It is October, and summer – which clung on so tenaciously throughout September – is officially over. In many ways, this month is a hopeful one: after a perpetually hot, sticky and undignified period, the prospect of wearing a sweater and coat has become almost thrilling. In other ways, however, this month is frightening: the weather will get ever colder, the evenings ever darker, and, no matter how you’re planning on voting, the federal election will bring a certain amount of anxiety (October 21: don’t forget!). But regardless of the coming changes, rest assured that there are a number of standout shows coming your way, and multiple opportunities to hear excellent musicians in action.

Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarberaColtrane Tribute at The Rex

On October 10, 11 and 12, saxophonists Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera present their annual John Coltrane Tribute at The Rex, with pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Joe LaBarbera. This yearly run of shows has become an institution unto itself, a tradition that serves to highlight the Toronto jazz scene’s appreciation and respect for Coltrane’s invaluable musical legacy. It is also an opportunity, of course, to delight in the prowess of MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera, both of whom are leading voices on the saxophone, as well as being conscientious stewards of the modern tenor tradition inaugurated by Coltrane. The rhythm section is equally impressive: Dickinson, Swainson and Joe LaBarbera bring their own set of experiences to Coltrane’s music. (Though he and Pat are indeed brothers, Joe LaBarbera is the only non-Torontonian in the group; he is based in California, where is he a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, in Santa Clarita.) In addition to their careers as performers, MacDonald, Pat LaBarbera, Dickinson and Swainson are also faculty members at Humber College, and it is normal to see a large cohort of jazz students from Humber, U of T, and York at any show that they play.

The Coltrane shows are happening a bit later in the year than is usual – they typically take place around September 23, on Coltrane’s birthday – but it’s likely that they will still generate a strong back-to-school sensation, an inspiration to budding jazz musicians as well as an opportunity to experience a sense of musical community. Head down to The Rex to hear it all: masterful playing, the music of one of the 20th century’s greatest musical innovators, and sporting-event-style cheering when students recognize the changes to Giant Steps being superimposed on a blues.


While the Coltrane Tribute will be a major highlight, The Rex’s October schedule is replete with notable concerts. On October 23 and 24, pianist Florian Hoefner celebrates the release of his new album First Spring. Hoefner is one of Canada’s most interesting young jazz pianists, and his path here has been somewhat unconventional. Originally from Germany, he went to school both in Berlin and in New York, where he obtained an MMus from the Manhattan School of Music. He is now a resident of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and a faculty member at Memorial University. Featuring Toronto musicians Andrew Downing (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums), and released on the Canadian label Alma Records, First Spring speaks to Hoefner’s ongoing engagement with the Canadian jazz scene. At The Rex, Hoefner will be playing with Downing and drummer Jim Doxas. Also at The Rex: vocalist Joanna Majoko brings her sextet on October 19, Chelsea McBride’s large ensemble Socialist Night School plays on October 21 and Dayna Stephens’ Pluto Juice – with Anthony Fung, Andrew Marzotto, and Rich Brown – plays on October 25 and 26.

Sam Kirmayer at the Bistro

On October 2, Montreal guitarist Sam Kirmayer will be stopping by Jazz Bistro as part of a cross-Canada tour to promote his recent organ trio album, High and Low, released on Vancouver’s Cellar Music label. As on the album, Kirmayer will be joined by Montreal’s Dave Laing on drums and the American keyboardist Ben Paterson on B3. Kirmayer is something of a traditionalist, and his playing resembles that of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery more than it does Pat Metheny, John Scofield or Kurt Rosenwinkel. His preferred instrument is a large-body archtop guitar, and he typically plays with minimal effects, a choice that lends itself well to the swinging, bluesy style that he favours. Kirmayer has made an apt choice in bandmates: Paterson has worked with Bobby Broom, Johnny O’Neal and Peter Bernstein, and is equally adept on piano as he is on organ. Laing – a McGill faculty member – has performed with a wide range of notable jazz artists, from Canadian luminaries such as Ed Bickert, Lorne Lofsky and Don Thompson, to international musicians such as Dave Liebman, Kenny Werner, and Sheila Jordan.

Burdock Beat Goes On

Burdock continues to be a venue at which jazz consistently intersects with indie music, to ongoing success. On October 12, the New York-based singer Emma Frank makes a stop at the Music Hall on tour in support of her recent release Come Back, with Aaron Parks, Franky Rousseau, Tommy Crane and Zack Lober. On October 29, Bernice – Toronto vocalist Robin Dann’s pop, jazz and R&B-flavoured indie vehicle, which features Thom Gill, Felicity Williams, Phil Melanson and Dan Fortin – plays with Booty EP. Frank and Dann play different kinds of music, and have each developed an interesting, individual body of work. But the projects are aligned in the sense that they feature open, creative musicians with a high degree of formal jazz training playing intelligent vocal music with a distinctive indie sensibility. Also at Burdock: On October 21, guitarist Dan Pitt celebrates the release of his trio’s debut album Fundamentally Flawed. Joined by bassist Alex Fournier and drummer Nick Fraser, Pitt’s trio plays a brand of modern jazz rooted in an open, improvisatory practice that allows for a diverse range of influences – from classical to folk to metal – to make themselves heard. 

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at, on Instagram and on Twitter.

And we’re back. After The WholeNote’s typical aestival hiatus – and our packed-to-the-margins summer issue, which featured information on a wide assortment of excellent festivals in the Greater Toronto Area – I’m happy to be writing this column for you again, doing my best to provide a preview of some of the most interesting musical events that will be occurring around town each month. It has been exactly 12 months since I first took over this column, and the timing seems appropriate; though it has been a few years since I finished grad school, September still feels like the spiritual beginning of the upcoming year. Though we know that the month brings with it waning heat, it also heralds the promise of much to come: the return of musical friends from sweaty summer touring; the reinstatement of all of your favourite regular gigs, artist-curated concert series, and post-secondary-student nights at The Rex; scarves. It is, in short, one of the most exciting times of the year to be a jazz fan in Toronto.

To begin: there are quite a few notable festivals taking place in September. To run any festival in Toronto is a difficult, labour-intensive process; earlier this year, I wrote about the TD Toronto Jazz Festival’s shift to Yorkville, and the many challenges that artistic director Josh Grossman deals with on a regular basis in order to keep an established, decades-old, major-Canadian-banking-institution-sponsored festival ticking. The prospect of establishing a new festival – of working with local communities, of soliciting sponsor partnerships, of booking venues and talent and vendors and making sure that guests are happy and artists are hydrated and, oh my god, did no one think that we might need porta-potties?! – is a daunting undertaking indeed. But that is exactly what the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival (TUJF) and the Kensington Market Jazz Festival (KMJF) have done.

The TUJF, which began in 2015 in the Distillery District, with 26 distinct undergraduate bands performing over the course of three days, has grown into a five-day affair, from September 3 to September 7. The bulk of the programming will take place on September 6 and 7 in Mel Lastman Square, with a kick-off performance by the Robi Botos Trio at Hugh’s Room on September 3, and two days on September 4 and 5 at The Frog, a pub owned by the Firkin Group, located a convenient seven-minute walk from the Square. The TUJF will feature performances and master classes by a variety of local and not-so-local groups, including the aforementioned Robi Botos Trio, the Pat LaBabera Quartet and Donny McCaslin.

While the TUJF has emulated, to a certain degree, the large, primarily outdoor format of traditional Canadian jazz festivals, the KMJF has chosen a different approach. Taking place, as the name suggests, in Kensington Market, the KMJF does not have an expansive communal space like Mel Lastman Square to transform into festival grounds. Instead, under the guidance of the unsinkable Molly Johnson, they have opted for a more grassroots approach, working directly with pre-existing venues and other businesses throughout the Market to create a network of unique performance spaces. Last year, acts played at traditional venues, such as Poetry Jazz Café and Supermarket, at which it is possible to hear live music throughout the year; at Café Pamenar and Koi Koi Saké Bar, at which it is not typically possible to hear live music, but at which one can imagine performances taking place; at the men’s clothing store Tom’s Place, at which, presumably, no one has ever expected to hear live music. (Far from being an outlier, Tom’s Place – and eponymous Tom’s Place owner, Tom Mihalik – is a major festival sponsor. Mihalik is referred to as “the festival’s patron saint” on the KMJF website. In 2018, the clothing store provided the location for the “Yamaha Grand Piano Room,” which, considering the complications of moving a grand piano anywhere, let alone into a retail space in a busy neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, should be proof enough of Mihalik’s commitment to the festival’s artistic cause.) Performers for this year’s festival, taking place from September 13 to 15, include Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School, Jozsef Botos, Ethan Ardelli and Virginia MacDonald, to name but five of the well-over-100 established local musicians who will perform in more than 30 venues around this iconic market neighbourhood.

Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night SchoolOutside of the Greater Toronto Area, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) will celebrate its 25th birthday this year, continuing to fulfil its stated mission of inviting “listeners to be inspired by and engaged with creative music,” from September 11 to 15. As this mission statement suggests, the focus of the GJF is on creative, improvised music that falls outside of either mainstream modern or neo-traditionalist jazz styles; this year’s festival will include performances by Jen Shyu, Malcolm Goldstein and Rainer Wiens, the Brodie West Quintet and Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey and Hank Roberts. As in past years, the GJF will also partner with Guelph University’s International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation to convene a colloquium on improvisation and its social contexts. Some of this year’s presentations will include Jesse Stewart’s “Different Drums: Unorthodox and Unusual Percussion Instruments,” Niel Scobie and Alyssa Woods’ “Finding the Groove: A Workshop on Hip-hop Turntablism and Improvisation,” and Lee Blalock’s “Instr/Augmented Bodies: A Performative Artist Talk About Hybrid Bodies, Modes of Communication, and Modified Behaviours.” 2019 will also mark a year of new artistic leadership for the GJF, with Scott Thomson assuming the role of artistic and general director, and Karen Ng taking on the role of assistant artistic and general director.

There are also a number of excellent non-festival performances happening in September. Head to Burdock on September 12 to catch saxophonist Matt Lagan, on September 19 to hear TuneTown (Kelly Jefferson, Artie Roth, Ernesto Cervini), and on the 21st to hear Mingjia Chen and Claire Lee. At The Rex, check out the return of Monday nights with University of Toronto Jazz Program students, Humber College’s Annual Back-to-School Faculty Jam on September 19, and a full schedule of great music for the rest of the month. 


SEP 3 TO 7: Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival, various venues. The best of Toronto’s undergraduate bands playing alongside established local and international artists, including saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Donny McCaslin.

SEP 11 TO 15: Guelph Jazz Festival, various venues (Guelph). Canada’s most important creative/improvised music festival, complete with top Canadian and international performers and a colloquium co-presented with Guelph University.

SEP 13 TO 15: Kensington Market Jazz Festival, various venues. The fourth annual installment of this exciting new festival, which sees traditional and non-traditional Market venues come together to create a network of performance spaces.

MONDAYS, 6:30PM: University of Toronto Jazz Ensembles, The Rex. Catch up-and-coming students from the U of T Jazz’s undergrad and grad programs performing in the comfortable confines of The Rex, in September and on most Mondays throughout the school year.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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!


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, 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. 


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, 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.


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, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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