Over the past month, Toronto lost two of its most creative, sophisticated guitarists: Ed Bickert (1932-2019) and Justin Haynes (1973-2019). Though 40 years apart in age, both exemplified a dedication to the craft of jazz guitar, a broad knowledge of the ever-evolving history of improvisational music, and a deep commitment to expanding and reshaping the role of the guitar in a wide variety of conventional and unconventional settings.

Justin HaynesGrowing up in Ottawa, Justin Haynes studied with Roddy Ellias before moving to Toronto in the late 1990s, where he quickly established himself as a creative, boundary-pushing musician, collaborating regularly with Jean Martin, Nick Fraser, Christine Duncan and many other members of Toronto’s vital jazz/improvising music community. A prolific recording artist, he appeared on over 25 albums (currently available through his website), toured regularly, and performed consistently throughout Toronto. Haynes was the 2012 artist-in-residence at Calgary’s National Music Centre. For those who wish to attend, there will be a remembrance service at the TRANZAC on April 19; there is also a GoFundMe page, on which visitors may donate money to benefit Haynes’ son.

Ed Bickert, an active member of the Toronto music community since his move to the city in the mid-1950s, was a consummate musician, and a major influence on guitarists who came after him, both in Toronto and throughout the world. Recording and touring with a range of artists, including Moe Koffman, Phil Nimmons, Rob McConnell, Rosemary Clooney and Paul Desmond, Bickert was a tasteful, precise player, whose rhythmic and harmonic command of the guitar was such that even his simplest phrases could immediately capture a listener’s attention. His most memorable performances were often in small ensembles, including the seminal album At The Garden Party, with bassist Don Thompson, which endures as one of the most important (and frequently transcribed) guitar/bass duo albums in jazz, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Jim Hall and Ron Carter’s Alone Together. He is also one of the reasons that it has become a relatively common sight to see a Toronto jazz guitarist playing a Telecaster (or other Fender-style guitar), in lieu of an archtop or semi-hollow body guitar; Bickert’s ability to get a warm, round, articulate sound out of an instrument that is associated, even today, with the trebly twang of country and bluegrass music, is a testament to his unique artistic vision.

Lorne LofskyLorne Lofsky
It is fitting, though likely not intentionally so, that April should be particularly rich in guitar performances, many of which will be happening at The Rex, a venue whose stage position, ceiling height, and relaxed atmosphere make it particularly amplifier-friendly. For two consecutive evenings on April 4 and 5, Lorne Lofsky leads a quartet featuring saxophonist Alex Dean, bassist Kieran Overs, and drummer Barry Romberg. A York University faculty member, Lofsky is, in many ways, the direct heir to Bickert: the two played in a quartet together from 1983 to 1991, releasing two albums together with the group. In addition to collaborations with leading saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Kirk MacDonald, Lofsky spent 1994 to 1996 as a fulltime member of the Oscar Peterson Quartet, touring worldwide and playing on three of Peterson’s albums. Though he performs regularly, it is not always common to see Lofsky leading his own ensemble, so his two-night stint at The Rex represents a valuable opportunity to hear him in his element.

The Rex will also host a number of other notable guitarists, including both the established and the new.

First, the new: Alex Goodman – a graduate of both the University of Toronto and Manhattan School of Music’s jazz programs, and now a New York resident – brings his quartet to town on April 6. Accompanying Goodman are three of New York’s top young jazz musicians: saxophonist Ben van Gelder, bassist Martin Nevin, and drummer Jimmy MacBride. Nir Felder, another young guitarist (and Fender-style guitar proponent) based in the United States, joins Toronto’s Tetrahedron for two nights of music on April 9 and 10. Tetrahedron – typically a chordless trio, made up of saxophonist Luis Deniz, electric bassist Rich Brown, and drummer Ernesto Cervini – is a natural pairing for Felder, who shares their penchant for groove, melodicism, and a decidedly electric aesthetic that touches on jazz, rock and R&B.

Second, the established: on April 14, bassist Dave Young, who performed and recorded, at various points, with Bickert, Lofsky and Peterson, amongst myriad other jazz luminaries, brings his quartet to The Rex. He is joined by trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, drummer Terry Clarke and guitarist Reg Schwager. Schwager, a first-call player for many of Canada’s top jazz singers, has an incredible command of the idiomatic language of classic jazz, and plays with a warm, round tone. Performing later in the month with the Barry Romberg Group, guitarist Geoff Young – who, as a faculty member at the University of Toronto’s jazz program, has taught many of Toronto’s most exciting young guitarists – is a dynamic, multifaceted guitarist, a thrilling improviser, and, like Bickert, a dedicated Fender player, whose biting, rock-tinged tone works to complement the sweeping lyricism of his phrasing.

VIrginia and Kirk MacDonald at the Cape Breton Jazz FestivalElsewhere
April will also see some other notable guitar performances at venues outside of The Rex. On April 17, the Virginia and Kirk MacDonald Quartet plays at the Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar. Virginia – an increasingly busy clarinettist, band leader, and the daughter of Toronto jazz scene mainstay Kirk – has collaborated with her father before, on the recent album Generations, featuring pianist Harold Mabern. The MacDonalds are joined at the Home Smith Bar by bassist Neil Swainson and guitarist Lucian Gray. Gray is a burgeoning master of the guitar stylings of Wes Montgomery, amongst other foundational figures, but his unique gift is his ability to make the classic sound new, vital and immediately exciting. In another part of town, and at a different end of the guitar-style spectrum, Luan Phung can be found on most Sunday afternoons playing trio at Poetry Jazz Café in Kensington Market. Aesthetically, Phung’s playing can be located in the school of modern jazz guitar, and is, at times, reminiscent of players such as Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder. But his deft touch, strong harmonic sensibility and searching improvisational tendencies mark a developing style all his own.

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICKPICKS

APR 4 AND 5, 9:30PM/9:45PM: Lorne Lofsky, The Rex. Lorne Lofsky appears with his stellar quartet for two nights of communicative jazz at The Rex.

APR 9 AND 10, 9:30PM: Nir Felder and Tetrahedron, The Rex. American guitarist Nir Felder joins bassist Rich Brown, saxophonist Luis Deniz, and drummer Ernesto Cervini for two evenings of fusion-tinged jazz.

APR 17: Virginia and Kirk MacDonald Quartet, Home Smith Bar. Father/daughter duo Virginia and Kirk MacDonald lead their quartet at The Home Smith Bar, with bassist Neil Swainson and exciting young guitarist Lucian Gray.

MOST SUNDAYS, 4:30 TO 7:30: Luan Phung, Poetry Jazz Café. Hear burgeoning modern jazz guitarist Luan Phung at in an intimate, communicative trio setting in Kensington Market’s Poetry Jazz Café.

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.

The prospect of losing an hour of sleep due to the beginning of Daylight Saving Time – the clock change, I may remind you, will take place at 2am on Sunday March 10 – is a daunting one for musicians and music fans alike, many of whom are no strangers to that particular time of the night. Despite its official allegiance to the day that follows, 2am really does seem like the end of the evening that precedes it; suddenly finding oneself at 3am feels as though it is dangerously close to the following day, and to all of the duties and responsibilities that morning imposes upon us.

Daylight Saving Time, however, has one particularly pleasant feature, the effects of which will be felt immediately by the music-going community of Toronto: the sunset, which, since the winter solstice, has been depressingly early, will suddenly shift a full hour later, meaning that as of March 10, the sun will set at approximately 7:17pm – at least according to the dubious website I consulted during my extensive research – and will set progressively later as we settle into spring. The consequence of this happy change? Leaving one’s home in the early evening, so daunting when the sun sets on the frigid, ice-covered streets of Toronto at 4:40pm, will suddenly become much more appealing. Given the number of excellent shows happening in March, this is no small gift.

Joni Mitchell

The legendary singer Joni Mitchell, whose body of work touches upon folk, pop, jazz and many points in between, is a name that will likely be familiar to all WholeNote readers, not least because she has roots in Toronto; in her early 20s, she performed regularly in Yorkville at a time when the neighbourhood was better known for its folk clubs than for its boutique clothing stores. Mitchell, born in 1943, celebrated her 75th birthday on November 7 of last year; to commemorate the event, Decca Records organized a tribute concert, with artists such as James Taylor, Diana Krall, and Rufus Wainwright performing songs from Mitchell’s catalogue at The Music Center in Los Angeles. The recordings from this event will be released on March 8 as Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration.

James Taylor and Joni Mitchell at Joni 75: A Birthday CelebrationMitchell, of course, has had a profound influence on multiple generations of Canadian musicians, and it is no great surprise that March will see numerous Mitchell-themed concerts taking place at various venues in Toronto. At Hugh’s Room, singer Mia Sheard presents two consecutive nights (March 1and 2) of “Songs Are Like Tattoos,” a tribute to Mitchell, featuring bassist Chris Gartner, pianist Tania Gill, drummer Ryan Granville-Martin, saxophonist Ernie Tollar, guitarist Joel Schwartz, and guest vocalists David Sereda, Marla and David Celia, Lori Cullen and Jennifer Foster. (Sheard has been performing a version of this show since 2008, when she put on her first Mitchell tribute.)

Also at Hugh’s Room, on March 25: “The Life and Music of Joni Mitchell,” a lecture and concert presented by musicologist Mike Daley, who will lead a discussion about Mitchell, as well as a performance with Jill Daley and Mia Sheard. Fittingly, given Mitchell’s contributions to jazz, and her collaborations with musicians such as Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny, her work will also be represented at The Rex. On Wednesday March 20, jazz vocalist Aimée Butcher will lead “For the Roses III,”a tribute to Mitchell, accompanied by saxophonist Matt Woroshyl, guitarist Brandon Wall, keyboardist Joel Visentin, bassist Jeff Deegan, and drummer Robin Claxton.

Aimée ButcherWomen From Space Festival

While the abundance of Joni Mitchell tributes speaks to the enduring power of a singular artist’s living legacy, the inaugural Women From Space Festival – taking place from March 8 to March 11, in celebration of International Women’s Day – seeks to provide a platform for exciting newer musicians to showcase their craft and to develop their audience. One of the stated goals of the Women From Space Festival is to “celebrate women’s artistic voices and achievements and to draw attention to an underrepresentation of women in free improvisation and jazz.” Taking place at a different venue (Wenona Craft Beer Lodge, The Tranzac, Arraymusic, and Burdock Music Hall) for each day of its four-day run, the festival will include 16 separate acts, each of which will play a half-hour set. Organized by festival co-founders Bea Labikova and Kayla Milmine, both of whom will also be performing, the festival will feature a number of names that will be familiar to WholeNote readers, including Laura Swankey, whose EP Once More: for solo voice and electronics was covered in The WholeNote EP Review, Mingjia Chen, whose debut EP Feel Seen, featuring the Tortoise Orchestra, was also covered in The WholeNote EP Review, and Christine Duncan, who will be performing with Swankey and guitarist Patrick O’Reilly to close out the festival on March 11 at Burdock. Duncan is a prominent figure within the creative music community: she performs regularly, teaches in the jazz program at the University of Toronto, and conducts the Element Choir, a unique, improvising ensemble that has collaborated with artists such as Tanya Tagaq, that has been featured on the soundtrack to the major motion picture The Witch, and that has sung, in a variety of different incarnations, at major festivals throughout the country. Beyond these professional accomplishments, Duncan remains a leading vocalist in her own right, and her set with Swankey and O’Reilly (with whom she’s previously collaborated) is likely to be a festival highlight.

Laura Swankey and Patrick O'ReillyOn March 15, guitarist Nir Felder plays The Rex, joining the Montreal bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc’s band, which also features pianist Rafael Zaldivar and drummer Samuel Joly. Felder has made a name for himself over the past few years as an exciting new voice on the electric guitar, with credits on albums by artists such as David Weiss, Terri Lyne Carrington and Janek Gwizdala, as well as his own much-lauded album Golden Age, released in 2014. Felder’s performance with LeBlanc’s band represents an ongoing collaboration, which included performances at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in summer 2018, the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival in February of this year, and in Guelph and Kingston on March 16 and 17, respectively, following the quartet’s performance at The Rex. While LeBlanc is a strong upright bassist, the focus of this ensemble is on the intersection of jazz, rock and funk, with strong electric bass grooves underpinning the group’s improvisational flourishes. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICKPICKS

MAR 1 AND 2, 8:30PM: Mia Sheard, Hugh’s Room. Singer Mia Sheard presents two nights of music in tribute to Joni Mitchell at Hugh’s Room, a show that Sheard has put on, in various iterations, since 2008.

MAR 8 TO 11: Women From Space Festival, Various Venues. In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Women From Space Festival presents 16 acts over four venues, with an emphasis on improvised music.

Nir FelderMAR 15, 9:45PM: Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and Nir Felder, The Rex. American jazz guitarist Nir Felder joins Montreal bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc’s quartet for an evening of rock- and funk-inflected jazz.

MAR 20, 9:30PM: Aimée Butcher, The Rex. Jazz vocalist Aimée Butcher leads her band in tribute to Joni Mitchell, with an emphasis on the jazz side of Mitchell’s body of work.

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.

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.

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