Missin’ the Trane: There were celebrated nights of packed houses and grim evenings of empty rooms, but the music kept playing for nine admirable years, and there’s no doubt that the Trane Studio will be missed by audiences and musicians alike. That said, I’m not going to give a eulogy to the club just yet; in writing to inform of the club’s decision not to renew the lease at 964 Bathurst, owner Frank Francis pointed out that “this does not mean the end of the business, it is rather an opportunity for us to take a well-deserved break and assess things differently.” Looking forward to catching the next Trane!

Singers and the Norm: Multi-talented Julie McGregor is an exquisite painter who, about a decade ago, turned her focus to singing jazz. More recently, McGregor has begun producing The Singer’s Jazz Series, which features, alongside herself, a variety of Torontonian talent on vocals, with the venerable Norman Amadio on piano. Ironically, it’s the accompanist who’s at the heart of this singer’s series.

“I was inspired by pianist Norman Amadio, one of Canada’s greatest jazz talents and sadly it seems, most under-appreciated,” says McGregor. “I wanted everyone to hear Norm play. At 84, he still plays great ... he loves accompanying and really is one of the most giving, humble and kind musicians I have ever met.”

Indeed, Amadio’s modesty belies his legendary status as jazz pianist, piano teacher, music coach, composer, arranger, session player, band leader and accompanist, dating back to the 1940s. At 17, the precociously gifted Norm left his hometown of Timmins to study with Boris Berlin at the Royal Conservatory, and soon thereafter became influential in starting the bebop scene in Toronto. Amadio became one of the country’s most in-demand players, headlining at New York’s Birdland in 1956 opposite Duke Ellington, and collaborating with far too many jazz giants to mention in this wee column.

At the “September’s Song” installment of The Singer’s Jazz Series, Amadio, along with the wondrous Neil Swainson on bass, will provide the ultimate accompaniment for featured vocalists Sophia Perlman, Vincent Wolfe and Julie McGregor, and jazz poet Chris Hercules. Reservations are recommended for this event, taking place at Hugh’s Room on Sunday, September 16.

jazzintheclubs john alcorn - photo  1 - by greg kingSongbook hero: When it comes to the American songbook, there might not be a better keeper of its flame than John Alcorn. His personal approach finds the singer infusing the material with burning passion, but never at the expense of a song’s details. Good news: the beloved crooner this month embarks on The Songbook Series, a weekly Wednesday night residency at the Flying Beaver Pubaret in Cabbagetown. Alcorn will devote an evening a week to the musical works of an individual jazz, theatre or film artist, be it a composer, lyricist or legendary performer. This month he pays tribute to composers Cole Porter (Sept 5), Jerome Kern (Sept 12), Irving Berlin (Sept 19) and George Gershwin (Sept 26). Two stellar players accompany Alcorn in this series: Reg Schwager on guitar and Steve Wallace on bass. Admission is $15 or $10 in advance, except for the very first show, which is free. Who could ask for anything more?

Shepherd’s departure: Back to Hugh’s Room, where on September 29, Elizabeth Shepherd releases Rewind, a departure of sorts for this consummate talent who can pen both strong hooks and insightful lyrics, but chooses not to on this release. Shepherd’s fourth CD takes a surprise turn, shifting gears to standard material that has inspired her to this point. In doing so, the spotlight is redirected to the artist’s intelligent choices as singer and arranger. There’s something undeniably magnetic about Shepherd’s voice; she never quite raises it, nor does she have to. The new album’s highlights include thoughtful transformations of Porter’s “Love for Sale” and Weill’s “Lonely House,” reshaped into contemporary, minimalistic works of art. I’m willing to bet that John Alcorn would approve! 

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

ernesto-cerviniFittingly for thisissue, this column is being composed “on the road,” for in a few hours from this writing, I will be performing at the Upstairs Jazz Club in Montreal. I’m excited! This place is a real gem: a strict quiet policy, excellent sound, recommendable menu, and now they offer live streaming of their concerts — most shows can be viewed live, online at www.upstairsjazz.com, and certain ones are archived on the website as well. As far as I know, Upstairs is the very first jazz club in Canada to be streaming; New York’s Smalls has been doing it famously for years and only recently has started to charge a nominal fee for viewing shows (though the audio is still free).

If you ask me, the concept of live streaming is undoubtedly the future of live jazz, expanding a performer’s audience from mere dozens to literally thousands, and potentially millions. In keeping with the genre’s insistence of reacting to the given moment, this technological adaptation transports jazz into the 21st century. According to Upsatirs owner Joel Giberovitch, “The exposure streaming gives the club and the musicians is truly remarkable … it has truly made Upstairs an international club.” Now, my question is, which music venue in Toronto will be the first one to hop on the live streaming bandwagon?

jazzintheclubs peripheral vision  1Back to Montreal for just a moment. In a few days from this writing, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (FIJM) is set to make a splash around these parts. Known as one of the world’s leading jazz fests, it truly is a unique event in which the entire city becomes a jazz mecca with ten outdoor stages, hundreds of visiting artists and … drinking on the streets! Another admirable element is the presentation of festival awards. Given annually, four prestigious awards are named after Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson and Antonio Carlos Jobim, with a fifth one, the Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit Award, recently added to “underline a popular artist’s extraordinary contribution to the musical world.” Congratulations to this year’s winners: Liza Minnelli (Ella); Ron Carter (Miles); Peter Appleyard (Oscar); Emir Kusturica (Jobim) and James Taylor (Spirit).

julia clevelandIn addition to these awards, the festival yearly nominates ten Canadian up-and-coming artists who play the festival for the Grand Prix de Jazz. This year Toronto has done formidably well, with four nominees in the running: quartet Peripheral Vision, pianist Robi Botos, and drummers-composers Julia Cleveland and Ernesto Cervini. The winner, to be announced on July 5, receives a $5,000 grant; another concert at the festival on July 7; 50 hours of studio time and mastering at Karisma Studio; a licensing deal for the manufacturing and distribution of an album on the Effendi Records label; an invitation to perform at the Festival International Jazz & Blues of Zacatecas, Mexico; and an invitation to perform at next year’s Fest Jazz International de Rimouski (2013). Good luck to all!

robi botosIn case you’re not able to make FIJM this year, you’ll be able to catch all of the nominees performing in Toronto in July: Peripheral Vision  (guitarist Don Ross, bassist Michael Herring, saxophonist Trevor Hogg and drummer Nick Fraser) will play at the Tranzac on July 3 at 10pm; Robi Botos, along with Andrew Stewart on bass, Larnell Lewis on drums and Louis Botos on vocals, will be performing a special funk/gospel/R&B show at the Trane Studio on July 15 at 8pm; the Julia Cleveland Quintet will appear at the Toronto Beaches International Jazz Festival on July 28 at 11am; and Ernesto Cervini will be performing with numerous groups this summer as well as his quartet at the Guelph Jazz Festival in September.

Just to set the record straight: live streaming should not be a replacement for attending live performances!

For updated August listings please visit our website next month: thewholenote.com/jazzlistings. 

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

Don’t get me wrong: I love a Gershwin tune and know nearly every verse by Hart. But it’s refreshing to hear more modern composers receiving the jazz treatment.

0709_copyThe John Lennon songbook receives an all-star Canadian jazz salute on June 13 at Hugh’s Room, with the CD Release of Shine On, led by guitarist/arranger Michael Occhipinti, with vocalists Elizabeth Shepherd, Yvette Tollar, Dominic Mancuso and Denzal Sinclaire, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Roberto Occhipinti on bass and Mark Kelso on drums.

“It was nice to be reminded of how creative John Lennon was, not just as a writer but as a guitarist also,” says Occhipinti. “He was the first to intentionally use guitar feedback or backwards guitar. Also, as much as I heard albums like Rubber Soul or Revolver when I was young, when I listened with this project in mind I was really knocked out by how the song structures changed and all the songs start and end in different ways. This was very inspiring to me as an arranger.”

Interestingly, one of the brightest stars in the jazz guitar galaxy, American Bill Frisell, will also perform a jazz program of Lennon songs, “All We Are Saying,” on June 26 at the Enwave Theatre, as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. In contrast to Occhipinti’s generous offering of vocal chords, Frisell’s arrangements offer strictly instrumental explorations of the icon’s music, featuring himself and Greg Leisz on guitars, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums.

Harmonically sophisticated beyond measure, Frisell is just one of the many artists who have influenced Hobson’s Choice, a unique quartet that has been making waves on the local scene, somewhere between jazz and folk, new music and chamber music. The group consists of Rebecca Hennessy on trumpet, Harley Card on guitar and vocals, Felicity Williams on vocals and Michael Davidson on vibraphone and marimba.

Besides Frisell, additional influences include Bruce Cockburn, Kenny Wheeler, Steve Reich, David Friedman, Joni Mitchell, Ron Sexsmith and Wayne Shorter, to name a few. Significantly, Hobson’s Choice does not choose covers: all four members contribute original material, leading one to wonder who the leader is.

“The group started when the four of us decided to get together and learn a bunch of Bruce Cockburn’s music,” says Harley Card. “We eventually did some shows and then decided to continue working on music for the ensemble, but to focus on our own writing instead … Although the impetus for most songs is by one of us, we continue to develop them as a group. The songs don’t really come to life until they’ve been filtered through the band’s process.”

Hobson’s Choice will be releasing its third recording, Of the Waves, at the Music Gallery on June 30 at 8pm, as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

In the Clubs & Beyond: Toronto Jazz Festival Quick Picks

hiromi1. Hiromi: The Trio Project. Japanese jazz genius, Hiromi, is one the world’s true musical wonders. Though the term “virtuoso” might be an understatement for this 33 year old, beyond her dazzling chops are highly emotional motivations. Until recently she has been a soloist, but as on her new album, Voice, for this performance she summons two sensational sidemen: bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. Bound to be unforgettable. Opening act: the acclaimed, rebellious trio The Bad Plus, with special guest Joshua Redman. June 24 at 8pm, Mainstage, Nathan Phillips Square, $42.50.

esperanza_spalding_highres2. Esperanza Spalding Radio Music Society. Supremely talented bassist, composer and vocalist Spalding recently became the first jazz artist in history to win the Best New Artist Grammy award, beating out Bieber and Drake, and giving us all hope (incidentally, the meaning of her name!) A cross between jazz and pop, Esperanza’s original music is whimsical and intelligent at the same time – a rarity. Vocalist Gretchen Parlato opens the show. June 28 at 8pm, Mainstage, Nathan Phillips Square, $42.50.

jackie_richardson3. Jackie Richardson & Russ Little Trio with Guests. This woman is a national treasure: a larger-than-life entertainer whose magical voice, depth of feeling and incomparable stage presence belie her genuine modesty. Four shows, each with a special guest: June 22 with daughter, vocalist Kim Richardson; June 23 with saxophonist Colleen Allen; June 29 with saxophonist Alex Dean; June 30 with vocalist Heather Bambrick. All shows at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar, 7:30-10:30pm, $20 Cover, no reservations.

4. The Jivebombers. Tight arrangements, impassioned solos, Hawaiian shirts, and contagious laughter – I can’t think of a group that has more fun on stage than this nine-piece all-star outfit, led by trombonist John Karpenko, with Alex Dean, Bob Brough and Johnny Johnson, saxophones, Brigham Phillips, trumpet, Del Dako, vibes, Gord Sheard, piano, Al Henderson, bass, Curtis Smith, drums, and special guest vocalists. The Rex, June 22, 5pm.

5. Jim Galloway Trio. Born in Scotland and a Torontonian since 1964, world famous soprano saxophonist Jim Galloway is also the festival’s recently retired founding artistic director and of course, The WholeNote’s own Jazz Notes columnist. Old-school swing that’s infectious in the best possible way. June 30 at 2pm, Distillery District, Trinity Stage, Free. (NOTE: Galloway will also interview several artists as part of the “Inside Track,” presented by the Ken Page Memorial Trust. See listings section D,“The ETCeteras,” under Interviews.)

ken_peplowski_saxophone_300dpi6. Canadian Jazz Quartet with Ken Peplowski. As an extension of the CJQ’s popular Fridays at Five Series at Quotes, this will be one of four evenings featuring a legendary special guest. Having worked with everyone from Mel Tormé and Peggy Lee to Leon Redbone and Madonna, Peplowski is, by reputation, one of the most renowned clarinetists in the world. An absolute must for fans of the licorice stick! June 27 at 5pm, Quotes Bar & Grill, $30.

phil_dwyer7. Phil Dwyer – A Canadian Songbook Featuring Laila Biali. This year’s JUNO winner for Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year and one of the most highly regarded jazz musicians on the Canadian scene, Phil Dwyer is an exceptional multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer. For this exciting program of Canadiana he teams up with Laila Biali, herself a radiant and multi-talented musician. Expect beauty! June 27 at 7pm, Church of the Holy Trinity, $22.50.

clayton_doley8. Clayton Doley Quartet. Australia’s finest Hammond organist is a highly sought-after session musician who has already appeared on hundreds of albums and toured the world with a variety of artists, from Canada’s Harry Manx to Australia’s Silverchair. An exciting virtuoso well worth discovering. June 23 at 5pm, Shops at Don Mills, Free.

retrocity9. Retrocity. Rooted in sweet nostalgia and committed to pure entertainment, Retrocity is an eight-piece a cappella ensemble devoted to singing hits of the 1980s. The group blends beautifully and benefits from the gifts of singers Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell and Aaron Jensen. Ideal for the whole family, especially moms and dads. June 29 at 5pm, Outdoor Stage, Nathan Phillips Square, Free.

june_harris10. June Harris & Artie Roth. Chicago-born singer-pianist Harris is a seasoned storyteller, with decades of experience performing classic jazz, barrelhouse blues and endearing originals. With solid-as-a-rock Roth along for the ride, expect to be enchanted! June 26 at 6pm, NOW Lounge, $15.

For further information on the jazz fest, visit www.torontojazz.com.

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


51-53_photo_option_allison_au_The first ten days of summer will mark the 26th edition of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, which, according to a press release I just received, promises that “500,000 music lovers will be entertained as 1,500 musicians take over the city, performing 350+ concerts in 10 days.”

It’s safe to say that these numbers would be significantly lower were it not for the festival’s Club Series, featuring many venues familiar to readers of this column and artists who are at those venues month in and month out. So another way of looking at it would be to say that the local club scene is a jazz festival year round! Here are some of the fish who are already jumpin’.

Hogtown’s Very Own … Syncopators!

The only quintet with a weekly house gig at The Rex Hotel, the Hogtown Syncopators play every Friday from 4pm to 6pm. Full of good cheer, the band bursts at the seams with talent: Terra Hazelton on vocals and snare drum; Drew Jurecka on violin, sax and vocals; Jay Danley on guitar and vocals; Richard Whiteman on piano; and James Thomson on bass. Sweet, saucy and sentimental songs from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, as well as band originals, make HS a fine way to beat the blues. This month: May 4, 11, 18 and 25.

Surely Murley

Mike Murley’s fluid phrasing and scrumptious tone single him out as one of the finest horn players in the country, so it isn’t surprising to find him exploring the challenges of solo saxophone. However, this active adventurer plays in a number of contexts: duos with guitarist David Occhipinti; in the trio Broadview with bassist Rich Brown and drummer Ted Warren; in various quartet settings featuring the likes of Dave Liebman and David Braid; and, most recently, leading his own septet: Murley on tenor, compositions and arrangements; Tara Davidson on soprano and alto saxes; Kevin Turcotte on trumpet; Terry Promane on trombone; David Braid on piano; Jim Vivian on bass; and Ted Warren on drums. A flock of local jazz fans and tourists will likely mean folks being turned away at the group’s festival gig on June 30 — so catch the septet this month, May 17 at The Rex, for a sneak peek.

Swingin’ at the Gate

The Rex isn’t the only place to present live jazz and blues every single day of the week in Toronto — there is another, and it also features a real piano, reasonable menu and affordable pints. Located at 403 Roncesvalles Ave., Gate 403 is less central than The Rex but similarly casual; less roomy but arguably more charming. Musicians like this place not because the gigs are lucrative, (please tip generously as paper makes less noise!) but because when filled with humans, it has a certain kind of magic.

Always entertaining, the Richard Whiteman & Laura Hubert Jazz Band recently began performing at Gate 403 on Monday nights. With Whiteman making that piano sound brand new and Hubert enchanting listeners with her inimitable style, this band swings all the more mightily thanks to James Thomson on bass, Paul Brennan on drums, Shawn Nykwist on tenor and Tim Hamel on trumpet. Their official festival gig takes place on June 25; drop by this month May 7, 14, 21 or 28.

Cherishing Cherry Street

The Cherry Street Restaurant buzz is building. During the festival, fantastic daily fare will be complemented by an array of seasoned vocal and instrumental jazzers, from trumpet and flugelhorn player Nadje Noordhuis, to a group worth investigating if only because they are called the Strange Attractors. Drop by this month to check out the venue and sample the menu! My pick for this month goes to a quartet led by a splendid young alto player, Allison Au, on Thursday May 10. An exceptional improviser and composer, this Humber College graduate is currently working on her debut album. Au will be joined by Todd Pentney, piano; Jon Maharaj, bass; and Fabio Ragnelli, drums.

Party Time!

It’s hard to resist an exclamation point for this one: The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar presents a brand new series in May and June called the Thursday Night Jazz Party! The concept: a leading jazz entertainer plays host, with stellar special guests gathered around the baby grand. Each evening is bound to be fun-filled, but in this musical situation, perhaps even more than usual, the audience is the life of the party. Bring your requests!

In next month’s column I will go into more detail about the Toronto Jazz Festival. But why wait for the official Club Series to get excited about the live music that’s happening in the city’s series of clubs? A very dedicated promoter of live jazz in this city, Fay Olson is right on the money when she titles her emails thusly: “The year-round jazz festival continues!”

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

58Were jazz baseball, vocalist June Garber would be an all-star slugger. Vocally she’s got chops aplenty, but what keeps the bandleaders calling and the audiences hollering is more than just her voice. It’s a smile that can melt melancholy, and sincerity that makes every lyric sparkle. Born in South Africa and a Torontonian since 1975, her rich and varied performance career has taken the singer/actress across the globe. Since 2004, she has been focused on jazz, starting off with Bill King’s diva showcases and eventually singing with a handful of local big bands. Now the hot Floridian sun calls, permanently, as of July. Luckily for the sunshine state, she plans on singing for many years to come.

You sing with many big bands — is this very different from singing with a trio? Oh yes. It’s a lot more structured. If you’re working with a trio you can follow them or they can follow you. But with a big band you can’t make a mistake. If you lose your way, you’re gone! The horns will keep playing so you have to have a really good ear and know where you are.

You went for 15 years without singing or acting, returning to the stage in 2004. What prompted you to return to the stage? Well, I started going nuts (laughs). I was finding all sorts of creative outlets: gardening, cooking, and then painting  oils, acrylics, you name it. But it was never enough. The husband of the woman running a hospice I was volunteering for in Markham  played bass and she invited me to check out his band. And I got into jazz.

How did you work on being such a great entertainer? I think the generosity of spirit in which you wish to include people and make them feel at ease, that’s the most important thing. And then the connection, I really look into people’s eyes when I’m singing. I think I actually need to connect and get feedback, so that if there is warmth coming back, that’s like heaven to me …

Studying theatre growing up and doing a lot of plays at university — and also when I came to Toronto I did a lot of theatre — you learn to inhabit and take ownership of your space.

What or who inspired you to become a singer? Thank you so much for asking that (wipes tear) … you can see me welling up. That’s all I ever wanted to do is sing. When I was a kid, I would sing all the time. And I didn’t know where this came from — it certainly wasn’t at home. In fact, I was discouraged. It was not to happen. Every time I had a musical thing, unless it was attached to a school, it was not to happen. My father — my real father — was killed in a plane crash when I was three. My mother married the stepfather three months after he was killed. I was not allowed to even mention my father — never saw a photograph, nothing. I could never sing when my stepfather was alive. After he died, we were in dire financial straits. My mother said, when you finish school, you cannot sing, you have to do secretarial work or be a teacher. So I became a teacher. Years later when we came to Canada, and I had a website, we got an email from someone that said, “If you’re June Garber, the daughter of Eric Garber, I want you to know that he was the best jazz drummer in South Africa.” It was so painful to have all those years wasted … and I didn’t even know that my father was such a fabulous musician. It’s crazy ... but I do think I was born with it.”

On May 6, June Garber will narrate and sing with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra at the Markham Theatre. Catch her while you can.


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

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

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