47_jazzintheclubs_derekhoughtonThree years ago, Derek Houghton purchased a broken down Etobicoke building with the intention of renovating and reselling it. He changed his mind about the latter part of the plan when he discovered Lakeshore Village’s artistic community and opened a brand new venue — complete with grand piano and drum set — called the Gallery Studio.

“I wanted to create a venue for serious artists … an art gallery slash jazz club — my two passions … I also wanted to create a setting where jazz students and recent grads could play and where the big names could also play, so there is more of a cross-pollination of talent, young and mature, so that the experience is less predictable … I want to emphasize as well the entertainment aspect of jazz as much as the very important academic aspect. I think that both are richer when brought together.”

Recently the venue has been home to the Al Henderson/Kurt MacDonald Duo, the Dave Restivo/Kelly Jefferson Quartet, Mike Murley and other greats. There is no shortage of jazz talent in the vicinity of the Gallery Studio, especially since it is just a few blocks from the Humber College Lakeshore campus. Check The WholeNote’s jazz listings to find its complete schedule, including three regular bands on Sunday and a weekly open mic hosted by Humber College Alumni.


The Ken Page Memorial Trust presents its 13th annual fundraising gala on September 15 at The Old Mill, and once again the music director of this fantastic event is The WholeNote`s own Jim Galloway. The wholly noteworthy lineup will prove heavenly for lovers of swing. In memory of distinguished television executive and fervent jazz enthusiast Ken Page, this is an event well worth supporting; since 1998, the trust fund has been strongly committed to the health of jazz by funding various initiatives year-round with a focus on education.

In a similar mindset, the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund presents its seventh annual fundraiser, “Syncopation: Life in the Key of Black,” September 18 at the Al Green Theatre. “This event will bring us back to the era when there were jam sessions at the 355 every Sunday and where most of the black musicians in Toronto developed their careers,” says Alleyne, who will be formally honoured with the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians’ Association at the event. “We were not welcome to perform in the mainstream entertainment mecca on Yonge Street until 1944 because of discrimination.” The afternoon will feature a rare photo exhibit of subjects such as Syd Blackwood, Don Carrington and Cy McLean, known as “Canada’s Count Basie” and the first black member of the Toronto Musicians’ Protective Union.


Vocalist and songwriter Jill Peacock recently relocated to Toronto after a life-changing experience studying at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College, where she initially enrolled as a piano major. “I had played classical piano all my life … but once I was there, I found myself more drawn to the vocal department and auditioned for a transfer … I had to work hard to keep up with students who had been singing for a long time but I loved every minute of the challenge!”

Infused with a unique sweetness, Peacock’s voice is gentle as a kitten’s meow and every bit as precious. Skilled in jazz, soul, Motown and R&B standards, she is also a promising songwriter.
Jill Peacock will be performing at Harlem, 67 Richmond St. E., on the night of September 17 and also at the Reservoir Lounge from 7–9pm on September 23.


Montreal-born guitarist and composer Eric St. Laurent spent considerable time honing his craft in Berlin and New York City before settling in Toronto a few years back, and appropriately, his engaging music tells the tales of a traveller. Layered with influences from around the globe, this music is energetic, intelligent and full of energy. Augmented by two extraordinary musical forces — bassist Jordan O’Connor and percussionist Michel DeQuevedo — the Eric St. Laurent trio is one of this country`s most exciting new musical acts. Ruby is the title of the trio’s second CD, which will be released at Hugh`s Room on September 15.


Jazz icon John Coltrane would have turned 85 this month, and his musical legacy lives on with multiple tributes in Toronto. Named after the master, The Trane Studio in The Annex will play host to a pair of Coltrane tributes: the Michael Arthurs Quartet on September 23 and the Scott Marshall Quartet on September 24. And as is the annual tradition at the Rex Hotel for longer than we have been in print, tenor saxophonists and local luminaries Pat LaBarbera and Kirk MacDonald will be paying tribute to the master with a three-nighter, September 23–25.,

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

For over a year, the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar has been presenting the “Something to Sing About” series on Fridays and “Piano Masters” series on Saturdays. This summer, the music continues, but singers get a break and piano players become sometimes sidemen, as the Home Smith houses veterans of instrumental jazz Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30–10:30pm. Some of the highlights include a one-of-a-kind booking, “The Three Guitars,” featuring George Grosman, Tony Quarrington and Dave Dunlap on July 23; trombone master Alastair Kay with Brian Dickinson and Neil Swainson on August 6; and clarinetist extraordinaire Bob De Angelis with Danny McErlain and Ron Johnston on September 2. See our jazz listings for the complete summer schedule.

50_intheclubs_jessicastuart_photo_by_jaylyn_toddPurveyors of alcoholic beverages and proud providers of live music, the folks at the Emmet Ray (924 College St.) have been presenting jazz and new music by young local artists since their opening in 2009. On Sunday, July 10, the venue presents a one-day music festival featuring nine young acts on the local scene, including sets by the Parker Abbott Piano Duo, CNE Quintet (Card, Newton, Easty), Mikko Hilden Group, Kelsey McNulty Group and the Jessica Stuart Few, featuring the leader on vocals, guitar and koto (a 13-string Japanese harp). I’m honoured to be playing a set at this event as well. The Emmet Ray is a vibrant new light on the live music scene; this would be a great opportunity to sample its glow.

Peel is about to gain substantial musical appeal. Presented by Art of Jazz, the inaugural Brampton Global Blues and Jazz Festival is gearing up for an exciting lineup August 11–14, including — are you sitting down, folks? — a concert and workshop by 10-time Grammy winner, Bobby McFerrin. President of Art of Jazz, Bonnie Lester, is understandably excited about presenting one of the world’s most virtuosic vocal artists:

52_intheclubs_bobbymcferrin“For me, he is an unmatched musical force. Watching him perform live is an extraordinary experience. He crosses all musical boundaries and stretches the imagination in terms of what the human voice is capable of. I saw him perform several years ago and his improvised solo concert had me staring at the stage in disbelief. As a vocalist, I have followed his musical journey with a sense of awe. We were particularly delighted to have the opportunity to offer a workshop along with the concert for vocalists and teachers. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most local singers and teachers — a chance to see a little bit of what is behind the magic of Mr. McFerrin.”

Art of Jazz is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to jazz education and performance, founded in 2005, with a vision to present, promote and perpetuate the art of jazz through enriched educational activities and innovative live musical performances. It began in Toronto’s historic Distillery District in 2006 and has recently relocated outside of Toronto proper to neighbouring regions of Peel and beyond. Why the migration?

“Part of the mandate of the organization is to build new audiences for jazz and to expose audiences to musicians they may not have the opportunity to see or hear. With changes underway at the Distillery, particularly construction that was affecting our outdoor space, we decided it was time to find new communities to build our global village. Last year, we took the Festival north and the Art of Jazz Global Jazz Village took place in Maynooth. We are once again presenting the Art of Jazz Global Jazz Village in Maynooth and neighbouring Bancroft August 17–21, 2011. We further expanded our Festival season to include the Brampton Global Jazz and Blues Festival August 11–14, 2011 … Our focus and mandate remain the same — each is a celebration of the art form of jazz and has deep roots in education. Local artists along with top musicians from around the world come together to perform in intimate venues. We create a relaxed, casual and welcoming atmosphere that allows audiences and musicians to mix, mingle and learn from one another.”

Why Brampton?

“The City of Brampton approached the Art of Jazz about bringing a jazz festival to their city. They have generously sponsored the Festival and provided unprecedented support behind the scenes. We have access to the beautiful Rose Theatre, Gage Park, Garden Square and more — all located in downtown Brampton and in close walking distance so that we can maintain the feeling of a community throughout the weekend. Brampton is the second fastest growing and 11th largest city in Canada with over 511,000 people from more than 175 distinct ethnic backgrounds. It is an ideal place to build a jazz festival, build jazz audiences and grow a vibrant jazz community.”

Thank you to all of you who continue to support live music. Whether you’re paying with credit, cash or with your attention, you make a world of difference. Happy Summer!

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

47_in_the_clubs_john_macleod_Fewer jazz airlines, more jazz clubs! In Toronto, The Rex Hotel is the only music venue that books jazz 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and standing room only is not unusual. On May 30, the venue celebrates JUNO-winning John MacLeod and The Rex Hotel Orchestra. But before I elaborate on this triumphant story, let me draw your attention to a few other events which need your support in order to triumph.

Ben McConchie is one of John MacLeod’s pupils, a charismatic player who has been “busy trying to balance having newborn twins and getting through my first year of a Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance at U of T.”
McConchie’s group will perform a spirited night of jazz-country fusion at the intimate Emmet Ray (924 College St.) on May 15.

You will find in The WholeNote listings many concerts that take place beyond the GTA, but so far, not much jazz. Port Perry is an exception, where jazz vocalist and presenter Lynn McDonald books The Jester’s Court: May 8, “Mother’s Day with Alex Pangman”; May 15, Canadian Jazz Trio (Frank Wright, vibes; Gary Benson, guitar; Duncan Hopkins, bass); May 29, Jeff Taylor Trio (Jeff Taylor, violin; Chris Kettlewell, bass; Arch Rockefeller, guitar).

If you know of another music venue beyond the GTA that hires jazz musicians on a regular basis, we will happily include them in print and online. Ideally, The WholeNote jazz listings will ultimately include a separate section, “Jazz Beyond the GTA.” Please send listings to by the 15th of the month prior to publication.

A good example of good music being presented for a good cause: on Thursday May 12 at Heliconian Hall, vocalist Peggy Mahon sings songs from a woman’s point of view as part of her fourth annual benefit concert for Canada’s first Women’s Shelter, Interval House, accompanied by three musically sensitive gentlemen: Danny McErlain on piano, Dave Field on bass and Don Vickery on drums.

Big news for jazz musicians and east-enders in particular: Ten Feet Tall (1381 Danforth), launches a new night of live music. Beginning Thursday May 5 and on every subsequent Thursday, the venue presents a new jazz jam session hosted by Brendan Davis Trio with special guest Chris Gale on saxophone. The house band is easy to love: Amanda Tosoff on keys, Brendan Davis on bass and Jeff Halischuck on drums. Music starts at 8pm and the jam is open to all musicians comfortable performing in the jazz tradition.

49_john_macleod_and_his_junoNow back to the top story: In 2003, after a decade of writing original big band music, trumpeter and arranger John MacLeod formed his dream band, The Rex Hotel Orchestra. Assembling the band was “a bit like casting a play and having the luxury of using anyone I wanted,” he muses. Last year the large ensemble released its debut recording, “Our First Set,” this year’s JUNO winner for Traditional Jazz Album of the Year. I asked the leader about the challenges of running a big band in Toronto, and what has kept him going at it all these years.

“There are many different kinds of big bands and different acceptance levels for each kind. When many people think of big bands, they automatically think of the Swing Era. Perhaps that is why modern groups have started using the term “jazz orchestra.” Swing era big bands played primarily for dancing, which is definitely not what we do. We are a large jazz ensemble. We do love to swing though, but in a more modern way. As for the problems of leading a big band of this sort in Toronto? Well there is no problem if you accept at the beginning that jazz is a rather marginalized form of music appealing to quite a small percentage of the population. You simply need to know why you are doing it and that your reasons have nothing to do with fame and fortune or anything else related to wide acceptance. I love composing and arranging and performing jazz music, and I have the luxury of playing with musicians who make my music sound better than I wrote it. And something else - they make it sound different every time. My challenge is to keep these musicians happy and coming back every month. They are all very important to me.”

Why did MacLeod choose The Rex, not only as a venue but as the name for his orchestra?

“When I was working out the logistics of making a project like this work, I realized that I needed some sort of regular gig. At that time, there were a couple of suitable choices and I spoke with a few owners and managers. Tom at the Rex was immediately open to the idea, even though I don’t think he realized at first what kind of world class group I was planning or that the band would attract the kind of large crowds we manage to get out on our Monday night time slot (we have to make our appearances on Monday nights because so many of us are involved in theatre productions and theaters are “dark” on Monday) … I named the band The Rex Hotel Orchestra at the beginning because I thought it sounded rather grand, which of course the Rex isn’t. What it is, though, is a wonderful unpretentious place that makes it a policy not to exclude people from hearing live music, drinking a pint or eating a decent meal at a reasonable price. I’m really glad that I named the band after them now because I am so grateful to them, not only for supporting my band but the whole jazz scene. Now that the band is starting to get booked for concerts outside of the club, perhaps we will become Toronto’s answer to the Village Vanguard Orchestra. Our Monday nights will always be the most important thing, though. There is nothing like hearing professional music performed live at close range. It’s thrilling.”

John MacLeod and The Rex Hotel Orchestra perform on the last Monday night of every month at 9:30; on Monday May 30, join the band for a celebratory JUNO reception at 6:30. Glasses raised!

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

54_sheila_jordanThe Lady is a Champ

When women in their eighties contract pneumonia, some take it easy. Not Sheila Jordan. Forced to cancel a Toronto appearance last September, she’s back to touring the world. “If it wasn’t for jazz music, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she sings, and means every word. Live jazz is not only Jordan’s occupation, it’s been her life for nearly seven decades. Brimming with depth, style, sincerity and unabashed joy, her concerts might as well offer a money-back guarantee. She’s never had a manager: “I never wanted to be, you know, ‘a star’,” she once told me. “That’s not my purpose, that’s not my calling. My calling is to be a messenger of this music, and I’m very happy being that.” Generous with her wisdom, she’s giving a full day workshop while in town April 2nd and 3rd at Gallery 345 (part of Yvette Tollar’s Women in Jazz Series).

New Lungs, New CD!

Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing Alex Pangman is one of this country’s most adored jazz singers, which is remarkable given that she was born with cystic fibrosis. When her condition became critical in 2008, a lung donor came through just in time. “With new lungs I open my mouth and song comes out, supported by litres of air … it’s as if someone took my banged up old student trumpet and handed me a gold Selmer or Monette!” Now recovered, she’s promoting organ donation and back into the swing of things, to the delight of all. On April 12 at Hugh’s Room Pangman releases her long-awaited new album 33, recorded shortly after her 33rd birthday, featuring tracks famous in 1933.

55Bee Younger

When JAZZ.FM91’s Jaymz Bee isn’t busy promoting this city’s jazz artists on the air, he’s buzzing about the club scene, martini in hand, making friends. He always celebrates his birthday in style. “This party is unique – you only turn 42 for the sixth time once!” Thanks to The Old Mill Inn and an anonymous friend who gave him a cheque to pay for some talent “I can offer up a night of some of my favourite local music to everyone with no cover charge.” It’s April 13, at The Old Mill Inn, with entertainment by the Eric St. Laurent Trio, the Robert Scott Trio, Barbra Lica, Waylen Miki, Kollage and special guests. Bee there!

Jazz Teriyaki

Upscale EDO on Eglinton West welcomes a new weekly jazz series, Thursdays 8-11pm, with ace guitarist Tony Quarrington leading a different trio each week. “EDO has many skilled sushi chefs, a warm decor, and friendly service,” says Quarrington. The restaurant’s name is pronounced “eh-dough” in Canadian (the former name of modern day Tokyo until 1868). April guests include vocalist Beverly Taft and and violinist San Murata. (NO COVER CHARGE!)

Jazz Chow Mein

Also on Eglinton is the Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine haven China House with jazz presented by Larry Green every Thursday from 7:30-11:30 since May 2010. Owner Jonathan Wise: “… there is something about a wonderfully vintage and iconic dining room blended with world class jazz. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.” Highlights this month include the Bernie Senensky Quartet paying tribute to Moe Koffman as well as the legendary Peter Appleyard Quartet. (NO COVER CHARGE!)

Call it jazz-theatre fusion if you must. Stephen Sondheim’s music inspired saxophonist Bobby Hsu to dream up and assemble “A Sondheim Jazz Project.”

47_bobbyhsu2_-_photo_by_amy_mcconnell“His songs are not only musically complex and lyrically highly sophisticated but beautifully melodic and singable,” Hsu asserts. “For me, one of the most fun things about the band is factoring dramatic and narrative aspects of the lyrics into the musical decision making, something which as a jazz player I’d always ignored before. Also, this band allows for ‘crossing over’ in both directions: exposing these songs to jazz people, and presenting a fresh take on them to people familiar with musical theatre.” Hsu’s sensitive arrangements aside, his alto work has never sounded better. Rounded out by pianist D’Arcy Myronuk, bassist James McEleney and drummer Morgan Childs, the band focuses the spotlight firmly on a force of nature, effervescent singer Alex Samaras.

In the bandleader’s words, “Alex is the only singer I know who, besides having an incredibly beautiful voice, is able to pull off the balance between the ‘jazzy’ and the dramatic elements of the arrangements.” Serious Sondheimites, reserve now: March 5, 8-11pm at Ten Feet Tall and March 11, 5-8pm at Gate 403.

Preview here:

Winters’ Warmth

March 22 (Stephen Sondheim’s birthday), Winters College at York University is hosting a fundraiser to celebrate more than 20 years of vibrant fine arts, with hopes of raising money to improve college performance spaces. College Master Marie Rickard puts it thusly: “A university college is where students spread their wings. At Winters, they come together in a way that is totally distinct from how they perform in their courses. This is where they experiment, take risks, pool their talents and work as a community of young artists. As their advocate, I want to draw attention to the fact that two of our most loved and well-used college spaces really need a little TLC – better lighting and acoustics, for a start.” Appearing at the fundraiser will be York’s Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, trombone master Ron Westray (who will be releasing a new CD at The Rex on March 2 and 3); alumna jazz vocalist/composer and faculty member Rita di Ghent; the York Gospel Choir; a cappella group WIBI, and many other York faculty, alumni and students. Tickets are $50 ($40 in advance), and $10 for students.

To reserve, email

Kirk’s Works

The great American songbook has been a grand compositional influence on saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, whose “Songbook Vol. 2” recording has just received a Juno nomination. “Typically when I work as a leader I prefer to play my own music because it offers more of a personal statement, and so, over the years I’ve developed my own repertoire… Many years ago I came across the music of Spanish composer, Albéniz. He once said that when you start with something, if you follow the thread of that thought, it takes on a life of its own; you have no idea where it’s going to take you. That really stuck with me.” There are plenty of chances to hear Kirk’s works performed. He’s literally jazzed about next month’s “Deep Shadows,” a debut CD Release for the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, featuring big band arrangements of his compositions, April 2 at Humber College Auditorium. You can also find him this month in a far more intimate configuration with a three-night stint March 3-5 at Chalkers Pub alongside bass ace Neil Swainson and out-of-town guest drummer, Dennis Mackrel, music director of the Count Basie Orchestra.

Walker’s Chalkers Date

Speaking of Chalkers, under the category of grand, the venue is now home to a brand new Shigeru Kawai SK-3 6’ 2” piano! Perfect timing for a CD release by one of the country’s most acclaimed jazz pianists and composers, Nancy Walker, her sixth as leader. “New Hieroglyphics” gathers together a dozen original compositions. Alongside bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Ethan Ardelli, Walker welcomes a new addition to her group, guitarist Ted Quinlan.

“I love the sonic possibilities that the guitar offers: colours, textures, the ability to be treated as a “horn-like” voice as well as a harmonic one,” she explains. “Writing for a quartet configuration that includes guitar allows me to make use of all those sonic possibilities in combination with the piano, which I find exciting and inspiring.” Why Quinlan? “Not only is Ted a world class guitar player with killer chops, but he’s so open, flexible and adventurous, he’s game to try anything.”

Walker’s adventurous music is enriched with a captivating depth of feeling, especially in live performance. Reserve now for March 19 from 6-9pm at Chalkers Pub.

Two Mics Are Better Than One!

Though their voices are entirely different, jazz artists Heather Bambrick and Julie Michels have much in common, from vocal versatility to a sizzling sense of humour. In late 2008, a fantabulous version of “Moondance” (find it on YouTube) inspired the two, along with their mutually adored accompanist Diane Leah, to plan a duet show.

“I’ve been waiting for this concert for years!” exclaims Michels. “I think it’s because Heather and I are both crazed, fuzzy-haired, scatting women who love to sing and laugh. I can push myself when we sing together and that’s a wonderful feeling.”

“Anything we do involves laughter, spontaneity, adventure, vocal antics, and of course great music,” promises Bambrick. “And we chose the best source for duets: Show Tunes!”

As for the seated member of the trio – the two singers couldn’t be fonder of pianist Diane Leah. As Bambrick points out, “I swear, she knows every tune ever written. Her sense of humor is second only to her incredible sense of musicality.” Collectively the three broads settled on the title “Broadsway.” It will premiere on Saturday, March 26, 8pm at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto as part of the Leading Ladies Concert Series.

Tickets are available here:

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