the first time that a Canadian act has been invited! The Unpredictable Update at Hugh’s Room will be: Gia Ionesco, keyboards; Bruce Cassidy, trumpet; Johnny Johnson and Clifford Ojala, saxophones; Reg Schwager, guitar; Alex St. Kitts, bass; Alan Hetherington, percussion and Wilson Laurencin, drums. Come to Hugh’s Room to wish this group well as they tour the other side of the world later this month!

Lula Lula! Living in this vast country of a city, one sometimes takes for granted the little things. This is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, where just about any kind of cuisine can be found, and the same goes for music.

On that note, the Lula Lounge Music and Arts Centre presents its annual multicultural music festival, Lulaworld 2013. Opening this festival, Friday May 10, is a unique collaboration: the Jay Danley Ethio Jazz Project featuring special guest, master Ethiopian musician Fantahun Shewankochew on vocals and Krar, and Toronto’s own Danley on guitar, Chris Gale and Elena Kapeleris on saxophones, Sam Petite on bass, Jeff Halischuck on drums and Richard Whiteman on piano.

Danley, himself a versatile guitarist who has spent the past two decades playing traditional Cuban music and traditional jazz, was inspired to play Ethiojazz by listening to Les Ethiopiques, a series of recordings by the inventor of this style, Mulatu Astatke. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Berklee-trained, Ethiopia-born Astatke was the first to combine modern jazz with Ethiopian scales.

“The very difficult musical challenge of composing, arranging and improvising using these scales is very rewarding to me,” says Danley. “I have also added some of my own personal tastes and influences to my compositions that make them unique.”

The collaboration with Danley’s group and Shewankochew has an interesting back story; they played a gig at Lula back in February, ten days before the Batuki Music Society presented a concert at the Glenn Gould Studio called Abyssinian Roots. The special concert brought to Toronto some of the hottest Ethiopian musicians from the nightclub scene of Addis Ababa, including Henok Abebe, Martha Ashagari, and Fantahun Shewankochew himself. Danley was in the audience that night and was absolutely amazed; meeting Shewankochew afterwards, it turned out that the Ethiopian master had attended their gig at Lula and wanted to work together. The organizers of Lulaworld were approached and decided that this collaboration would be a great way to open the 2013 festival.

Meanwhile, one of the few Toronto players on the aforementioned Batuki Music Society concert was drummer Daniel Barnes, who has recently put together “DB3” — the Daniel Barnes Groove Trio, another new world/jazz music band with an Ethiopian connection, playing every second and fourth Thursday of the month at Hirut Restaurant, 2050 Danforth Ave. “We’ve taken root at Hirut because audiences enjoy the place, the cuisine and our show,” adds Barnes. “It’s exciting cultural times with global interconnectedness and Toronto itself being a cultural force of diverse backgrounds for generations now.” But that will have to be a story for another day. 

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

Here are some recommendations for you, dear reader, for Jazz Appreciation Month (which in case you didn’t know, this is):

Dora Mavor Moore award winning cabaret performer Paula Wolfson is a brilliant singer, actor and entertainer who along with multi-instrumentalist Kirk Elliott will present “Strings Attached” at the Flying Beaver Pubaret on Friday, April 5 at 7pm. Wolfson’s appearances are a rare treat so reservations for this show are highly recommended; if you’d like a preview of Wolfson’s talent, check out her promotional video on YouTube or visit paulawolfson.com

Closest in timbre to the human voice, the trombone is considered a difficult instrument to master. As such, it’s not every day that one hears a whole choir of them on a given stage. At The Rex on April 9 at 9:30pm, trombone master Al Kay leads his Trombone Orchestra as part of an annual fundraiser for Humber College’s Jerry Johnson Scholarship. To read more about Johnson (1949–2005) and his life and music, visit jerryjohnsonplays.com

A valued collaborator and arranger with vocalists such as Sophie Milman and Susie Arioli, Montreal-based saxophonist Cameron Wallis, a hard-swinging player with a sweet tone, has recently released his first quartet recording Calling Dexter. Dedicated to the inspiring spirit of the legendary Dexter Gordon, the album features an even mix of originals and standards, with Wallis performing on soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and c-melody saxophones! His Toronto CD release is on April 13, 9:45pm at The Rex. Visit cameronwallismusic.com

In The ClubsSaxophonist, vocalist, violist and composer Shannon Graham is a young musical visionary whose debut album, Shannon Graham and the Storytellers, will be released on April 17 at 8pm (see listings section A) at Gallery 345, the perfect space to experience Graham’s artful, classically-influenced, ambitious brand of modern jazz, with her nine-piece band. Visit shannongraham.ca

Vocalist Gillian Margot has recently returned from a contract at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore and as of June will have a similar deal in Shanghai for the summer. Hers is a rich, supple voice that shines with elegance. Catch her at the Old Mill Inn’s Home Smith Bar on Friday, April 19 as part of the Something to Sing About series with Stuart Harrison, piano, and Ross MacIntyre, bass. Visit

The endlessly imaginative and deeply playful piano stylings of Adrean Farrugia are truly one of a kind. He can frequently be heard with a variety of acts including Matt Dusk, the Brad Goode Quartet, the Ernesto Cervini Quartet and Tim Shia’s Worst Pop Band Ever, to name a few. This month he leads his own quartet on at least two occasions: Saturday, April 27 at 8:30pm at The Jazz Room in Waterloo, and in Toronto on Monday, April 29 at 9pm at The Emmet Ray. A brilliant talent! Visit adreanfarrugia.com

On Sunday April 28 from 4–8pm, the Dominion on Queen will house “Toast and Jam,” a special birthday party for singer Debbie Fleming. Perhaps best known for her a cappella group Hampton Avenue, Fleming can sing everything from R&B to Rachmaninoff, folk, jazz and her own originals. She will perform a set with Bill King on piano, Russ Boswell on bass, Tony Quarrington on guitar and Daniel Barnes on drums, and will then open the stage for jamming by her friends. Come by and raise a glass! Visit debbiefleming.ca

Happy JAM, and here’s hoping to see you in the clubs! 

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

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