Reading through some of my previous columns, I realize that I’ve been somewhat fixated on the weather. Although “the weather” as topic is typically a signifier of reflexive small talk, I would like to propose that it is, in fact, an important and interesting subject for those of us who routinely attend live concerts in Toronto, as the weather has a large impact not only on our collective mood and mental well-being, but also on the feasibility of any potential concert venture. Grabbing a drink after work, checking out a show, walking over to another venue to catch a late set: these are all activities that seem not only less appealing but, somehow, less possible if the weather is uncooperative.

That being said, with the advent of warmer weather, the portentous reopening of the city’s many accommodating patios and festival season rapidly approaching, we should finally – after many months of lacklustre, unsympathetic meteorological conditions – be able to enjoy the many upcoming shows in Toronto and the surrounding areas without fear of salt stains, ruined umbrellas or hypothermia. But! I would not be diligent in my duties if I did not divulge the fact that as I write this, in mid-May, I do so with a sunburn. Did I acquire this embarrassing evidence of my own negligence on a tropical vacation, on tour in some sunnier corner of the world, or doing anything remotely athletic? I did not. I managed to burn myself on a breezy 17-degree afternoon, in Trinity Bellwoods Park, sitting on a blanket with a friend. The afternoon was fun; the subsequent day, in which I was giggled at by side-eyed schoolchildren in the street, was not. And so, before you journey outside to experience the many exciting events happening over the next month and beyond, a friendly word of warning: if you burn easily – and probably even if you don’t – wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water and consider wearing a hat, lest you too hear the phrase, “He looks like a tomato that came to life.”

The first order of business: it will come as a surprise to approximately zero readers of this column that the TD Toronto Jazz Festival is taking place at the end of the month, from June 21 to June 30. (Consult the Festival website for a full look at the schedule, as there are lots of great shows to check out, and not enough ink to mention them all here.) It will also probably not be news that the Jazz Festival is now in the third year of a relatively new format, with a number of free outdoor (and indoor) stages based around Yorkville, and that as part of this format, the Festival’s club shows are more limited than they once were, in order to accommodate a more focused, concise programming mandate. That being the case, there are still a number of excellent club shows that will be taking place as part of the Jazz Festival, featuring both local performers and international acts. Some of these will take place around the Festival grounds in Yorkville, at bars and restaurants that don’t typically host music, or that do so in a more limited capacity than they will during the Festival. These include the Gatsby, at the Windsor Arms Hotel, which will have nightly shows at 10pm for the duration of the festival, Sassafraz, which will similarly have nightly shows at 10pm, and Proof Bar, at the Intercontinental Hotel, which will be the site of the Mill Street Late-Night Jam, primarily hosted by the Lauren Falls Trio.

Broadsway (from left): Heather Bambrick, Julie Michels, Diane Leah. Photo by Karen E ReevesAway from Yorkville at The Old Mill’s Home Smith Bar – which, of course, presents jazz year-round – Heather Bambrick leads the “Heather Bambrick and Friends” vocal series, which will feature Elizabeth Shepherd, on June 21; Barbra Lica, on June 22; Ranee Lee, on June 28; and the group, Broadsway (Diane Leah, Julie Michels, Heather Bambrick), on June 29. The most significant Jazz Festival club offerings, however, come by way of The Rex, which will be hosting no fewer than 40 shows between June 20 and 30 during the “TD Toronto Jazz Festival Cooperative Concert Series at The Rex.” This 11-day event – The Rex will be starting their programming one day before the official start of the Jazz Festival – is subtitled “Saxophone Summit.” The choice is an appropriate one, given the lineup, which includes Pat LaBarbera, Dayna Stephens, Brodie West, Mike Murley, David Binney, Donny McCaslin, Patrick Smith, Emily Steinwall, Autobahn, Alison Young, and, for the final two nights of the festival, Chris Potter, appearing with his relatively new Circuits Trio project, which will also feature Matt Brewer and Eric Harland. (There are also a number of great acts that are not quite so saxophone-centric, including singers Joanna Majoko and Melissa Stylianou, pianist Jeremy Ledbetter, and the experimental duo Paris Monster, one of last year’s festival favourites.)

ParisMonsterWhile the bulk of the Jazz Festival’s club programming is concentrated in The Rex, two other Toronto clubs will be hosting their own special series. The “Jazz Bistro Cabaret Series” will be taking place at Jazz Bistro from June 19 to June 30, running more or less concurrently with the Jazz Festival, and featuring, as the name implies, a number of mostly local singers in cabaret setting. Performances included June Garber and Stu Mac, on June 21, Adi Braun, on June 25, Tomson Highway and Patricia Cano, on June 28, and Alana Bridgewater on June 29. Further afield on Dundas, Lula Lounge will be hosting their LULAWORLD Festival from June 6 to 16, and, like Jazz Bistro, will mainly be showcasing the kind of Latin American music which they present throughout the year, including the Bianca Gismonti Trio and OKAN, on June 12; Tres Estrellas de Salsa, on June 14; and Lengaia Salsa Brava NG, on June 15.

Bianca Gismonti TrioAs this will be my last column until The WholeNote’s September issue, I hope that those of you reading this have a great summer and check out lots of live music. If you do see some of these shows, please feel free to email me to let me know what you enjoyed, what you didn’t enjoy, and everything in between. Also: please check out our website throughout the summer for online coverage of a wide variety of musical events, including the Jazz Festival, upcoming album releases, and more. And, finally: remember to wear sunscreen!

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

JUN 6 TO JUN 16: LULAWORLD Festival, Lula Lounge. Featuring primarily Latin American music and musical artists, Lula Lounge will be one of the first venues to kick off this year’s festival season.

JUN 19 TO JUN 30: Jazz Bistro Cabaret Series, Jazz Bistro. Check out Jazz Bistro for a number of cabaret performances in late June, featuring many of the vocalists who regularly appear at Jazz Bistro throughout the year.

JUN 21 TO JUN 30: TD Toronto Jazz Festival, various locations. The city’s annual jazz festival, with lots of free outdoor performances in Yorkville and the surrounding area, club performances at The Rex and The Old Mill, and much more.

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.

It has been a long, wet, cold road that we, weary citizens of Southern Ontario, have trod since the end of December. As of the publication of this issue of The WholeNote, it will have been about six weeks since the official start of spring; as of the actual writing of this column, in mid-to-late April, we have yet to experience any consistent period of the kind of spring weather that could conceivably inspire hope, cheerfulness, or meteorological trust. (As I look out the window at the world into which I will eventually have to journey, I’m treated to a vision of Toronto at its gloomy worst, with bright umbrellas on rain-soaked sidewalks providing the only glimpse of colour.) But before we allow ourselves to give in to despair in this season of perpetual discomfort, and without resorting to flowery clichés about how all of this rain will be worthwhile, we should perhaps consider the various ways in which things are, in fact, getting better in May. The first: May will be the first month since August in which the sun will be setting after 8pm for the majority of the month, making the decision between going out to see a show and staying in to watch yet more Netflix easier. The second: May marks something of a beginning to the run-up to the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, which will be starting on June 21, and which will be covered in a variety of ways, as in previous years, by The WholeNote, both in print and online. The third: there will be a lot of great music happening.

The North: (from left) Mike Murley, David Braid, Anders Mogensen, Johnny ÅmanThe multi-night engagement, once a norm for clubs, is something of a rarity today. It is a tradition carried on by a few notable clubs, such as Manhattan’s venerable Blue Note, which, this May, will present funk saxophone legend Maceo Parker for no fewer than 12 performances over the course of six days. When we see a multi-night engagement in Toronto, however, it’s typically for a two-night run, which tends to happen regularly at The Rex, Jazz Bistro, and a few other venues. It is noteworthy, then, that Jazz Bistro will be hosting The North, a collaborative, international quartet made up of Toronto-based musicians Mike Murley (saxophone) and David Braid (piano), Sweden’s Johnny Åman (bass) and Denmark’s Anders Mogensen (drums), for three evenings near the end of May. Winning a 2018 JUNO Award for their self-titled album, the theme that binds this collective together is a shared cultural experience of living in “the north,” whether in Canada or Scandinavia. Most WholeNote readers will likely be familiar with Braid and Murley, both of whom are mature, technically accomplished players who tend to favour communication and big-picture group improvisation over individual instrumental athleticism, an outlook which seems to be shared by Åman and Mogensen. The North appears in Toronto as part of touring efforts that have led them throughout Europe, to Australia and to China; check them out at Jazz Bistro on May 23, 24 and 25.

Teri Parker at the Halifax Jazz Festival, 2017Another multi-night engagement will be taking place at the end of May at The Rex, on May 30 and 31, as Teri Parker’s Free Spirits ensemble takes the stage in tribute to pianists Mary Lou Williams and Geri Allen. For those unfamiliar with these two seminal figures in the history of jazz piano, some context. Williams (1910-1981) was a textbook musical prodigy, learning how to play piano at age three and performing at parties to earn money for her family by age six. At the age of 19, after playing with Duke Ellington’s band, she was composing and arranging for her own group, one of the few women to do so at the time as an instrumentalist. A lifelong educator, she played with and mentored many leading bebop musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. Williams was a major influence on Allen (1957-2017), who led the Mary Lou Williams Collective, in addition to her own groups, which regularly featured musicians such as Wallace Roney, Ron Carter, and Terri Lyne Carrington. In addition to Parker, the Free Spirits band consists of trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy, alto saxophonist Allison Au, bassist Lauren Falls, and drummer Sarah Thawer, who will be playing Williams and Allen compositions that span almost 100 years of jazz.

Mother’s Day: An important reminder for all readers: Mother’s Day is May 12. If you are reading this closer to the beginning of May, there is still ample time to organize a card, make some plans, and pick out some sort of gift. Unless your mother is particularly fond of flowers, chocolate and the like, try your best to avoid these trite avatars of affection; instead, consider giving her something that she might actually like, such as quality time with you. While my own mother has described spending long periods of time with me as “something of a chore,” she still enjoys my company in small doses, particularly when I put in the effort to actually make plans with her that she might enjoy. (How was I to remember, when I dragged her along to watch the climbing documentary Free Solo, that she was afraid of heights, and would spend the following hour and a half in the movie theatre with her hands over her eyes, cursing at me?) In any case, the proposition at which I’m driving is that you, dear reader, consider taking the mother figure in your life to one of the fine shows happening on Mother’s Day weekend. Amongst the many possibilities, there are a few bona fide Mother’s Day performances happening, including (but not limited to) a Mother’s Day brunch at Lula Lounge, a Mother’s Day Jazz Brunch at Hugh’s Room, featuring a number of excellent singers, including Joanna Majoko, Mingjia Chen and Jocelyn Barth, and a Mother’s Day-themed evening performance by Fern Lindzon at Jazz Bistro, all happening on Sunday May 12. In any case, whatever you decide to do, just don’t take your mother to a movie that gives her motion sickness, especially not after taking her out to a two-hour tasting-menu meal. She will thank you. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

MAY 4, 2:30PM: Pat LaBarbera Quartet, The Pilot. Internationally renowned saxophonist LaBarbera leads his quartet at The Pilot’s second-floor Stealth Lounge.

MAY 12, 7PM: Mother’s Day with the Fern Lindzon Trio, Jazz Bistro. Pianist/vocalist Lindzon hosts a special Mother’s Day-themed evening at Jazz Bistro.

MAY 23 TO MAY 25, 9PM: The North, Jazz Bistro. The cross-border collective The North performs for three consecutive nights as part of their international tour, with David Braid, Mike Murley, Johnny Åman and Anders Mogensen.

MAY 30 AND 31, 9:30PM: Teri Parker’s Free Spirits, The Rex. Parker leads a new quintet for two nights at The Rex in tribute to pianists Geri Allen and Mary Lou Williams.

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.

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.

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