Legendary Canadian jazz drummer Norman Marshall Villeneuve has been in the music business for over 50 years. The consummate entertainer can be found playing all over our city. In addition to being the house drummer for Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam (www.girlsnightoutjazz.com) on Wednesday nights at Chalkers Pub, the veteran now hosts a special jazz brunch on the Chalkers patio every Sunday from 12-3pm featuring a different trio each week. “I only hire them if they can play,” he likes to say, always followed by ringing laughter.
Back in the mid-1990s, Villeneuve initiated a patio jazz music policy at Whistler’s, located at 995 Broadview Avenue. It started with Sundays, then Thursday were added, and by 2000 he was playing at the corner of Broadview and Mortimer three times a week.
“I am always happy to be working, but to tell you the truth, working on that corner was difficult. You’ve got the cars and the buses with their stinkin’ motors, somebody plays a nice bass solo and – ta-da! – here comes the fire truck! But I’m very excited about this new patio gig up at Chalkers Pub. It’s a great place for jazz in this city. We should be on the patio by the first week of June.” The great news for Villeneuve, his fellow musicians and the general public is that at Chalkers Pub the music is moved inside in case of rain.
Find Norman Marshall Villeneuve at Chalkers every Sunday 12-3pm and every Wednesday 8:30-midnight with Lisa Particelli’s GNO; special GNO showcases as part of Art of Jazz on June 6 and 7 from 2:30-4pm. (photo Ori Dagan)
Three-time Juno award winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Jane Bunnett is one of the country’s most revered jazz artists. This summer she’s also one of the busiest, touring with 18 musicians (“Madness!”) that includes Cuban vocal group Desandann, the core of last year’s triumphant Embracing Voices. Bunnett is also the artistic director of Art of Jazz (www.artofjazz.org), an inspired interdisciplinary festival in its fourth year that takes over the Distillery District June 5-7. (photo Ori Dagan)
“Weather really does make all the difference," she says, reflecting on the perils of putting together a predominantly outdoor festival. "It’s not fun as a performer to play in crappy weather, and of course the audience don’t come out as much. Plus of course you have to deal with all the issues with soundboards and so on. But when the weather is good, it just puts a smile on everybody’s face. So we pray for the good weather, that’s for sure.”
On playing on outdoor stages, she shares the following wisdom: “I think you have to change your material a little bit. When you’re playing to a really large audience, you’ve got to pick music that makes a strong statement – often an outdoor stage is going to entail a non-paying audience, so you’re going to get a lot of people that are not totally familiar with the jazz idiom. There will be a lot of people that might be new to the music. So you want to play music that makes bolder strokes than, say, something very intricate.”
Bunnett’s Embracing Voices tour moves across Canada, stopping for a free noon-hour performance at Nathan Philips Square as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on June 30.
Also on Bunnett’s current tour is dynamic vocalist-pianist-composer Elizabeth Shepherd. “I find playing outdoors is the best scenario – the artist-audience dynamic is really different. The crowd tends to be more laid back, which I guess kind of goes along with the season.”
“Summer is my favourite time to play jazz,” reveals Juno-winning bassist and composer Brandi Disterheft. “Playing outdoors at the festivals has a special kind of magic, especially when you are playing ballads or really swingin’ tunes. The audience gets into it in a different way. It’s challenging because you’re already sweating even before you start to play.” Brandi Disterheft’s sextet will be touring Canada in late June and opens for Dave Brubeck on July 1 at 8pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival. (photo Ori Dagan)
Guitarist, pedagogue, journalist and jazz ambassador Andrew Scott points out: “What’s interesting about playing outdoors is that you can reach people that you wouldn’t find at a jazz club – and that’s truly unique to the experience of playing this music live. As for the summertime, personally I find it to be a rewarding time in terms of recording music because I’m too busy with teaching to do so during the academic year. Also I have much more time to practice.” Andrew Scott’s quartet will celebrate his most recent CD, Nostalgia, at Chalkers Pub on June 13 from 6-9pm.
“For those of us who make our living teaching during the rest of the year, summer can be ‘feast or famine,’” says imaginative jazz pianist Adrean Farrugia, who teaches at York University in Toronto and Mohawk College in Hamilton. “Summer for me is a good time to take a break from it all. I love to check out live music, relax, and go camping. To answer your question, if I can be perfectly honest, I hate playing outdoor gigs – bad acoustics, wind, sheet music flying everywhere. It can be a bit of a nightmare.” Dreamy-voiced singer Sophia Perlman unites with Adrean Farrugia at the Commensal Vegetarian Restaurant on July 3 from 6-9pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival.
Enchanting vocalist Julie Michels disagrees. “Love the outdoor gigs. You take away the four walls and people listen in a completely different way. Unless of course it gets rained out. It always irks me when festivals don’t have a rainout contingency plan.” Julie Michels plays Statlers Piano Lounge every Sunday from 6-9pm and collaborates with bassist George Koller at Ten Feet Tall Sunday July 5 from 3:30-6:30pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival.
Latin jazz singer and songwriter Amanda Martinez cannot help but connect her music to the summer. “I spent my first few years as a singer getting my gigs in the summertime. I had a regular Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening at Sassafraz – used to stand right outside the window, watching the people do their rounds around Yorkville. People would hear the music and come in, which was really nice.”
Amanda Martinez will open for Al Di Meola as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on July 2 at 8pm.
One of Canada’s most acclaimed and one of this city’s most in-demand jazz players, Dave Restivo enjoys being busy. “After surviving the Canadian winter, everyone seems to be more receptive. And creatively it can be a very rewarding time, with so many festivals and tours happening.”
To name but two of numerous imminent gigs, Dave Restivo will be playing a free noon-hour concert at The Boiler House on June 5 as part of Art of Jazz with Ashley Summer on bass and Alyssa Falk on drums; he’ll also be playing with Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, a free noon-hour concert at Nathan Philips Square on Canada Day.
On playing jazz in the summertime, The WholeNote’s own Jim Galloway laments: “There was a time at the CNE when there was a lot of work for musicians in the summer, quite a bit of it jazz, and that’s all long gone. So when things come along, I’m happy to play.” On the challenges of playing outdoors: “If it’s a small group in an outdoor venue, it can be difficult to get the audience to focus on you. If it’s a big band, you don’t have that problem. And while I like to play acoustically, in an outdoor venue you’ve got to have some sort of reinforcement, and that can make it or break it.”
Galloway has been the Artistic Director of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival since its inception. On this year’s hot tickets, he says, "It’s great to have the opening concert with Sonny Rollins, because he is one of the very few saxophone giants we have left. It’s always a pleasure to hear him, and he’s a really nice man. I’m also excited about welcoming back Dave Brubeck to the festival. He’s not only a jazz giant but also a household name. He’s still playing very well, still inventive. Overall, I guess I’m excited that it’s coming close, because once it starts, there’s nothing you can do to stop it – let's hope!”
Jim Galloway guests with the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Quotes June 25 at 5pm and hosts a free noon-hour concert with friends on July 4 at Nathan Phillips Square.