Naomi McCarroll-Butler. Photo by Bea LabikovaAfter two years of postponements, cancellations, and all of the attendant uncertainty of the pandemic, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival is back for 2022, from June 24 to July 3. 

In some ways, it never left; though live shows have been few, Jazz Fest – like many of its festival counterparts – presented a variety of livestreamed events, and kept busy with community-oriented projects to support musicians and to deliver live performances to its audience. This year, however, Jazz Fest is back in full, with new artists, new stages and ten days of free outdoor shows throughout Yorkville, Victoria College at the University of Toronto, and Queen’s Park (in addition to a number of ticketed shows at venues such as Meridian Hall, Koerner Hall and Longboat Hall).

Read more: TD Toronto Jazz: New artists, new stages

Sarah Thawer Trio - with Caleb Klager bass & Ewen Farncombe on keyboardsThere are many pleasant aspects to writing this column: going to cool shows, getting to think about jazz professionally, having an editor who excises my most egregiously constructed jokes. One of the most pleasant, however, is developing an ongoing knowledge of the ever-changing activities of musicians who comprise Toronto’s vibrant jazz scene. New names start to become familiar as you see them pop up as side people with a few different bandleaders; established musicians start to play in different styles and their distinctive sound starts to grow in exciting new ways; veteran players undertake new projects and begin to collaborate earnestly with younger generations. A scene, as much as any individual performance, band, or song, is a multifaceted cultural text that invites spirited engagement, appreciation and criticism; one of the joys of Ontario’s reopening has been watching the local scene reconstitute itself.

Ewen Farncombe: to those readers who regularly attend live jazz shows in Toronto, is a name that will likely be familiar. A pianist and keyboardist, Farncombe won a prestigious DownBeat Jazz Instrumental Soloist award in the Undergraduate category when he was still a second-year student in the music program at Humber College. At Humber, Farncombe studied with the celebrated pianist Brian Dickinson, who characterized him as “definitely among the finest” pianists to have passed through the program during Dickinson’s tenure as head of the school’s piano department.

Read more: Serious Bandleading and DROM's “Safe Journey”

RUDDER by Nicole Marie PolecOn the evening of Sunday, February 13, a friend and I met for dinner at a popular Italian restaurant at Bloor and Lansdowne. As we were seated, a glance at a muted, wall-mounted television informed us that our incipient pasta consumption coincided with something called the Super Bowl. As members of overlapping artistic communities in Toronto, we were, perhaps predictably, caught unawares. Like us, most of the restaurant’s clientele was more interested in tagliatelle than touchdowns, and the volume stayed off – at least until the halftime show. Suddenly, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and a host of other performers took the field. A glance at the menu revealed a surprising throwback drink: an espresso martini. From a neighbouring table, a conversation drifted over, bemoaning the quality of the new Sex and the City show. It was official: we were back in the 2000s. 

Nostalgia is just like it used to be!

As we haltingly lurch towards postcovidity, it is understandable that, in our shared social spaces, we’re looking back to even the recent past with fond nostalgia. In Toronto’s clubs in March, this phenomenon is also taking place. On March 27, 28 and 29, for example, the American band Rudder takes the stage at The Rex. For those of us who were in music school in the late 2000s, Rudder – whose eponymous debut album was released in 2007 – will likely be a familiar name. For those of you who didn’t waste your youth learning how to play lacklustre eighth-note lines over I’ve Got Rhythm  – at least not in that decade – Rudder is an instrumental four-piece, comprising saxophonist Chris Cheek, keyboardist Henry Hey, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Keith Carlock. Musically, Rudder is something of a jazz musician’s take on a jam band, with priority given to original compositions over standards, backbeat over swing, and group dynamics over individual instrumental athleticism. 

To fully understand the place of groups like Rudder in the psyche of music students of a particular age, a bit of musicological context seems necessary. Since funk’s emergence in the 1960s and 70s, there has always been crossover between funk and jazz. (Even the basic premise of these two musical styles as discrete genres is somewhat reductive, but for our purposes, we’ll maintain the distinction.) The fusion of jazz and funk begins in the late 1960s and early 1970s: albums such as Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way (1969), Bitches Brew (1970), On the Corner (1972), and Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters (1973), stand out as foundational recordings of the genre.

Read more: Rudder or not, here we come!

3 Kirk MacDonald Virginia MacDonald at the Rex bannerAnd so, here we are again, again. 

If you’re interested in the usual subject matter of this column, you already know that as of January 31, musical venues in Ontario will be permitted to operate at 50 percent seated capacity or 500 people, whichever is less, then move to 50 percent on February 21, and full capacity March 15 – just in advance of the two-year anniversary of Canada’s lockdown restrictions.

It is impossible to say whether or not the province will end up sticking to this schedule. It’s also impossible to know for sure, at this point, how quickly individual clubs will respond to what’s allowed, stage by stage. By the way, for most of the venues that I write about here, “clubs” is a useful misnomer: the majority are restaurants/bars, with diverse staffing needs that include kitchen staff, bartenders, hosts, managers, music bookers, and more. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the hiring/rehiring process in this industry is not simple, and takes time, training and money. The booking process is also complicated: there are a number of decisions that have to be made about artists whose shows have been postponed, artists who are currently scheduled but who may not be ready to return to the stage, and a number of other COVID-era scenarios. 

All this being said, it is a good time to be cautiously optimistic, to get out of the cold, and to enjoy some live music once again. Here’s a taste. 

Read more: Fingers crossed towards full capacity

emmet ray 260 nt6i8Just 8760 little hours ago, in December of last year, most of us were hunkering down, keeping safe, and preparing for a very different winter than we’d enjoyed in years past. Visits home were cancelled; stockings were half-heartedly stuffed; home-office chairs swivelled disconsolately from Zoom meetings to Zoom cocktail hours. This year, however, things are looking just a little bit brighter: vaccination rates are up, case rates are down, and – though the threat of the pandemic looms, ever present on the periphery – it is looking as though we may indeed have a more conventional (and decidedly more sociable) holiday season. 

As of December 16, we will officially be at the five-month mark of music being back in Toronto and environs in the kinds of venues I usually cover in this column. For some audience members, this has meant five months of being back in venues, watching musicians return to the stage after a lengthy intermission, and witnessing restaurants, bars and concert halls sort through the thorny logistics of making COVID-safe adjustments, training new staff and, often, enacting new payment policies to ensure a more equitable and fair disbursement of funds to musicians. For other audience members, the return to live music has been slower, whether because of worries related to COVID transmission, a change in lifestyle, or – as has happened for so many people – a move, enabled by a shift to remote work, from a dense urban area to somewhere with more affordable housing options and more accessible outdoor spaces. 

Whatever the case may be, there are quite a few exciting shows happening in December. If holiday shows are your thing, there are a number of options, including the Kensington Holiday Bash (December 10, Grossman’s Tavern), A Charlie Brown Christmas and Castro’s Christmas Party (both December 12, Castro’s Lounge), Tom Nagy’s Christmas Experience (December 17, The Jazz Room), and the Jason White Christmas Special (December 18, also at The Jazz Room).

Read more: What a difference a year makes!
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