As I write this, the temperature is hovering just about zero degrees Celsius, there is a considerable amount of snow on the ground, and it is raining. It will continue to rain until tomorrow morning, apparently, as per the forecast, which is typical of Toronto between New Year’s Day and the Ides of March: slushy, unpleasant and thoroughly inconvenient. It isn’t all bad, of course, as such weather affords us the opportunity to indulge in unique seasonal activities, such as Snowbank Roulette, in which we try to guess which section of the ugly pile of once-pristine snow adjoining the crosswalk is solid enough to step on, and which will give way immediately, soaking our feet for the rest of the day; Being Uncomfortable All The Time, in which we attempt to wear the right outfit for the day’s weather (winter jacket, toque, no gloves, umbrella?) but invariably miss the mark, resulting in profoundly unpleasant transit experiences; and, my personal favourite, Never Going To The Grocery Store, as we justify our daily desire to just order something fun tonight, and, seriously this time, pick up some real food tomorrow.

Thankfully, February isn’t all wet socks, streetcar woes, and ballooning Pad Thai-related credit card debt. We are fortunate, in Southern Ontario, to have some compelling reasons to brave the outdoors, not least of which are a number of stellar shows taking place this month, including at Toronto clubs such as The Rex and Burdock. I’d like to take a moment, however, to highlight the programming at a different venue: The Jazz Room, located in the Huether Hotel, in Waterloo. (The Huether Hotel building has existed, in various iterations, since 1899; check out their website for more interesting historical information.)

The Jazz Room is a comfortable, oak-heavy listening space, with consistently great sound courtesy of their in-house engineer. With shows presented by the Grand River Jazz Society, the Jazz Room has a mandate “to support exceptional musicians from [their] own community and to invite talent from elsewhere for local audiences to hear.” Included in the category of exceptional local musicians is the Penderecki String Quartet, a well-known group that has performed worldwide from their home base at Wilfrid Laurier University, where, since 1991, they have occupied the position of quartet-in-residence. The PSQ joins two different acts at the Jazz Room this month: the first, pianist/composer David Braid, has been working with string quartets for some time; his 2016 JUNO-nominated album Flow features the Epoque String Quartet. The second act to be joined by the PSQ at the Jazz Room this month is the duo of Glenn Buhr and Margaret Sweatman, who will be presenting a “jazz cabaret featuring words and music with a jazz twist.”

Florian HoefnerAlso at The Jazz Room in February: Pianist Florian Hoefner, who makes two appearances in our listings this month – at The Jazz Room, on February 22 and, two days earlier, at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar in Toronto, on February 20. Born in Germany, Hoefner attended the University of Arts in Berlin before being admitted to the MMus program at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Jason Moran and Dave Liebman, amongst other notable names; now, as an adjunct professor in the music program at Memorial University, he is based in Newfoundland. Hoefner – part of the collective Subtone, whose album Moose Blues was reviewed in the November 2018 issue of The WholeNote – is an accomplished pianist, who performed in Toronto multiple times last year, as a leader, in trio settings, and as part of Subtone. His appearances at The Old Mill and The Jazz Room come as part of a three-city mini-tour and follow a performance at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on February 19. Playing in trio format, he will be joined by drummer Nick Fraser and bassist Jim Vivian in Toronto, and by Fraser and bassist Andrew Downing in Waterloo. As his choice of collaborators suggests, Hoefner is a sensitive, communicative pianist, whose technical prowess is deployed in service to the music he makes; with a deft, modern touch, he is equally exciting playing ballads as he is playing up-tempo swing. He typically only makes a couple of trips to Ontario each year, so take advantage of this opportunity to hear one of Canada’s most exciting young resident pianists.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of February’s Valentine’s Day-themed shows, with the acknowledgment that Valentine’s Day can inspire very different emotions, depending on a person’s relationship status, tolerance for public displays of affection and appetite for subpar grocery-store milk-chocolate products. If you wish to celebrate your love – or if you don’t, but you’d like to enjoy an evening of excellent music (and also, perhaps, to glance spitefully at happy couples) – Jazz Bistro will feature the vocal duo of John Alcorn and Alex Samaras on February 14th. Both singers are confident, experienced students of the Great American Songbook, and they have performed together at the Bistro on multiple occasions over the past few years.

Khari Wendell McClelland - photo by DahliaKatzFor those who definitely want to go out on February 14, but definitely do not want to see music with a specific Valentine’s Day theme: don’t worry, as there are some excellent options. Taking place on February 14 and 15 at Burdock Music Hall, Khari Wendell McClelland brings his brand-new show We Now Recognize, a new group of songs “that explores the power of apologies, the nature of community and the redemptive potential of music.” Touring five Canadian cities in February in celebration of Black History Month, We Now Recognize is the follow-up to the Freedom Singer project, an album and documentary theatre musical created by McClelland, Andrew Kushnir, and Jodie Martinson. Freedom Singer is anchored by songs that recreate the music that “fugitive slaves carried [with them] on their journey north into Canada,” filtered through McClelland’s background in gospel, hip-hop and folk; We Now Recognize seems likely to occupy a similar space at the intersection of music, community, and social justice. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICKPICKS

FEB 7 AND 8, 9:45PM: Claire Daly with Adrean Farrugia, The Rex. New York-based baritone saxophonist Claire Daly visits The Rex for two nights, joined by pianist Adrean Farrugia, vocalist Sophia Perlman, bassist Mike Downes, and drummer Ernesto Cervini.

FEB 14, 9PM: John Alcorn and Alex Samaras, Jazz Bistro. Two top interpreters of the Great American Songbook, appearing together in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

FEB 14 AND 15, 6:30PM: Khari Wendell McClelland, Burdock Music Hall. Part of a Canadian tour in celebration of Black History Month, singer Khari Wendell McClelland brings his new project, We Now Recognize, to Burdock for two consecutive evenings.

FEB 22, 8:30PM: Florian Hoefner Trio, The Jazz Room, Waterloo. From Germany, by way of New York, modern jazz pianist Florian Hoefner is joined by bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser for a night of communicative, meaningful music.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Joanna MajokoAh, January, month of hope. Of new goals set, old acquaintances renewed, and the same old mute horror of gazing upon our bank accounts, which, though once approaching some facsimile of respectability, have been thoroughly reduced in order to fund the holiday indulgences of which we all now so piously repent. It is no small wonder that so many of our favourite New Year’s resolutions involve abstinence, from alcohol, or cigarettes, or that croissant that you always get from the coffee shop across the street from your office, even though you’ve already had breakfast, but you’ve ordered it so often that now the barista sometimes just gives it to you free of charge and makes a charming joke about how you deserve it, and really this is all his (the barista’s) fault, because doesn’t he know that you have no self-control and also that carbs are the enemy? In any case, the impulse towards post-December self-restraint is natural, and it’s not unusual for the most regular of show-goers to reduce their concert attendance in January. This is understandable, of course; clubs and restaurants serve drinks, and food, and spending time in these places may encourage us to break our nascent resolutions. I would argue, however, that live music itself is not indulgent, but rather – much like your newly-minted gym membership – an investment in yourself, and in your future well-being.

Burdock Piano Fest: While January programming in Toronto (and in most cities) has been historically light, there are a number of exciting events happening, including some notable newer ventures that have positioned themselves to fill in the gaps in the early 2019 concert season. Included in these is the fourth annual Burdock Piano Fest, an eight-day festival with over 20 acts from a variety of stylistic backgrounds (predominantly indie, folk, and jazz, which reflect Burdock’s typical year-round bookings). The Piano Fest has a relatively simple premise: bring a high-quality baby grand piano onto the Burdock stage for eight days, and book piano-centric acts in complementary double-bills. (In previous years, pianos were loaned to Burdock by Robert Lowrey Pianos; this year, the piano is provided by Yamaha Canada Music.) In the spirit of full disclosure (and shameless plugging), I will be performing at Piano Fest on January 28; although I play the guitar, I will be joined by Mackenzie Longpré on drums, Tyler Emond on bass, and the excellent pianist Ewen Farncombe. For those who are still curious about Piano Fest, please feel free to peruse a couple of pieces that The WholeNote published about last year’s festival (see Sara Constant’s informative overview of the festival here, and my own review of Joanna Majoko and Chelsey Bennett’s performance in last year’s edition of the festival here).

On the subject of Joanna Majoko: her upcoming sextet performance at The Rex on January 19 – with saxophonist Rob Christian, guitarist Andrew Marzotto, pianist Ewen Farncombe, bassist Andrew Stewart, and drummer Larnell Lewis – is one highlight among many this month at the club. Other noteworthy performances slated for later this month at The Rex include New York-based trumpeter John Raymond’s bassless trio, with guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Colin Stranahan (January 17 and 18), drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s quartet with saxophonist Charlotte Greve, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, and bassist Eivind Opsvik (January 26 and 27), and saxophonist Matt Woroshyl’s quintet with guitarist Alexei Orechin, pianist Chris Pruden, bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes, and drummer Ian Wright, celebrating the recent release of his debut album Forward (January 25).

Also at The Rex: trombonist/composer Terry Promane with the University of Toronto Student 12tet, for which he functions as both conductor and class instructor (he is an Associate Professor in Jazz Studies at U of T). Promane is one of the Canadian jazz scene’s most accomplished large- and small-ensemble arrangers, and his U of T 12tet has become a significant showcase both for his compositional prowess and for the talents of U of T jazz students. The 12tet has recorded two albums (Rebirth, in 2012, and Trillium Falls, in 2016), and the ensemble performs at regular intervals throughout the academic year; check them out at The Rex in the late slot on January 21, following U of T’s regular student ensemble performances.

Ladom EnsembleLadom Ensemble/VC2: While it’s typical to find conversations about classical music in other sections of The WholeNote, a recent (and growing) trend amongst classical musicians and presenters towards atypical concert venues means that there are some happy surprises amidst the (mostly) jazz, indie, folk, and world music contained in the listings below. One such concert is the Ladom Ensemble and VC2 Cello Duo’s Double Album Release Party, which will take place on January 16 at Lula Lounge. Ladom Ensemble – made up of accordionist Michael Bridge, cellist Beth Silver, percussionist Adam Campbell, and pianist Pouya Hamidi – plays music inspired by diverse sources, including Argentine tango, Serbian folk, Persian classical, and rock, and has commissioned music from composers such as Elisha Denburg, Igor Correia, Maziar Heidari, and Keyan Emami; Hamidi also does double-duty as the group’s resident composer. They celebrate the release of their forthcoming album The Walls are Made of Song. Joining them is the cello duo VC2, the joint venture of Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt, who were featured on the cover of The WholeNote in February 2018. VC2 will also be celebrating the release of a new album, Beethoven’s Cellists, which is the culmination of a touring program that the duo performed in several cross-Canada forays last year. Beethoven’s Cellists features compositions by contemporary composers Andrew Downing, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Fjola Evans, Matt Brubeck, and Hunter Coblentz, as well as a Romantic-era sonata by Bernhard Romberg, arranged by the duo.   

Sadly, I will not able to attend many of these stellar performances, as I will be attempting to maintain some semblance of optimal body heat as a Musician in Residence at the Banff Centre for most of January. So if do you attend one of these performances, please feel free to send me a message via email or social media to let me know why you liked it, or why you didn’t like it, or why you thought it was just okay. Alternatively, feel free to let me know how your New Year’s resolutions are going; if they’re going poorly, please feel free to lie to me. I’m here for you either way.

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

JAN 16, 6:30PM: Ladom Ensemble and VC2 Cello Duo Double Album Release Party, Lula Lounge. Join classical/fusion groups Ladom Ensemble and VC2 Cello Duo as they both celebrate the release of new albums in a concert venue not often used for classical shows.

JAN 21, 9:30PM: University of Toronto 12tet, The Rex. Helmed by leading jazz arranger Terry Promane, this exciting 12tet – composed of U of T jazz students – plays classic and modern compositions in a swinging little-big-band style.

JAN 21-28, VARIOUS TIMES: Various Performers, Burdock Piano Fest, Burdock Music Hall. Burdock presents its fourth annual Piano Fest, featuring a variety of performers in complementary double bills that make good use of a beautiful (and well-tuned) baby grand piano.

JAN 26, 9:45PM: Matt Woroshyl Quintet, The Rex. Celebrating the release of his debut album Forward, saxophonist Matt Woroshyl leads his quintet for two sets of modern jazz at The Rex.

The WholeNote’s online club listings are now updated with info on all of the January concerts and events on offer; find them here.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

The holiday season in Toronto – which begins, at least in some major retail stores, as early as November 1 – carries with it different meanings for different people. For some, of course, it is still primarily a religious occasion; for others, it is a chance to spend at least one morning drinking excessive amounts of rum and eggnog before having a recuperative nap on a disappointed family member’s couch. What tends to remain constant in our shared experience of December and early January is a celebration of community and a desire to enjoy, at least briefly, a sensation of abundance and plenty.

For live music fans in Southern Ontario, this will not be difficult to achieve: December is one of the most exciting months of the year to hit the town and take in a show. This is true whether you enjoy the great canon of Christmas songs (they’re fun, and they’re basically just standards) or not (they’re “fun,” and they’re basically just standards); the true gift that December brings us is the sheer volume of excellent and unusual programming, much of which is not explicitly holiday-themed. So, while there will be plenty of opportunities to hear songs about inclement weather, precocious reindeer, and bearded paternalistic wizards who watch you while you sleep, there will also be an ample supply of non-holiday music to check out in a wide variety of venues.

The Bistro: To begin: there are, of course, some really top-notch holiday shows taking place in December. On Saturday December 22, the pianists Robi Botos and Hilario Durán perform holiday classics, standards and more at Jazz Bistro, in what has become an annual tradition. It is rare enough to hear two pianists perform together, and rarer still to hear two pianists of Botos and Duran’s calibre in a club setting. Other holiday offerings from Jazz Bistro include Sam Broverman’s A Jewish Boy’s Christmas album release show, on Sunday December 16, and the Robert Scott Trio playing music from A Charlie Brown Christmas, on Tuesday December 18. Outside of the GTA, The Woodhouse performs at The Jazz Room in Waterloo with the help of singer Barbra Lica, who has joined the band in previous years for their annual run of holiday shows.

Bernice: Another notable holiday event: Bernice, the dreamy, synthy indie project led by singer Robin Dann, will play at Lula Lounge on December 16 as part of Venus Fest’s Winter Market, which celebrates women and non-binary artists and entrepreneurs. The market runs throughout the day, with performances from Bernice and the group Kith & Kin to be followed by winter bingo, hosted by the singer Alex Samaras.

Kirk MacDonaldThe Rex: The Rex’s December lineup is perhaps its most exciting since June, when it hosted the co-curated TD Toronto Jazz Festival concert series, due in no small part to the fact that some of the same artists are back, including the pianist Geoffrey Keezer and the duo, Paris Monster. Keezer – an alumnus of bands led by Benny Golson, Ray Brown and Art Blakey, in the final iteration of the fabled Jazz Messengers group – is both virtuosic and communicative, and has tremendous access to the jazz piano tradition. His performance, which takes place on Sunday December 16, will feature the singer Gillian Margot, who sung on Keezer’s recent trio album On My Way To You, and the drummer Jon Wikan, a longtime Keezer collaborator.

When Paris Monster played at The Rex in June, their performance became one of the most talked-about breakout shows of the whole jazz festival, in part because of how surprising it was that such a full band sound could be produced by just two people. The duo consists of Josh Dion, who simultaneously plays drums, keyboards, and sings, and the bassist Geoff Kraly, whose effects-heavy playing fills out the middle in a way that has more in common with shoegaze-inspired electric guitar playing than it does with traditional electric bass playing. (Dion often plays bass lines on his keyboard.) Beyond their unique performance practice, however, it’s the music itself – a combination of rock, synthpop, and jazz fusion – that is at the heart of Paris Monster’s compelling project. Paris Monster plays two consecutive nights at The Rex, on December 8 and 9.

The Rex will also be hosting a different two-night residency, on December 19 and 20, as Kirk MacDonald, one of Canada’s pre-eminent saxophonists, celebrates the release of his album Generations, his 15th as a bandleader. Generations features MacDonald’s contemporaries Neil Swainson and André White, as well as the American pianist Harold Mabern, who, at 82-years-old, is one of jazz’s prominent elder statesmen, and the clarinetist Virginia MacDonald, who, at 23, represents the next generation of jazz both figuratively and literally. (Kirk MacDonald is her father.)

Virginia MacDonald, who is becoming an important presence on the Toronto jazz scene in her own right, will also be playing at The Rex on December 18, one evening before joining her father for his two-night stint. She is joined by the bassist Dan Fortin and, keeping the family theme intact, by the siblings Lucas Dann and Nico Dann, a pianist and drummer (respectively) who share a sister in Robin Dann, the aforementioned singer in the group Bernice.

Burdock: While December is typically one of the best months of the year in which to see live music, January is one of the worst, for a variety of reasons. There is usually an expectation that people don’t go out as much, both for reasons financial (it’s time to start paying down that credit card) and caloric (those resolutions won’t keep themselves). The success of Burdock’s annual Piano Fest, however, has given both artists and audiences a reason to get back into the swing of things following the holidays. Taking place from January 21 to 28, this eight-day festival sees the temporary installation of a baby grand piano in Burdock’s Music Hall and, traditionally, double bills featuring complementary acts. Past performers include Joanna Majoko, Chelsey Bennett, Michelle Willis, Jeremy Dutcher and Tim Baker, amongst many others. While the full schedule has not yet been released, check out Burdock’s website for full listings when they become available.

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

DEC 18, 9:30PM: Virginia MacDonald, The Rex. The night before she joins her father Kirk MacDonald on the same stage for his album release show, clarinetist Virginia MacDonald leads her own accomplished quartet at The Rex.

DEC 16, 8PM: Venus Fest presents Bernice with Kith & Kin, Lula Lounge. As part of Venus Fest’s Winter Market, watch Kith & Kin perform before a very special holiday set by Bernice; followed by bingo.

DEC 22, 9PM: Robi Botos and Hilario Durán, Jazz Bistro. Leading pianists Robi Botos and Hilario Duran present a holiday-themed show in a rare configuration.

JAN 21 TO 28: Various performers, Burdock Piano Fest. Burdock Music Hall. Burdock presents its fourth-annual Piano Fest, featuring a variety of performers in complementary double bills that make good use of a beautiful (and well-tuned) baby grand piano.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

We are fortunate in Southern Ontario to have access to a large number of live-music venues. In the listings below, you will find over 30 clubs and restaurants that regularly present jazz and creative music, including Grossman’s Tavern, which celebrated its 70th birthday in September; The Rex, which has been in operation for over 40 years; and Burdock, which, having opened in April of 2015, is a mere three-years old. Mixed in among many exciting one-off events in these listings are a number of recurring gigs, most commonly once a week or once a month. These residencies form a vital part of the Toronto gig ecosystem, playing an important role for musicians, venues, and audience members alike.

To begin, a working definition: to qualify as a recurring gig for the purposes of this article, a gig must happen at regular intervals and feature the same artist(s); a one-off, two-or three-night run at a club does not qualify. A residency is also functionally different than a series, in which a presenter (not necessarily the venue itself) books artists who may be representative of a certain genre or theme. A residency, as the name implies, is about the creation of a kind of home base for musicians, a (hopefully) comfortable space in which they build a show and grow over time. As guitarist and York University instructor Robb Cappelletto puts it, a residency provides an opportunity “to try out new music, new players, new gear, [and] new approaches in a real-world setting.” Cappelletto performs regularly at Poetry Jazz Café with his trio, as well as at 416 Snack Bar with the group re.verse (with bassist Damian Matthew and drummer Chino De Villa).

There are a number of different residencies that take place in Toronto on a regular basis. In addition to a full calendar of (typically) standalone shows that take place in the late slots throughout the week,

The Rex has a number of different residencies every month. If you visit on a Friday at 4pm, you’ll hear the Hogtown Syncopators; on Saturday at noon, the Sinners Choir; on Sunday at noon, the Excelsior Dixieland Jazz Band; on Mondays at 6:30, U of T Jazz Ensembles (at least throughout the school year); and, on the last Monday of every month, the John MacLeod Rex Hotel Orchestra, which features many of Toronto’s more established musicians. The Rex also features month-long weekly residencies in early evening slots; often dubbed “Rexidencies” on social media promotional material, these short-term weeklies are unique in the Toronto club scene. In November, watch out for the Brodie West Quintet on Tuesdays, JV’s Boogaloo Squad on Wednesdays, Kevin Quain on Thursdays, and the James Brown Trio on Fridays.

Dan McKinnon. Photo by Jen Squires.Beyond The Rex, many other local venues support residencies. At The Tranzac, the JUNO-nominated band Peripheral Vision (Don Scott, guitar, Michael Herring, bass, Trevor Hogg, saxophone, Nick Fraser, drums) hosts the first Tuesday of every month at 10pm. As Peripheral Vision typically books a band to play an opening set, this residency is also something of a series, as there is a curatorial component beyond the musical work that the band undertakes. Bassist Michael Herring plays regularly on Wednesdays with a guitar trio at the tequila bar Reposado, which also features its house band – the Reposadists – on Thursdays and Fridays. At Poetry Jazz Café, in Kensington Market, artists such as the guitarist Luan Phung, vocalist Joanna Majoko, vocalist/pianist Chelsey Bennett, guitarist Robb Cappelletto and singer/guitarist Dan McKinnon play monthly gigs. The structure provided by regular performances can give musicians the opportunity to focus on growth and development in a manner that isn’t always accessible in one-off gigs. Having a residency at Poetry, says McKinnon, “was pivotal to my development as a musician, bandleader and artist. Since that first gig over three years ago, my group won the 2017 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search, the Amy Louie Grossman’s Music Scholarship, and recently put out a well-received album this spring. None of this would have been possible if not for the residency I had at Poetry.”

The issues: There are many positive aspects to Toronto’s many fine residencies, but they are not without their issues. The first, and most obvious, is financial: for most of the aforementioned gigs, there is no financial guarantee. Musicians are typically compensated by passing the hat, through a percentage of bar sales, and occasionally through a percentage of a cover charge. This is not to say that it isn’t possible to make a fair fee playing in a residency – it can sometimes be the case, on a good night, that a group earns more than they may have if they were playing for an average preset guarantee – but it is certainly not always the case. There can also be other, unforeseen musical consequences of playing the same music with the same people in the same venue over an extended period of time. Nick Teehan, who held residencies at The Cameron House and The Rex for a number of years, makes the point that while playing consistently “really cemented the sound of [his] band,” providing “a regular audience who knew what to expect,” it also, unexpectedly, made the recording process harder. It “took a lot of effort to re-configure the songs” for the studio, Teehan says, as “some of the energy we felt was propelling our shows didn’t sound so great in a studio setting.”

Even with these issues, however, residencies are an important part of any healthy live-music scene, and, for most of the musicians who spoke to me about this column, participating in a residency is an overwhelmingly valuable, positive experience that fosters the growth both of individual musicianship and of the community at large. So, this month: check out a residency! As an audience member, it may become your regular gig, too. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

NOV 1, 9:30PM: Saxophonist Jeff LaRochelle celebrates the release of his new album Lenses Extend at Burdock; with opening set from singer/guitarist Sabine Ndalamba.

NOV 6, 10PM: JUNO-nominated modern jazz quartet Peripheral Vision plays at The Tranzac in the November installment of their monthly residency.

NOV 7 AND 8, 9:30PM: Leading alto saxophonist Dave Binney returns to The Rex for two evenings with his new quartet.

NOV 30, 9PM: Guitarist Robb Cappelletto brings his electric trio to Poetry Jazz Café as part of his monthly residency.

Robb CappellettoColin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

For many, September marks a transitional period: we go back to school, back to work, back to a daily routine that can either feel welcome (structure! responsibility!) or unwelcome (structure! responsibility!), depending on the quality of our summer experiences. Whatever the case may be, the calamities of our collective re-entry into the real world usually resolve themselves by October, giving us all a bit more time to go out and enjoy live music, at venues both familiar and not. In addition to discussing exciting upcoming performances by the legendary jazz singer Sheila Jordan and the Afro-Cuban group OKAN, the focus of my column this month is on Burdock, a relatively new venue that may be a familiar name to some, but which, I suspect, may be unfamiliar to many readers. (In this month’s listings, you’ll find the full monthly schedule for Burdock.)

In a short amount of time – it opened in April of 2015 – Burdock has emerged as one of Toronto’s most important live-music venues. Located on Bloor, just west of Dufferin, Burdock is divided into two parts connected by heavy, soundproof double doors. On one side is the Music Hall, an intimate space that can accommodate about a hundred people, complete with its own bar, seating (depending on the show), and an excellent sound system. (Burdock consistently sounds great, owing, in no small part, to the talents of their live audio engineers, Aleda Deroche, Matthew Bailey and Jess Forrest.) On the other side is the brewpub, with a rotating tap list of beers, brewed in-house, and a full menu of seasonal food, including both small and larger plates, such as their summer tartine, crispy ribs and wild mushroom taco, all on the menu at the time of the writing of this column. As a brewery, Burdock has found a niche in the busy Toronto beer market by focusing on saisons, sours and wine/beer blends, such as their ever-popular BUMO series, brewed in conjunction with the Niagara-based winery Pearl Morissette. This decision has proven fruitful: by avoiding entering into the high-ABV arms race, Burdock’s brewery has found success at their bottle shop, their own bar, and on the beer list at many of Toronto’s best restaurants.

Through the double doors in the Music Hall, venue coordinator Charlotte Cornfield books acts from a variety of different genres. (Cornfield is an accomplished musician in her own right, touring and releasing music regularly under her own name.)

While many of the musicians who play at Burdock come from Toronto’s creative indie scene, Burdock also regularly features jazz and blues, as well as the occasional classical performance, including, in October, an installment of Haus Musik, presented by the Toronto-based Baroque orchestra Tafelmusik. (The concert will feature members of the orchestra and special guest percussionist Graham Hargrove performing music written by Italian composer Luigi Boccherini.) Beyond its regularly scheduled programming – which has recently jumped from one to two shows per day, due to increasing demand – Burdock also hosts a number of special events throughout the year. Their annual Piano Fest, which celebrated its third birthday this past January, is built around the simple premise of temporarily installing a high-quality grand piano on stage and booking piano-centric acts in complementary double bills; this year’s festival featured artists such as Joanna Majoko, Chelsea Bennett, Tim Baker and Jeremy Dutcher, the latter of whom would go on to win the Polaris Prize in September of this year for his debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa.

AKKU QuintetIn addition to Tafelmusik’s show, there are a number of notable performances that will be taking place in October. These include a modern jazz double bill, with AKKU Quintet and Living Fossil, on October 2 (Living Fossil’s debut album NEVER DIE! was reviewed in our March 2018 issue.); a live recording of radio personality Laurie Brown’s Pondercast podcast, with music provided by Joshua Van Tassel, on October 9; jazz bassist Robert Lee’s Big Band, celebrating the release of the EP Blink, on October 14; and francophone singer/songwriter Safia Nolin, fresh off the release of her third album, performing on October 25.

It also seems important to note, for those who have not yet visited, that the Burdock Music Hall is an uncommonly comfortable venue that shifts its seating structure around to accommodate the needs of specific acts and their audiences, even when those audiences comprise a variety of different demographic representatives. In a recent show I attended at Burdock, the open area in front of the stage was flanked by a few narrow rows of chairs. While enthusiastic attendees danced, those audience members who desired a bit more comfort – some of whom, let it be said, were quite possibly related to the musicians on stage – sat and enjoyed an unobstructed view of the performance. At no point did this mixed setup feel divisive or contrived; as is typically the case at Burdock, the vibe was relaxed, inclusive, and fun.

Sheila JordanSheila Jordan at the Jazz Bistro

There are a number of excellent shows happening in other venues this month, not the least of which will be Sheila Jordan’s three-night engagement at Jazz Bistro, on October 4, 5 and 6. Jordan, now 89, has a storied history within the jazz community, studying with Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus in the early 1950s, performing and recording with Herbie Nichols, George Russell and Lee Konitz in the 60s and 70s, and teaching, as artist-in-residence, at City College of New York, from 1978 through to the mid-2000s. Jordan – who was referred to as “the singer with the million dollar ears” by Charlie Parker – will be joined by pianist Adrean Farrugia and bassist Neil Swainson in an intimate trio format, whose instrumentation should prove well-suited to Jazz Bistro’s ecclesiastical acoustics.

OKAN at Lula

At Lula Lounge, OKAN celebrate the release of their debut EP recording on October 21. Co-led by Cuban-born, Toronto-based multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne – both of whom are veterans of saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett’s Maqueque group – OKAN fuses traditional Afro-Cuban music with jazz, pop and soul. In their live show, Rodriguez and Savigne find success both in the complementary chemistry they share as performers (Rodriguez typically stands and plays violin, while Savigne sits behind her congas; both sing.) and in their talent for deftly borrowing from various musical sources. At times OKAN’s music sounds distinctly Afro-Cuban; at other times, like pop-inflected R&B. Anchored by Rodriguez and Savigne, this month’s show should prove to be a worthwhile reason to visit Lula Lounge. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

OCT 4 TO 5, 9PM: Sheila Jordan, Jazz Bistro. Accompanied by local mainstays Adrean Farrugia (piano) and Neil Swainson (bass), legendary jazz singer Sheila Jordan performs in this three-night run at Jazz Bistro.

OCT 14, 9:30PM: Robert Lee, Burdock. Upright bassist Robert Lee leads his big band in celebration of the release of his EP Blink, a collection of modern jazz pieces inspired by pop, folk and classical music.

OCT 25, 9:30PM: Safia Nolin, Burdock. Francophone singer/songwriter Safia Nolin – 2017 Félix Award winner for Female Artist of the Year – performs in support of her new album, releasing October 5.

OCT 21, 6:30PM: OKAN, Lula Lounge. Co-led by Cuban-born multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne, OKAN celebrates the release of their debut EP.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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