46_grossmanThe appointment of 33-year-old Josh Grossman as the new Artistic Director of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival came as a bit of a surprise to some. Then again, jazz is a music that relies very much on surprises. I got a chance to pick Grossman’s brain about his newly acquired position and issues relating to jazz in Toronto. Here's what he had to say.

1) Stepping into the shoes of Jim Galloway is quite the feat! To what extent will you be programming the festival differently?
The $50,000 question! There are many challenges inherent in programming a jazz festival. How do we reach the varied jazz audiences that come to the festival each year? How do we put on a successful festival without alienating the purists, or the bepop fans, or the swing fans, or the avant-garde fans? I'm trying to take a balanced approach to this year's festival. It will very much be a learning year for me; discovering how Toronto Jazz Festival audiences respond to various styles of jazz, and figuring out what works best and why. Rather than thinking of programming the festival differently, I think of expanding on the great programming that has been done in each of the past 23 years. My priorities remain as they were with the Markham Jazz Festival, but now on a much larger scale: present great jazz music, in all its forms, which maintains the highest levels of artistic integrity.

Toronto has occasionally been called the “Jazz Capital of Canada”. Do you agree with this statement?
Toronto has an outstanding, talented jazz community - this is evident in the variety of music a jazz fan can find on most nights and in the number of excellent post-secondary jazz education programs in the Greater Toronto Area. However, that is no longer unique to this city: cities across this country are host to top-notch university college and jazz programs, which are producing an excellent crop of young musicians, and are also home to internationally acclaimed jazz veterans. If we are to play a lead role in the Canadian jazz scene, we need to do better to spread the word about our local musicians, and find new, full-time jazz venues in which they can perform.

You have previously served as Artistic Director for Markham’s Jazz Fest and continue to wear a variety of other hats, including conductor, producer, educator, music administrator as well as performer. Which is the most challenging of these and why?
The answer is yes. That is, they each have their distinct challenges. I feel fortunate that these various duties tend to compliment each other: when I'm standing in front of my big band, I'm working with musicians who I may book in other contexts, and I'm learning about music which might be applicable in an educational setting. When I'm in a purely administrative setting, I'm learning skills - especially the marketing and bookkeeping skills - that are vital to a performing musician. Each feeds into the other.

Given the challenges faced by the Toronto jazz community and the club scene in particular, how do you believe the Toronto Jazz Festival can help the situation?
I would like to see Toronto Downtown Jazz (TDJ) become the hub of jazz in Toronto. When a local Torontonian or a tourist wants to find out about jazz, I want them to be able to do so through TDJ. I'd like to see Toronto Downtown Jazz become an active partner in jazz activities throughout the year through interesting collaborations, marketing support, financial support, etc. By helping to support the local, year-round community, and by seeking input into how to create a festival which best represents the local musicians, I'm hoping that the festival can feed into the year-round scene and vice versa.

How do you believe the media can help?
The media has a vital role to play. Though local musicians (and, as we develop, TDJ) can do their best to market themselves and get the word out about the fantastic music happening in this city, we are currently not getting a lot of support from the local media. For example - it is rare to see a jazz CD or concert review in the weekly papers or the national dailies. (Wholenote is, on the other hand, consistent in its support.) I understand the current challenges facing the print market; but I would rather that local coverage go to the varied and interesting local music scene than to the mega-pop variety. Musicians need to concentrate on their craft; it would be great if the local media could pick up the slack a little bit so that musicians could concentrate more on creating and spend less time and energy on marketing their music. All that being said, we need to make sure that we're staying on top of media trends - especially online. If certain outlets aren't interested in supporting jazz, maybe there are online resources such as bloggers that will.

The Toronto Jazz Festival has undergone many changes in the past decade. Where would you like to see it go in your tenure?
I'd like to see the festival become a venue not just for music that people already like, but a vehicle for education: honouring the music and musicians who have made jazz what it is today, while presenting audiences with what will be the trends of tomorrow. I'd like the festival to become more relevant to the overall jazz scene, presenting more music which demonstrates how current jazz musicians are pushing boundaries and redefining jazz. There is a big risk in challenging audiences with new music; but I think there is a bigger risk in not doing so.

Josh Grossman’s Toronto Jazz Orchestra plays the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar on February 20 from 3:30-6:30pm.

030026Speaking of the Rex Hotel, this month the venerable venue presents a special six-day music festival (February 2-7) featuring artists on the independent Chicago-based Nineteen-Eight record label dedicated to “the advancement of creative music.” Highlights will include instrumental jazz/jam super-group Rudder, exceptional British alto player Will Vinson and three-time Juno Award winners, the Chris Tarry Group. Arrive early to avoid disappointment. Most of these groups are currently on a world tour; kudos to the Rex for housing their Hogtown stopover.

One of the country’s most compelling jazz composers is bassist Al Henderson, who releases his latest CD “Regeneration” on the Cornerstone record label at Chalkers Pub on February 7 from 7-10pm. Rounding out Henderson’s Septet are some of the finest musicians in the land: saxophonists Alex Dean and Pat LaBarbera, cellists Matt Brubeck and Mark Chambers, pianist Richard Whiteman and drummer Barry Romberg. Henderson’s whimsical writing style is original in every sense of the word.032

Over at the Old Mill, respected pianist John Sherwood holds a new Thursday night weekly residence at the Home Smith Bar. The weekly “Fridays to Sing About” series continues, with highlights this month that include bluesy songstress Terra Hazelton on the 12th and adored crooner John Alcorn on the 19th. Piano masters continue to prevail every Saturday night, including the splendid Nancy Walker Trio on February 13 and a special evening on February 27 with the Ron Davis/Daniela Nardi Quartet.

Good news from the Reservoir Lounge, where the jazz policy is expanding to include early “Après Work” sets from 7-9pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, doors opening at 6:30pm.

More good news from Ten Feet Tall on the Danforth where a brand new Saturday night Cabaret series takes place from 8-10pm for a pay-what-you-can cover. The series kicks off with Pat Murray and Mark Kieswetter’s beautiful interpretations of the Beatles book on February 13th. Meanwhile, the
popular Sunday matinees continue, including a special Valentine’s Day show with the pleasing vocals of proprietor Carin Redman, accompanied by Mark Kieswetter on keys and Ross MacIntyre on bass.

047Since writing last issue’s column about some of my favourite jazz venues, I’ve become hip to the hippest new neighbourhood for live music, the Trinity-Bellwoods area, right at Ossington and Dundas. Aside from plenty of live music, this strip is refreshing for its hip retro vibe, positive energy and zero pretentiousness. The charmingly petite, 25-seat Communist’s Daughter (1149 Dundas West) features gypsy jazz every Saturday from 4-7pm and famous pickled eggs every day of the week. Find intoxicating music and imported tequila at Reposado (133 Ossington Avenue), live music (jazz and/or creative) Sunday through Thursday at the supremely funky TODO Fusion Resto-Bar (217 Ossington) which is right across the street from the Painted Lady (218 Ossington). All of these venues have been added to our jazz listings using as much detail as was available at print time.

Finally, also happening in downtown clubs this month is the annual Winterfolk Festival, from February 12-15. Look for performances at the Black Swan, Mambo Lounge, Willow Restaurant, and other venues. (Go to www.abetterworld.ca for more information.)

Note that in most cases, when there’s a tip jar being passed around, it means that this is how the band is getting paid. Show your appreciation. Good tips mean good karma!

Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, writer and photographer.

“These Are a Few of My Favourite Clubs”

Preamble: Sugarcoating the sad truth would be a disservice. As a member of the Metro Jazz Society recently said, “We’re do-ing everything we can to keep this music alive, because it’s dying.” Live music is an art form said to have healing properties. This season and year-round, to help Toronto’s jazz scene survive, heal, grow and prosper! This community still mourns The Colonial, Bourbon St., Basin Street, East & 85th, The Bermuda Onion, George’s Spaghetti House, The Montreal Bistro and The Top O’ the Senator. Clubs have tumbled and music policies continue to downsize. Jazz today is tough to market for so many reasons; most establishments that operate for any length of time are labours of love rather than get-poor-quick schemes. Attention Readers: the musicians that play this music in this city would greatly appreciate your support in the form(s) of attendance, attention, applause, feedback, eating, drinking and tipping. Thank you for listening.

Read more: Ori's Stories - December 09 - “These Are a Few of My Favourite Clubs”

“Little” slip

Thank you to the dozens of readers who took the time to contact us about last month’s “Little” slipup in my interview piece with Fay Olson. I discovered the editing error myself via a gracious email from Ms. Olson herself: “Other than the incorrect cutline under the picture of my husband Don Vickery and me, I thought you captured the essence of our interview very well … There is one more correction I’d appreciate your noting. Although Don Vickery is Music Director for Quotes Bar & Grill, guitarist Gary Benson is founding Musical Director and leader of the Canadian Jazz Quartet.”

Ten Feet Tall53_cooks_wife

Speaking of husband and wife teams, seasoned chef Andy Wooley and Carin Redman, both musicians, are the proprietors of bistro, café, bar and live music venue Ten Feet Tall (www.tenfeettall.ca) now in its 7th year of glory just steps away from the Greenwood subway stop. Danforth and Beaches locals are regularly treated to an inviting atmosphere of eclectic menu items, friendly service, vibrant decor and a tasty variety of live music.

Their Mill Street-sponsored Jazz Matinee takes place every Sunday from 3:30 - 6:30pm, with never a cover charge. Sometimes humbly referring to herself as “The Cook’s Wife”, Carin Redman is herself a professional vocalist who has been singing pop, jazz and R&B for over 15 years; she runs the restaurant and also books the room. I got a chance to catch up with Ms. Redman over a scrumptious Pad Thai ($14) and a pint of Mill Street Organic Lager ($5.50).

OD: What kind of reaction has your music policy received?

CR: The reaction we received was a very warm one.  The people in our neighbourhood have been great supporters.  They love that we have music at the end of the street...we are part of the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival every year and I’m continually thanked during that festival for us being here. It’s like a big party!  The music over here has been a wild success and I’ve enjoyed it so much.  I’ve met so many people and made some great friends as well.

OD: Were you surprised by this reaction?

CR: I have a little bit of a background in marketing so I knew that this would be a great area and time slot for jazz - no one was doing it around here.  Although I felt strongly that it would work, I was still pleasantly surprised.

OD: Ten Feet Tall is one of the few rooms in town that guarantees that the musicians are paid in a no cover/pay-what-you-can situation.  Is it especially challenging for your business to make money?

CR: I book people that can fill a room. Number one, they have to have talent and be good musicians...it took a while to have our “jazz regulars” which we now have. We still do rely on our bands having some sort of following, but I’m never worried any more because I’ve figured out how to book this room.

OD: Who are some of the highlights in the month of November?

CR: On November first we are proud to present Steve Cole & Russ Little. I mean, the names speak for themselves. We’ve had them here before and they are just unbelievable musicians…On November 22nd we are proud to welcome back Kingsley Etienne. If anyone reading hasn’t seen Kingsley, you simply must come out because it’s like a religious experience!


54_hubert_w_bob_brough(www.laurahubert.com) at the Cameron House (408 Queen West), every Monday “9:30ish-Midnightish” Pay-What-You-Can. With a honed horn-like delivery she infuses her song with ample feeling, phrases daringly, and bends notes with ease. Always present in any given moment, Laura Hubert is a very convincing musical actor. To really get what she’s about, you have to witness the facial expressions, body language and stunning presence every Monday night, accompanied by Peter Hill and top-of-the-heap horn players including Chris Gale, Shawn Nykwist, Bob Brough or Ryan Oliver. Live jazz does not get much better than this!

43olson and littleFay Olson has worked in the public relations field for over 30 years, spending much of that time focused on music and sports sponsorships specifically. In her heyday, Fay played an instrumental role in launching what used to be known as the du Maurier Downtown Toronto Jazz Festival; she has since fought hard for arts funding since tobacco sponsorships were ruled illegal.

Semi-retired now, Olson books an admirable three nights of jazz a week at the historic Old Mill Inn, located steps from the Old Mill subway stop. Every Thursday night is a house gig for Russ Little, the famed trombonist previously associated with the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Count Basie Band and the Boss Brass.

In booking a brand new Friday night series at the Old Mill called “Something to Sing About!” this month Olson has chosen a refreshing mix of choice singers, veterans and rising stars: Sophia Perlman, Cal Dodd, Laila Biali, Arlene Smith and Trish Colter. “We didn’t want people to think we were ‘singer-phobic’,” she jokes. The Saturday Piano Masters Series continues, this month spotlighting the trios of Paul Read, Joe Sealy, Don Thompson, Bill King and Paul Hoffert. All performances take place at the elegant Home Smith Bar at The Old Mill Inn, where an atmospheric experience for all senses easily merits the minimum $20 food/drink expenditure.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Jazz Quartet’s “Fridays at Five” with-featured-jazz-instrumentalist series, initiated by Olson in 2006 as a response to the Montréal Bistro’s closure, is still the talk of the town. The formidable “no cover, no reservations” series runs Fridays from 5-8pm at Quotes Bar & Grill, located right under Barootes at 220 King Street West. The CJQ is: quartet founder Gary Benson, guitar, Frank Wright, vibes, Duncan Hopkins, bass, and Don Vickery on drums, pictured here with Fay.

39stevewardThere might be a growing number of spots around town that serve polite jazz with your dinner, as inspired by Diana Krall’s, but not many rooms specifically cater to free, avant-garde, or experimental branches of the music. Thankfully for those who enjoy straying from the mainstream, trombonist-composer Steve Ward (www.myspace.com/stevewardtrombone) has been booking live music at the Tequila Bookworm at 512 Queen Street West.

Currently enrolled in the Jazz Performance Masters program at the University of Toronto, Ward maintains a busy schedule as a performer, composer and teacher. I emailed Ward some questions about booking the room.

How did the music policy at the Tequila Bookworm come to be?

I started booking jazz here last July, and originally I was booking one act a week. Eventually the owner and I agreed to expand the policy to three nights a week, and now four. The rent is extremely high on Queen St W so therefore it was hard to get any money out of Tequila for the bands, etc which is why we have pay-what-you-can shows.

What are musical characteristics you look for when booking?

Enthusiasm, sincerity, creativity. Artists looking to evolve creatively in a live setting, that aren’t looking for a brainless jobber.

What are the greatest strengths of the room itself?

Since I have no financial quota to fill I’m able to be adventurous with my programming. I’m interested in an environment where ideas are shared and challenged. Culture! The arts! It’s time.

What are some of the challenges of the room?

One of the biggest challenges is communicating with the audience. Since we’re playing for the tip jar it is important to be able to communicate with our audience and give them context of why we’re making the music that we are. Most times its types of music they have little knowledge of, so it’s time to educate!

Three acts you would recommend to readers for this month and why?

Tuesday September 8th: Lee Mason (from Amsterdam). Its always cool when a group from another part of the world wants to put on a show at a venue you book. Very interesting sounds. Shouldn’t be missed. www.myspace.com/leemason

Saturday September 12: Chris Cawthray Trio. Its going to be a CD release, & I’m proud that Chris decided to have it at Tequila. They groove hard.  www.chriscawthray.com

Friday September 25: MiMo. These guys are great!!! Nothing like processing sounds underwater in a big bucket. You got to see it to believe it.www.mimomusic.com, www.myspace.com/mimoonmyspace

Ward’s passion for this music is apparent not only in his playing but also in his booking. “I don’t get paid to do this, and I have no other help. My motivation is art, it’s what keeps me breathing. Please come support live music. ... Also we might be moving in the next couple of months so watch out on our website and Facebook for more info to come!!”

For all the news, including a possible change of location, visit: http://tequilabookworm.blogspot.com/

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