Jazz BannerJazz_Notes_1.jpgFor further back than I can remember, Kensington Market has been a hub for multiculturalism, activism, tourism and other assorted -isms. The unique culture of Kensington is one which is, perhaps more than that of any other neighbourhood in Toronto, bursting with a collective love of art that is eclectic and loudly expressed. Buskers flock to Augusta Avenue. Drum circles echo through the Market from Bellevue Square. Paintings, murals, works by highly skilled graffiti artists, cover much of the landscape, including the walls outside of Poetry Jazz Café – one of the nine venues which will be showcasing almost non-stop jazz for the duration of the first-ever Kensington Market Jazz Festival (henceforth referred to as KMJF 2016).

KMJF 2016, originally the brainchild of Toronto-bred vocalist Molly Johnson, will reflect the values of the community in which it takes place; rather than featuring large, ethically dubious, multinational corporations – which have been emphatically rejected by the Kensington community in the past – as sponsors, the KMJF 2016 website lists as its friends small, local businesses, well-known individuals in the music scene, arts studios, as well as multiple charities and non-profits which will benefit from the festival.

Among these is the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund (AASF), which has, since its establishment in honour of Alleyne’s 70th birthday in 2003, given financial assistance to particularly talented music students who have been primarily, but not exclusively, black. In this way, the AASF honours the late Alleyne (who himself grew up in the neighbourhood), not only musically, but politically, as he was outspoken on the subject of black representation in jazz. After all, despite the sea of white faces you might see in any given university jazz program, jazz has historically been a music of black creative innovation and black political resistance.

KMJF 2016, though it only lasts three days in only nine venues, will feature over 100 artists. (Three with particularly close ties to The Market are featured in their own words alongside this short article.)

Unfortunately, it is both physically impossible and financially impractical to attend over 100 concerts in three days (the best you can probably do is nine, or maybe 12 - and yes, you may take that as a challenge), but if you have enjoyed my recommendations before, I may be able to gently help push you in some of the right directions (not that there are really any wrong ones).

Two pianists. Neither of the pianists described below is one whose music I’ve experienced in person; they’re players I’ve checked out only through their live and recorded material available online. I will be discovering them alongside all of you on that third weekend of September.

Andrew Craig, the pianist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, radio broadcaster and alum of the York University music program, is one act which has me particularly psyched. In videos posted on his YouTube channel like I Love You Pip, Auntie Inez and Improvisation with Audience, Craig’s idiosyncratic, exploratory style, as well as his acute awareness of how to read people and how the audience fits into the whole performance paradigm, are made apparent. It’s these two qualities which I believe you’ll find most endearing and exciting about Craig as a performer. His chops, though undeniably impressive, are an afterthought (as it should be). Craig can be heard at the clothing store, Tom’s Place, at 4pm on Saturday, September 17 (no cover), or later in the same day at Trinity Common ($10).

Nigerian-born, Toronto-bred pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo, playing at Tom’s Place the day after Craig, arranges tunes very much in the Glasper-esque school of jazz infused with neo-soul and hip-hop elements. But his style also seems to reveal what I think is a strong background in classical music, developed not out of obligation but out of deep love. When you go to see Egbo-Egbo, don’t expect the music to swing necessarily, but also don’t expect it not to. If you must expect something, expect textural exploration, chords that you wouldn’t expect to belong together belonging together, and to be in a bit of a trance.

Egbo-Egbo is someone I wanted to include here, partially because I find his music intriguing, but also because of The Egbo Arts Foundation (EAF), a charity which is similar in spirit to the AASF. The EAF makes music lessons available to kids who might not otherwise be able to afford them; in other words, making music more accessible to underprivileged and at-risk youth, with the understanding in mind that access to programs in the arts in general, and music in particular, helps to improve children’s lives and is often absent from the impoverished neighbourhoods where they are most sorely needed. Needless to say, this is an admirable pursuit, and one which deserves our attention.

Of course, these are just two out of the 100-plus KMJF 2016 shows happening in Kensington Market between September 16 and 19. The full schedule for the festival is available at kensingtonjazz.com I look forward to exploring the Market at KMJF 2016 with all of you this September.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

 What Molly Wants, Molly Gets

2201_-_Jazz_Notes_-_Sidebar_1.jpgHalf an hour with award-winning jazz vocalist,singer-songwriter, artist and philanthropist Molly Johnson in the ad hoc KMJF office above Kind Spirit Cannabis Clinic on Augusta Avenue is enough to convince me. She’s going after this new project with the same gusto and determination as she poured into her Kumbaya Foundation and Festival in 1992, raising awareness and funds for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the kinds of causes since then that led in part to her becoming an Officer of the Order Of Canada in 2008.

The idea of this has been going on for about ten years, in my head. I’ve been thinking about it.

I was born at Bathurst and Dundas, and I’ve lived here three times. We have reached out to artists who have really put time and love and care into their own careers. They don’t just come with their hand up, they come knowing they are going to help us build this. People who have a responsibility to their own craft. You show up with your CDs, you show up at the end of the day to pick things up.

Same with the venues. For the most part, we’re in existing venues with soundmen and sound systems. I’m not reinventing the wheel. That’s why it works. Because everybody’s already here.

There will be shows throughout the day (Friday to Sunday), with only a handful of shows after 11pm. Right from the early stages I worked with the BIA, police and firefighters.

If it lasts it will be because it’s something the community does, not something that gets done to it. In the long run it’s as much about collecting stories, the history of this neighbourhood – heritage – as about the music itself. Right from the start we’ll be collecting stories as we go. Just watch people with old roots (and new money) rediscovering this place over the course of the three days.

This is not something that starts by raising corporate or arts money for an idea, then doing whatever is possible based on a budget. It starts with doing it right. I paid for the office myself, just to make it go. It’s been a lot of fun. In fact, we will have three merch tables outside. Artists will bring in CDs; the festival isn’t taking in any money on CD sales. Artists get the door. T-shirt sales will go to charity – this year, the Archie Alleyne Scholarship Fund. The festival will be affiliated with an annex of the Boys and Girls Club. Yamaha, who are supplying the piano for Tom’s Place, will be donating instruments to the Boys and Girls Club.

My own experience with Jazz festivals hasn’t always been positive. I wanted to do something more considerate of local performers.

I love that it overlaps with TIFF and has been noticed by them. We will be mentioned in their magazine.

I want to show there’s already an appetite for this. I want every show sold out. I want you to not be able to get in. That’s my goal – sorry.

David Perlman

 Richard Underhill - Shuffle demon

Jazz_Notes_2.jpgKensington is the perfect spot. It’s wonderful to have a concentration of great music and events in an area that is pedestrian friendly and has a real geographic focus for a festival. The Market has always been a hotbed of musical creativity and some of our most interesting artists from Bill Grove to Jane Siberry to Perry White have lived here. Why is it happening now? A few reasons, I think. First, Molly Johnson’s desire to host an event that highlights local jazz talent and her connection to the Market make it a perfect fit. Second, the Market has evolved to a point where there are enough venues to make hosting a festival here an exciting prospect. Of course, how the increase in venues may contribute to unsustainable gentrification is the tightrope wire that the Market walks every day. But Kensington has always been a creative heart of the city and this festival should only enhance that notion. Having it concentrated on one weekend is a good idea. Have the Market come alive with music for a September weekend … a perfect festival concept.

I’m really happy that the Shuffle Demons are participating from the get-go. We have a long history with the Market. We hooked up with Ida Carnevali for a costumed spring parade in 1985, Perry White lived for many years in the Market and of course, bits of the market and market characters are part of the 1985 “Spadina Bus” YouTube video. I was lucky enough to become a resident with my wife Suzie 17 years ago and have found great inspiration from my fellow marketeers and from events like PSK (Pedestrian Sundays Kensington) and the Festival of Lights. In short, Kensington is a real community and as such a genuine magnet for culture and creativity.

Founding member of Toronto’s outrageous Sun Ra-influenced Shuffle Demons and a Market resident for 17 years, Richard Underhill’s in-from-the-outside soloing, warm alto sound and great writing skills make him one of Canada’s most distinctive jazz performers. His acclaimed latest album, Kensington Suite, was nominated for a 2008 Juno Award, as his second album, Moment in Time, was in 2007. He has performed and recorded with a Who’s Who of musicians, Canadian and beyond, but still finds time to lead the Kensington Horns Community Band, the improvising electronic groove ensemble Astrogroove, and, since 2003, to be musical director for the winter solstice Kensington Festival of Lights.

 Sophia Perlman - Market born

2201_-_Jazz_Notes_-_Sidebar_2.jpgGrowing up in the market often felt like living in the middle of a sort of permanent festival, with different music tumbling out of every doorway and a parade of every imaginable person going past your window. And it was especially exciting when someone in the community decided it was time to throw a party on purpose. People who couldn’t agree on anything else seemed to be able to come together if it meant a parade, or music in the park or rolling out their awnings on a Sunday so the celebration could go on come freak rainstorm or unseasonable sun.

They were community events in the truest sense, and it was that community spirit that let us build traditions that were our own, without the input of big corporate sponsors. It’s part of what built a vital, resourceful, resilient creative community here, and I love that KMJF is a festival in that tradition. I’m struck, looking at the lineup, by how many of the musicians have deep connections to the neighbourhood – as past and present residents or as artists who found a creative home here at various stages of their careers.

As a child, the market used to largely shut down at sunset, when the stores mostly closed and the shoppers all went home. Now there is no shortage of places to go and things to do and see after dark. I love the way the ticket model and concert schedule seem designed to encourage people to walk through the neighbourhood. Even if they come looking for some particular music that they want, they might go home with something new and exciting that they had never heard of. Or something old and wonderful that is completely new to them. That, to me, seems very much in the spirit of this wonderful, crazy, resilient community.

Born and raised in the heart of the Market, Sophia Perlman has become a fixture of the Ontario jazz and blues scene. Musicality, old-soul voice and skill as an improviser have made her a first-call featured singer with some of the top ensembles and musicians in the country. In addition to performing and touring with her own quartet and as part of the duo PerlHaze, with fellow vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Terra Hazelton, she is found performing regularly with numerous artists and ensembles, including Adrean Farrugia, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, the Darcy Hepner Jazz Orchestra, the Toronto Rhythm Initiative, the Vipers, and Chuck Jackson’s Big Bad Blues Band.

Mainly_Mostly.pngIt’s Toronto Jazz Festival time again! Time for a few great players from out of town to play with and among the vast pool of equally great Toronto players. It really is eye-opening to look at the listings for the Jazz Festival (torontojazz.com ) and realize just how many of the gigs listed are gigs that happen year round, and would continue happening, festival or no. When it comes to the jazz scene in this city, we truly have an embarrassment of riches. It’s just that around the end of June we get a little richer.

And I will talk about all of that in just a minute, but first, it’s anecdote time.

When I was in high school, I was a big progressive rock geek, which, I know, is utterly unsurprising because a lot of young jazz nerds started off that way. I don’t know why – maybe it was just the challenge – but I loved working out the time signatures of songs in which it wasn’t immediately obvious, or in which the number of beats changed from bar to bar. Of course, this is neither a ubiquitous nor an essential feature of progressive rock, nor is it one exclusive to the genre, but it attracted me nonetheless. And to be frank, while counting odd time signatures fascinated me in high school, I can think of few things more tedious now.

My cousin, also a music geek, offered me a challenge one day. He played me a 20-second sample of bassist (not to be confused with the jazz trumpeter of the same name) Avishai Cohen’s Ever-Evolving Etude from his 2008 album Gently Disturbed, although I didn’t know the title at the time, nor would I have remembered the name. I wasn’t into jazz back then, much less what I was hearing here. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was unconventional, complex, difficult to parse. The bass and piano threw forth a fury of notes that seemed, to my untrained ear, to have the rhythmic logic and constancy of a person trying to kill a particularly evasive mosquito.

It was chaotic, furious and wonderful.

What kept it grounded for me were the pitches, satisfyingly tonal, and the timbre, new to my ear at the time, of bass and piano playing in unison, to which I am now much more accustomed.

He asked what the time signature was. When I couldn’t figure it out, he said he’d be better off not knowing anyway; how can you enjoy it if you’re counting?

Flash forward six or seven years. I’m in the final year of my music degree and the great New York drummer John Riley is making an appearance at our school. During a large portion of his lecture, Riley deconstructs the very excerpt my cousin had showed me years earlier.

And so, I learned the answer.

I gained a lot from that lecture, but to this day I cannot count the pulse of the Ever-Evolving Etude and certainly couldn’t notate it. Not on my life. And it really is better like that.

As my ears grew (both figuratively and literally), I started to hear Cohen’s music differently. Although I always heard, and still hear, the progressive and fusion elements in it, I started to hear elements of Latin American music; when I hear a heavily syncopated vamp and complex, adventurous percussion, what else comes to mind but salsa? This is especially true on the album Unity, on which Antonio Sanchez, compared by some to an octopus for his remarkable limb independence, is responsible for the drumming.

You can explore Cohen’s music for yourself, in preparation for his Toronto appearance on June 30 at the St. Lawrence Centre.

There’s no shortage of out-of-towners I’m excited to see listed for the festival – among them Laila Biali, Phil Dwyer, Mark McLean’s Playground and Robert Glasper, the latter two of whom I’ve been lucky to see perform in person on more than one delightful occasion – but if I wrote about every single one, I would be here all night.

I also must reluctantly mention that Rich Brown’s rinsethealgorithm, about whom I’ve written in the past, will be playing a reunion show at The Rex on Canada Day after four years apart. I say “reluctantly” because I hate crowds; my rates of happiness are generally inversely proportional to my proximity to strangers’ bodies. Yet I will, and must, bear it for the music: rinsethealgorithm is back, and everyone who wants to know must know. Downbeat at 8pm.

Enjoy the festival, friends. Plan your routes carefully and buy your tickets early. May your ears be well-fed, and may your lines of vision be unobstructed.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

Mainly_Mostly_1.jpgIt’s just my luck, isn’t it? It’s just my luck that two weeks after I plug Organic’s weekly engagement at Joe Mama’s in The WholeNote, that that gig shuts down permanently. I don’t know yet what will happen on future Sundays at Joe Mama’s. But hopefully they stick with the theme of high-level musicianship and unmistakable chemistry.

The final Organic session on April 17 was fuller than I’ve seen it in a long time, and I think there’s a lot of irony in that. I think it very loudly says a lot about our responsibility as lovers of live music. But if it wasn’t loud enough, I’ll say it louder: if we, lovers of live music, don’t go out and support the bands we claim to love, then who will? Casual listeners with fat wallets? Fat chance! Jazz concerts are tragically sparsely attended and the only remedy for that is for us to attend.

And I say “us” very deliberately here; I am not innocent in this. I do not attend every show I can, not even all the ones about which I loudly rave. And I don’t always have a good excuse. I know all the good excuses though. I know that life gets in the way, and sometimes it seems like bus fare two ways plus cover charge plus one drink is breaking the bank. I get it. I’m not trying to sit on a high horse, to lecture you, the reader, or to make it sound like not attending concerts is some egregious sin, or to imply that we are personally responsible for every gig that stops (no gig lasts forever, obviously). All I’m trying to say is that if we want to support live music, we should stop taking it for granted and go support live music. We all should. Let’s make it a new season’s resolution.

With that in mind, Justin Bacchus’ weekly engagement is still happening at The Rex for the foreseeable future, and for each Saturday in May the explosive and virtuosic R&B outfit will be joined by the marvellous Stu Harrison. I’ve only heard Stu Harrison three times – once when he sat in for one song at a Sophia Perlman gig, and twice when he subbed in the house band at Lisa Particelli’s Girls’ Night Out. He does not gig or record much, which is baffling to me – though he probably is awfully busy with his work for Merriam Music. When I heard he’d be at The Rex weekly in May, I made my plans immediately. Let’s hope I don’t break them, and let’s hope the whole city gets out to this gig – or some other gig, any gig! – at least once a week this month.

Alex Samaras was introduced to me in the summer of 2012 by a friend who hails from the States and was acquainted with Samaras through their mutual association with a music camp in upstate New York. Samaras, too, was previously written about in The WholeNote, by Ori Dagan, and by myself this past autumn, when I plugged his gig with Bobby Hsu’s A Sondheim Jazz Project, which you can read about in the September issue. Samaras has a voice of clarity, precision, finesse, power and control. He clearly knows a lot about his instrument. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that he’s also an educator, who teaches voice at the University of Toronto. You can sample A Sondheim Jazz Project’s album, City of Strangers, on YouTube, and you can buy it on iTunes. I have only sampled it (I prefer to buy albums from artists in person), but I can already confidently recommend it.

I was only introduced to John Alcorn’s voice recently: this winter. I had asked Mark Eisenman about recordings he had played on aside from his coffee-themed albums recorded with Chase Sanborne (which are also wonderful), and he told me about Flying Without Wings, an album which was reviewed in The WholeNote by Lesley Mitchell-Clarke earlier this year – so I won’t go on about it for too long. The singer and trumpeter on the album are, respectively, Alcorn and Warren Vache. Eisenman had, and I say this affectionately, pestered me about these two musicians before. Each time they’ve had gigs in Toronto in recent years, Eisenman had told me to go, and I had failed to every time. After hearing the album, I will not make that mistake again.

One of my favourite moments on the album comes on the first track, Just One of Those Things, on the final chorus, when Vache and Eisenman are sort of trading response lines in the cracks between Alcorn’s phrases, and Alcorn opens one phrase with a second – literally, one second – of what sounds like the beginning of a scat solo, before diving back into the words. It sounds so spontaneous and unhinged. There is such palpable excitement on the part of all the players, particularly the three responsible for the quasi-counterpoint of the moment.

This seems like a small thing, but something else I really respect about the album is the fact that songs with verses are done with the verse. Songs with beautiful verses which supply the rest of the song with extra clarity, or just emphasis – such as Autumn in New York, A Sleepin’ Bee, and But Not For Me, the latter of which is on Flying Without Wings – are too often performed with the verses omitted. Such recordings are valid and often great, of course, but the kind of fidelity to the song as it was originally conceived, shown by Alcorn, commands a lot of respect, especially when executed, as it is here, with such passion and faculty.

I was thrilled to come across Alcorn and Samaras listed together for the evening of May 22 at Jazz Bistro. They will be accompanied by Mike Downes on bass and Dave Restivo on the Bistro’s Red Pops Steinway piano. This will be the third time the illustrious quartet has appeared together in Toronto, but it will be a first for me. It’ll be a lot of firsts for me, actually. It’ll be the first time I see this particular quartet. It’ll be the first time I see John Alcorn live. If they’re selling CDs, it’ll be the first time I buy an album featuring Alex Samaras.

I’m going to, as I always do when I go to shows at Jazz Bistro, call for reservations the day of the concert, and I’m hoping they’ll tell me the place is almost full and my choice of seating is limited. Can this city collectively make that happen? I’m tired of empty jazz clubs. Let’s make ours unbearably crowded.

Happy spring, Toronto. See you in one club, or another. Or both. Or more.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

BBB-MainlyMostly1.jpgSheila Jordan. Is it April 1 or April 2 as you are reading this? If so, you should be calling Jazz Bistro to make reservations for tonight for Sheila Jordan’s first appearance in Toronto in, if I’m not missing anything, two years. Almost exactly, in fact: it was near the end of March 2014 when Jordan appeared for three consecutive nights at Chalkers Pub. For two nights she performed accompanied by Don Thompson on piano and Neil Swainson on bass, and on the third night she led a vocal workshop, accompanied by Thompson alone. I was in attendance at all three events, having volunteered, way ahead of time, for door duties.

Sheila Jordan comes across on and off stage as a warm and caring person. You can always tell whether someone has any genuine interest in what other people are saying, or whether they’re waiting for their own turn to talk. Sheila belongs to the former camp. She cares about people. She loves the world. She has a sense of humour and a sense of wonder, and all that is on display when she performs.

When she performs, she’s equal parts singer and storyteller – both during and in between songs. Her songs are both deliberate and spontaneous – rehearsed and subject to change. Each time you hear her sing, it is worth hearing. As the concerts grow chronologically further away, my memories of them become fuzzier. But almost a year ago, I wrote that “In addition to being a genuine and adventurous performer, [Sheila is] one of the sweetest, most infectiously charming people I’ve ever spoken with.” I stand by that.

I bought two CDs while I was there – one of Jordan’s, Yesterdays, which is a duo album with bassist Harvie Swartz, and the Thompson/Swainson duo album, Tranquility, both of which I will recommend wholeheartedly, and the latter of which was reviewed for The WholeNote by the late Jim Galloway earlier that year.

These concerts will take place at Jazz Bistro on April 1 and 2; the cover charge is $20 and dinner reservations are, as I write this, still available.

Nathan Hiltz: The following day, April 3, at the same venue, you can check out Nathan Hiltz’s trio, with Pat Collins on bass and Morgan Childs on drums, playing tunes by one of my favourite jazz composers, and by very far my favourite jazz lyricist, Cole Porter. On some tunes, those lyrics will be delivered by Ori Dagan, in whose mouth those lyrics can be said to be in good hands. Or, around good teeth – whatever you like.

I know I’ve taken up all this space talking about a couple of shows which, more likely than not, are in the past as you read this, so before signing off, I want to direct your attention to a weekly engagement which shows no signs of stopping. If you dig or dug Hiltz’s guitar playing in a trio setting, you may dig him in the organ jazz quartet Organic, which generally features Bernie Senensky on the organ, Hiltz on guitar, Childs on drums, and Ryan Oliver on sax. The band has been together since its genesis over a decade ago, Oliver’s brainchild, and their effortless chemistry makes that more than apparent. They play weekly on Sundays at Joe Mama’s. There is no cover or tip jar, so you can take the money you saved on that and buy more drinks at the bar than you normally would.

Musideum: You’ll notice, if you thumb through the listings this month, that Musideum is conspicuously absent. Early last month, Musideum owner and founder, Donald Quan, announced that the end of March would mark the end of Musideum as a venue for the foreseeable future. Quan is indefinitely – but not necessarily permanently – closing Musideum to focus on other understandably indispensable aspects of his life: his health, his family, his friends and his own musicianship.

Musideum was a remarkable venue, an intimate space in which to interact with other people: as a performer to an audience, as an audience to a performer, or artist to artist to artist. It will remain open as a store for the first few days of April, so I’d encourage anyone who still has the chance to, go now and check it out.

And I hope to see you all soon, in one club or another. Check the listings!

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

2106-MainlyMostly.pngArtie Roth once said to me – and I’m paraphrasing – that the drummer is the encyclopedia of the ensemble, the player who knows the repertoire most intimately, who can most immediately call up what happened on this chorus of that recording in Febtober of 19whenever. It’s a generalization, of course; all musicians should know these things. And of course, there’s a chance that Artie was saying that so that I’d go home and study the repertoire more. But when I think of drummers like Morgan Childs, or the guy who sits behind that giant bass drum at Grossman’s on Saturday evenings, it fits perfectly.

What doesn’t fit perfectly, however, is how few drummers you’ll find leading groups in town in any given month. As far as I know, the only drummer-led groups in the clubs this month are those led by Harrison Vetro, a young talent with a sound that can best be described as crisp, and Brian Barlow. Barlow is someone I’ve only heard live once, with his own big band at the Jazz Festival in 2011. He is a thoroughly seasoned professional drummer and arranger with experience all over the field, having worked with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett to Alanis Morrisette and Shania Twain to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Canadian Opera Company. He’s played on dozens of film scores and musical theatre productions. He was a member of Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass. I could go on and on.

Barlow’s gigantic beat is something I haven’t forgotten in the five years since I heard him play in person. His big band was on the main stage in Nathan Phillips Square and his drums were amplified a bit too much. The band opened with some standard tune (I want to say Satin Doll?) at a relaxed medium tempo swing – somewhere around 130 to 140 beats per minute. Barlow played the swing beat on the hihat while feathering with the bass drum, authoritatively, almost but not quite aggressively. It’s said that a drummer’s feathering should be “felt not heard.” Due to the almost indecent amplification, every note played on the bass drum shook my entire body. So, yes, it was felt. Thoroughly felt.

Anyways, I’m looking forward to hearing that huge beat again in a smaller, more intimate, less amplified setting, with a smaller ensemble, at the cozy Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill.

harry-photoshoot-27.jpgHarrison Vetro, the only other drummer-as-leader I’m aware of in the clubs this month, was a classmate of mine at York University. Walking around the halls in York’s music building, you can always hear people practising, because those doors, thick though they may be, are not soundproof by any stretch of the imagination. Drummers who used the rooms at York could be divided into two categories: those who play, and those who practise. Sometimes, you could walk by and hear someone blazing around the drums with (or, you know, without) remarkable speed and accuracy. That was a player. Someone who was in there to keep playing what they already do well. Or just to blow off steam.

Then, there were practisers. If a practiser was in the room, you would know it because you’d walk by and hear them either messing up or playing really slowly or both. You’d hear them playing the swing beat at 40 or fewer beats per minute, or playing some impossible pattern and being slightly less uncomfortable with it after repeating it relentlessly for longer than you could even pay attention.

Someone once said that if you sound good while practising, you’re doing it wrong. That might be a slight exaggeration, but you can see their point: instead of bolstering your strengths (which is also a valid and valuable way to spend your time), the majority of your practice time should be spent attacking your weaknesses. The players who did that, and remained truly disciplined and focused in the practice room, and tolerated not always sounding like a beast, almost invariably grew into the players who sounded more professional, cleaner, more comfortable and more individual than the rest.

Harrison was a practiser. And the cool thing about having been at York, and having known him as long as I have, is that I watched that progress happen. He sounded better every time I heard him. Noticeably better. Even after we no longer went to school together, when I would occasionally hear him on a gig (like when he led the house band at the no longer extant jam at Habits), there would be enough time in between that I would hear that improvement in leaps and bounds, while he, as each individual player does, only heard it in increments.

Harrison Vetro’s group can and should be heard on the evening of March 7 at the Emmett Ray.

Sheila Scats: One more thing to get ahead of, jazz lovers: Sheila Jordan will be in Toronto for at least three nights, starting on the last day of March at 120 Diner with a workshop, and the first two nights of April at the Jazz Bistro. Book it off now, and I’ll see you folks in the clubs, more likely than not.

Bob Ben is The WholeNote’s jazz listings editor. He can be reached at jazz@thewholenote.com.

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