The economic ramifications of COVID-19 will play out in the coming months and years, and will have an effect on the artistic community unprecedented in recent memory. But long-term economic effects must, necessarily, be of less concern than the immediate, urgent need to stay inside, to save lives. One of the initial challenges of this period for many of us, no matter how community-conscious we strive to be, was to confront our own natural reaction to view with skepticism any potential changes to our everyday life. The coffee shop where I like to write, the studio space where I like to practise, the grocery store where I like to stop every few days and purchase more cheese than a single man living by himself should have any healthy reason to consume: these communal spaces were the sites at which I experienced the mundane foundational joys of my life. But now, things are different: the studio is closed, the coffee shop is open for takeout and delivery only, and the grocery store, though open, is no longer amenable to the contemplative cheese-counter flâneur.
Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz
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.
In my column last month, I wrote about the February 7 appearance of the American jazz guitarist Russell Malone at Hugh’s Room Live, an unusually high-profile show to occur in the bleak Toronto winter. What looked like an anomaly for the Dundas West venue, however, now seems as though it’s part of a growing trend. During the week of March 8, Hugh’s Room Live hosts a special event: Drum Week, sponsored by Yamaha. With seven acts taking the stage from Sunday, March 8, to Saturday, March 14, Drum Week will feature leading Canadian and American drummers from multiple generations and stylistic backgrounds.
Starting things off on March 8 is Sarah Thawer, who plays at 2pm. Thawer – who stays busy both locally and internationally as a bandleader, sideperson, and educator – is an exciting, high-energy drummer with a wealth of technique, whose own music incorporates elements of jazz, hip-hop, fusion and other genres. Next up during drum week: the legendary Jimmy Cobb, who, at the age of 91, is the only surviving contributor to the seminal Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, recorded in 1959. Active since the 50s, Cobb has played with a wide range of jazz luminaries in addition to Davis and co., from Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Stan Getz, to younger players such as Peter Bernstein, Brad Mehldau and Vincent Herring.
On February 7, the American guitarist Russell Malone plays at Hugh’s Room Live. For those unfamiliar with his work, Malone is a swinging, bluesy player, steeped in the hard bop tradition, who has worked with many of jazz’s leading names, including bassists Ron Carter, Ray Brown and Christian McBride, keyboardists Benny Green, Jimmy Smith and Monty Alexander, and crossover star vocalists Harry Connick, Jr. and Diana Krall. It is unusual to see someone of Malone’s stature playing in Toronto outside of a major festival setting; to see him in a club, as opposed to a soft-seat theatre, is more unusual still, and speaks to the singular nature of this event. Malone favours large, hollow-body guitars, minimal effects and clear, articulate right-hand technique. He is a representative of a jazz guitar tradition that extends back to George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian, and he is an expert interpreter of the Great American Songbook. A highly recommended show, for fans of the guitar generally, Malone specifically and, really, anyone who has an interest in the living history of jazz.
Later on, we’ll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland
Winter Wonderland, Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith. 1934.
“Christmas starts on November 1;” so goes the knowing refrain, spoken in tones of world-weary authority to those affronted by the instant shift from Halloween to Christmas in retail displays, both digital and physical. Those who repeat this defeatist bromide are not necessarily less affected by the sudden onslaught of candy canes and evergreens, of reindeer and elves, of living in a dystopian paternalistic surveillance state ruled by the Clauses. No, they are simply stating the obvious: that the secular advertorial spectacle of Christmas constitutes an overwhelming, inescapable part of our experience of the season, even in households for which the holiday holds a primarily religious significance.