As I write this – on March 20, 2020, five days into Toronto’s period of mass social distancing and self-isolation/quarantine – all live musical performances have been cancelled in Toronto venues for the foreseeable future. While it isn’t possible to know when, exactly, we will all be able to return to some semblance of normalcy, it is still possible to celebrate the April shows that would have been. In this month’s edition of my column, I’ve interviewed five different artists, involved in four different April shows, including a long-term weekly residency at La Rev, a month-long weekly residency at The Rex, a double-album-release show at the Array Space, and a doctoral recital in the jazz performance program at the University of Toronto.
It is imperative, at this critical moment in the history of the Toronto music community, to continue to support one another: musicians, venues, patrons, schools, and publications alike. If you’re new to the artists below, please follow them on social media, check out their websites, and, if you enjoy their music, consider purchasing an album on Bandcamp, or on other services. This goes for any of your favourite local musicians, many of whom, beyond cancelled performances, are also experiencing a drastic cut in teaching, recording and other activities. Also, even in the early stages of this period, many musicians are live-streaming concerts, offering online lessons, and creating new ways to interact with the community. So, please: be in touch! Just not literally.
The Artist: Aline Homzy, violinist
The Event: Ongoing weekly residence at La Revolucion, 2848 Dundas St. W.
The Project: Lions d’Or, a hot-club group with co-leader guitarist Tak Arikushi and guest bassists, including Scott Hunter (Lions d’Or was formerly known as Les Petits Nouveaux)
Contact details: www.alinehomzy.com, www.instagram.com/homzya, www.lespetitsnouveaux.bandcamp.com
The group’s relationship to La Rev: “Tak and I have been playing together for over five years at La Rev and all over Toronto. We are excited because as we relaunch our weekly performances as Lions d’Or, we also have new arrangements and new original music. This residency has meant a lot to us as we are able to bring in different repertoire and explore it in front of an audience, every single week. Not having the ability to do this [due to mandated April venue closures] changes the relationship to how we can develop our music. La Rev has been incredibly generous to us and Indira (owner and musician) has helped us and other musicians in so many ways. The absence of this ‘repetitive musical meeting’ will definitely be a strange change in routine.”
On future projects: “I have two albums funded and waiting to be recorded. One is with my group Aline’s étoile magique, which features Thom Gill, Dan Fortin and Michael Davidson. The other will be all string music with some special guests. Lions d’Or also would like to record an album when this is all over.
Learning from our current moment: “I hope that the bigger community will see how live music impacts them, or rather the lack of live music right now. Our development often depends on a face-to-face public…I believe we will see lots of interesting art come out of this. But I do hope that people take care of themselves and of each other and take as much time as they need to find the right mindset to be creative.”
The Artist: Julian Anderson-Bowes, bassist
The Event: Weekly residence at The Rex during the month of April
The Project: A trio, with guitarist Sam Dickinson and drummer Anthony Daniel, and a quartet, with keyboardists Chris Pruden and Yunjin Claire Lee, and drummer Eric West.
Contact details: www.instagram.com/nakedcatzz
Newness and risk in the unique space provided by The Rex: “Both of these projects are brand new. I was inspired to pursue the trio project with Sam and Anthony after we played a session together a few weeks ago. Anthony is actually my roommate, and he had just returned from a short vacation in New York City, jumping right into a jam with Sam and me. I think everyone was super energized that day – I recorded a couple tunes on my phone and I was taken in by the interaction and the way we were navigating standards together.
“The other project is something that has been percolating in my mind for quite some time. I wanted to put together a group that would give me a chance to play electric bass and zone in on composing and improvising using electronics. Chris, Eric and I have logged a lot of hours playing together – there is a lot of trust and openness there, which makes it easy to take risks. I’m really excited to have Yunjin involved in this as well – we’ve played a handful over the years and I always feel very present when I play with her, I think because she is incredibly in the moment with her music-making.”
Inspiration and the Toronto music community: “I feel proud and lucky to be part of a community that’s filled with so many talented and interesting people! I basically never feel short of inspiration as long as I’m present and open to what’s going on around me here in Toronto. Maybe this is a nice chance to say thank you to all my fellow artists who are so committed to creating and bettering themselves. You really keep me going!”
The Artist: Meghan Gilhespy, vocalist (and U of T DMA student)
The Event: Doctoral recital, U of T
The Project: An ongoing duo project with guitarist Patrick O’Reilly
Contact details: www.meghangilhespy.com, www.instagram.com/meghangilhespy, www.meghangilhespy.bandcamp.com
Performing with O’Reilly: “My most recent gigs have all been duo with [O’Reilly], and so was this recital. We recorded at Desert Fish Studios back in the fall, and this recital was going to be a lot of that music. Some of my compositions, some Messiaen and some pop music. We like to do Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You.”
The impact of social distancing on academic life and music education: “I am a Resident Massey College Fellow, and because of social distancing I am moving out. I can’t teach my ensemble anymore (you can’t teach jazz online, man). The libraries are closed which affects my work a great deal. I’m not someone who works from home, so U of T closing has been real rough in terms of researching and writing right now. I was hoping to obtain candidacy by the end of this term, and that doesn’t look like it can happen now.”
On dealing with the unique demands of self-isolation: “Academics exist in their heads. We are asked to think all the time, and we have to produce. This is similar to artists – we have to create, and also live in/with/alongside our own thoughts. It can be torturous! At this time I’m trying to not feel burdened with the need to produce work, and grapple with my thoughts. I’m baking a lot. I am profoundly committed to laughter and comedy – I think that one can take their work seriously and still laugh about it. So I’m trying to make people laugh right now.”
The Artists: Rob Clutton, bassist, and Pete Johnston, bassist
The Event: A double-CD release at The Array Space, for Clutton’s new album Counsel of Primaries and Johnston’s new album False Ghost, Minor Fears, sponsored by the Toronto Jazz Festival Special Projects Fund
The Projects: The Rob Clutton Trio, with Clutton, drummer Nick Fraser and saxophonist Karen Ng, and the Johnston-led See Through 4, with Johnston, Ng, Fraser and pianist Marilyn Lerner.
Contact details (Clutton): www.robclutton.com, www.bandcamp.com/robclutton
Contact details (Johnston): www.petejohnstonmusic.com, www.all-set.bandcamp.com
Johnston, on the significance of the show and the musical community it celebrates: “This is a record release show for debut albums by new groups, for both Rob and me. Each member has played together in various combinations over the years (even Rob and I have a duo double bass record), but these are the first recordings from these permutations of people. Rob and Nick have played together in many projects over the last two decades including Drumheller, the Ryan Driver Sextet and the Nick Fraser Quartet. Karen has been on many records of mine with See Through 5 and See Through Trio. Nick and Marilyn play together in the Ugly Beauties (with Matt Brubeck). So it’s a bit of a celebration of long-term relationships and the cohesion of the left-field jazz scene in Toronto.”
Johnston, on supporting the Tranzac, one of Toronto’s most important independent music venues: “Rob and I both play frequently at the Tranzac, which is a crucial home for creative music in Toronto. Tranzac is a not-for-profit venue that runs on memberships and bar sales. Without the regular income generated by shows there, they will soon be in trouble. It would be great for your readers to know that if they want the Tranzac to continue to exist, it would be good to purchase or renew memberships. The importance of this venue cannot be overstated, and we need it to stay strong for years to come. Purchasing a membership is an easy way to help them out from afar, so that when the dust settles we can get back to making and listening to music in this beloved space.”
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.