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.

This month I write of two singers who have little in common but are both well-worth seeing and hearing. The first is a resident musician of Toronto, the second a visitor from Turin, Italy.

Laura Hubert is an artist deserving of wider recognition, so it’s nice to see that she has three gigs at this year’s Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival. Formerly a founding member of Juno-winning rock act the Leslie Spit Treeo, Hubert’s powerful voice has a chameleonic quality. Her palette is rich with colours and shades: whether the song is sweet, bitter, saucy or dry, each interpretation is both artful and tasty. And then there are the songs themselves. Be it blues, western swing, torch song or novelty, Hubert fashions each with a style all her own. Supported by some of Toronto’s premium jazz musicians including musical director Peter Hill on piano, a night with the Laura Hubert Band is your best bet for entertainment. On June 22 the band celebrates Laura’s birthday and marks the end of a 10-year Monday night stand at Grossman’s Tavern, but will be moving to a new location for July. For gig listings visit www.laurahubert.com, song samples at www.myspace.com/thelaurahubertband.


Roberta Gambarini is one of the most celebrated jazz singers today. She sings in a manner reminiscent of late jazz royalty, particularly echoing the supple tone, flawless intonation and adventurous phrasing of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, respectively. Born in Turin, she started out as a clarinet player and switched over to voice at 17. She has released two highly acclaimed recordings: the Grammy-nominated Easy to Love (2006) and an endearing album of duets with living jazz legend Hank Jones on piano. Roberta Gambarini will be performing as part of Art of Jazz (June 5-7) at the Distillery District on Sunday June 7, at 9:00pm at the Fermenting Cellar Stage. She will also be providing a vocal clinic on the afternoon of Saturday June 6. For tickets and more information visit www.artofjazz.org.

Ramblin' Son, the sophomore release by blues songwriter, singer, guitarist and pianist Julian Fauth took home the Juno for Blues Recording of the Year. Fauth (www.julianfauth.com) plays every Tuesday night at Gate 403 along with James Thomson on bass, Tim Hamel on trumpet and, recently, guest drummer Paul Brennan. To quote Rambling Son's liner notes: "I now play 800 times a week, mostly for beer and tips, but I also do a lot of benefits, which don't include beer and tips." Please tip generously; this band deserves it.

Julian Fauth

The Old Mill is an upscale, touristy landmark that romantically doubles as a picturesque inn and spa. At its intimate Home Smith Bar, indulge in lively live jazz every Friday and Saturday 8-11pm for a $12 cover charge. Ron Davis books both instrumental and vocal resident artists. Brand new: a permanent residency for the Russ Little Trio, Thursdays from 7-10pm. A $20 food/drink minimum applies per person.

Vocalist Terra Hazelton releases her anticipated sophomore album, Gimme Whatcha Got, at The Rex, May 30. This magical singer (www.terrahazelton.com) is perhaps best known for shining with the late Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards. Today she sings and plays snare in the wildly entertaining Hogtown Syncopators every Friday from 4-6pm. Hogtown is rounded up by Drew Jureka on violin, alto sax and vocals, Jay Danley on guitar and vocals, Richard Whiteman on piano and James Thomson on bass.

Unconventional vocalist Tova Kardonne is a brave composer and astute arranger. The Thing Is, her Balkan-Jazz-Funk Fusion 8-piece band, is devoted to odd time signatures and raised elevenths; it's challenging, refreshing and highly rewarding in a real listening room (www.myspace.com/thethingismusic). The Thing Is performs at the Trane Studio May 31 at 8pm. (Note that The WholeNote's very own Jim Galloway gigs at The Rex at 9:30pm the same night.)

To celebrate the breath of spring, the three breathtaking LaBarbera brothers will play a concert at the Humber College Lakeshore Auditorium. All born in upstate New York in the 1940’s, saxophonist Pat, drummer Joe and trumpeter John have each enjoyed a lucrative career and rarely have the opportunity to perform together. This highly anticipated event takes place on April 8th at 8:00pm, with general tickets at $20 and $10 for seniors.

Pat LaBarbera

A noteworthy CD release this month is that of contagiously groovy guitarist, Dr. Andrew Scott. His third record, Nostalgia, is devoted to bebop heads derived from hits of the American Songbook. Americans Dan Block on tenor sax/clarinet and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet are featured alongside Dr. Scott, with the rhythm section rounded up by Canadian all-stars: pianist Mark Eisenman, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Joel Haynes. Arrive early at The Pilot Tavern on April 11th from 3:30 to 6:30.

This month The Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar welcomes a plethora of out-of-towners, including New York City’s Rudder, Oren Neiman and Dan McCarthy; Rochester’s Madeline Forster; Snarky Puppy from Texas; San Francisco’s Transit Collective; Montréal’s Viva Nova, Bharath Rajamkur and Joel Miller and Frenchman Phillipe Lejeune. Dates and details are available at www.therex.ca.

Financial perils cannot be good for fundraisers, making benefactors all the more treasured. Jazz For Herbie (www.jazzforherbie .org) is dedicated to granting life-saving or life-altering surgeries to the world’s children by bringing them to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. The 8th annual benefit will feature venerable vocalist Jackie Richardson, eternal hipsters The Shuffle Demons and rising star Laila Biali. The Old Mill houses Herbie on April 18th from noon to 3:00pm, with single tickets at $50. If you cannot afford this but still wish to contribute to a good cause, vocalist Amy Noubarian is holding a fundraiser for The Ride to Conquer Cancer at Gate 403 on April 26th from 2:00-8:00pm.

Ori Dagan




(1) Don Thompson - Reg Schwager Nonet delights every first monthly Monday 7-10pm at Chalkers. Don Thompson (vbs) Reg Schwager (g) Luis Deniz (ss) David French (ts/bc) John de Simini (bs/fl) Jon Challoner (tp) Darren Sigesmund (tb) Jon Maharaj (b) Ethan Ardelli (d).


(2) Pat LaBarbera will dazzle with the Canadian Jazz Quartet as part of ‘Fridays at Five’ March 13 from 5-8pm at Quotes, with Frank Wright (vbs) Gary Benson (g) Duncan Hopkins (b) Don Vickery (d).


3) Laura Hubert is a jazz/blues vocal artist with a style all her own. Grossman’s Tavern every Monday 9:30-1:30pm with band led by dependable Peter Hill (p).


(4) Ron Davis launches Ron Davis & Friends: a monthly playing, weekly hosting gig at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar Friday and Saturday March 6 & 7 from 8-11pm with Mike Downes (b) and Ted Warren (d).


(5) Julie Michels (voice) and Kevin Barrett (guitar) are two of Toronto’s most beloved resident musicians. Statlers every Wednesday at 9pm.


(6) Rita di Ghent is a vocalist/composer known for her unique sound and sophisticated phrasing. Ten Feet Tall on Sunday March 8 from 3:30 to 6:30pm.


(7) Richard Whiteman’s one of the country’s hardest-swinging piano players. The Pilot on Saturday March 7 from 3:30-6:30. Trent Reschny (ts) Richard Whiteman (p) Rob McBride (b) Sly Juhas (d)


(8) Eli Bennett is a tremendous tenor player destined for greatness. Tequila Bookworm, Thursday March 12th at 9pm with Darcy Myronuk (p) Devon Henderson (b) Fabio Ragnelli (d); also with Ragnelli at The Rex Wednesdays March 4th & 18th at 6:30.


(9) Drew Austin hosts a happenin’ jam every first monthly Friday 8pm-12am at Dave’s Gourmet Pizza.


(10) Whitney Ross-Barris sings beautiful jazz framed by a convincing theatrical approach. She debuts at Gate 403 on Sunday March 29th from 5-8pm.


Ori Dagan, jazz@thewholenote.com

Jazz In The Clubs: February 08

By: Ori Dagan

In 2005, fans of Canadian jazz singer-songwriter Georgia Ambros were saddened to learn that she was battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma and held a benefit in her honour, “Georgia on My Mind”. After chemotherapy and two invasive throat operations, Georgia has made a remarkable recovery and last month played her first gig in four years at the intimate Upstairs Cabaret at Statlers. Singing an elegant cocktail-themed 90-minute set with venerable gentlemen Gary Williamson at the piano and Steve Wallace on bass, her voice was in pretty good shape and as always, every word was sincere. The lady’s talents as a clever songwriter were proven when fans ended up singing along to “The Limousine Song”. Congratulations to sweet Georgia on coming back in style! To learn more about the artist visit: www.agerecords.com

February concludes with two extremely promising shows at Hugh’s Room. The first: Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana with Voices featuring Elizabeth Shepherd and Telmary Diaz on Friday, February 27. Bunnett is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist internationally recognized as one of Canada’s most significant jazz artists. The latest album, “Embracing Voices”, is a large-scale collaborative effort of epic proportions, remarkable depth and haunting beauty. Tickets are selling fast!

Betty Richardson comes to Hugh’s Room
Betty Richardson comes to Hugh’s Room

On Saturday February 28, Hugh’s Room presents a tremendously talented singer: Betty Richardson. Born to a supremely gifted musical family that includes sister/actress Jackie, Betty started singing professionally at fifteen with Dr. Music’s Doug Riley and the Silhouettes. Most of her career has been spent as a background vocalist, but fans insist that powerhouse Betty belongs in the foreground. Her soulful performances are so heavenly that they border on religious experiences. Reservations are strongly recommended.

PLEASE NOTE: as of February 18, Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam moves to WEDNESDAY nights at Chalkers Pub. For more information visit www.girlsnightoutjazz.com

And there’s more. See our CLUB LISTINGS

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