The highlights of June are the world premieres of two ambitious Canadian operas: the first a huge production by one of the grand masters of Canadian music, the second by a recent University of Toronto graduate. As the latest expressions of Canadian contemporary opera, both demand to be seen.

Tim Albery, director: “Murray’s written a dream story - the journey of a child that he calls the holy child, who meets a strange dark man, in the night in the middle of a storm, who gives him a letter for the king of France asking permission to travel. ... Like many dreams it takes strange byways and highways. There are temptations, characters who appear out of nowhere. And the audience follows the child through the multiple rooms of this old 1930s warehouse never knowing quite what’s coming next in the same way as the crusading children never knows what’s coming next. They are all poor, all desperate, on a ridiculous journey to conquer Jerusalem with love, not weapons. ... From a production point of view, the logistics are just as scary: How on earth do we get from place to place?”

Read more: The Children’s Crusade Leads the Summer Parade

Toronto Concert June 30 2009
Gala Concert brings master organist Gillian Weir full circle

Royal Canadian College of Organists Celebrates 100th anniversary with major international organ festival

On Friday May 1 this year, I listened to Dame Gillian Weir, master organist, give a breathtaking recital, jet-lag be damned, to open the fourth annual ORGANIX festival, on Casavant Organ Opus 3095, newly installed in Holy Trinity Church, in the shadow of the Eaton Centre. The following morning I caught up with her for a whirlwind interview, a few blocks east, at the console of Metropolitan United Church's mighty Casavant Opus 1367, en route to the airport on her way back home to England.

Between those two organs hangs this particular tale.

gillian weir 002

Read more: Dame Gillian Weir, master organist

Legendary Canadian jazz drummer Norman Marshall Villeneuve has been in the music business for over 50 years. The consummate entertainer can be found playing all over our city. In addition to being the house drummer for Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out vocalist-friendly jazz jam ( on Wednesday nights at Chalkers Pub, the veteran now hosts a special jazz brunch on the Chalkers patio every Sunday from 12-3pm featuring a different trio each week. “I only hire them if they can play,” he likes to say, always followed by ringing laughter.

Back in the mid-1990s, Villeneuve initiated a patio jazz music policy at Whistler’s, located at 995 Broadview Avenue. It started with Sundays, then Thursday were added, and by 2000 he was playing at the corner of Broadview and Mortimer three times a week.

“I am always happy to be working, but to tell you the truth, working on that corner was difficult. You’ve got the cars and the buses with their stinkin’ motors, somebody plays a nice bass solo and – ta-da! – here comes the fire truck! But I’m very excited about this new patio gig up at Chalkers Pub. It’s a great place for jazz in this city. We should be on the patio by the first week of June.” The great news for Villeneuve, his fellow musicians and the general public is that at Chalkers Pub the music is moved inside in case of rain.

Find Norman Marshall Villeneuve at Chalkers every Sunday 12-3pm and every Wednesday 8:30-midnight with Lisa Particelli’s GNO; special GNO showcases as part of Art of Jazz on June 6 and 7 from 2:30-4pm. (photo Ori Dagan)

Three-time Juno award winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Jane Bunnett is one of the country’s most revered jazz artists. This summer she’s also one of the busiest, touring with 18 musicians (“Madness!”) that includes Cuban vocal group Desandann, the core of last year’s triumphant Embracing Voices. Bunnett is also the artistic director of Art of Jazz (, an inspired interdisciplinary festival in its fourth year that takes over the Distillery District June 5-7. (photo Ori Dagan)

“Weather really does make all the difference," she says, reflecting on the perils of putting together a predominantly outdoor festival. "It’s not fun as a performer to play in crappy weather, and of course the audience don’t come out as much. Plus of course you have to deal with all the issues with soundboards and so on. But when the weather is good, it just puts a smile on everybody’s face. So we pray for the good weather, that’s for sure.”

On playing on outdoor stages, she shares the following wisdom: I think you have to change your material a little bit. When you’re playing to a really large audience, you’ve got to pick music that makes a strong statement – often an outdoor stage is going to entail a non-paying audience, so you’re going to get a lot of people that are not totally familiar with the jazz idiom. There will be a lot of people that might be new to the music. So you want to play music that makes bolder strokes than, say, something very intricate.”

Bunnett’s Embracing Voices tour moves across Canada, stopping for a free noon-hour performance at Nathan Philips Square as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on June 30.

Also on Bunnett’s current tour is dynamic vocalist-pianist-composer Elizabeth Shepherd. “I find playing outdoors is the best scenario – the artist-audience dynamic is really different. The crowd tends to be more laid back, which I guess kind of goes along with the season.”

“Summer is my favourite time to play jazz,” reveals Juno-winning bassist and composer Brandi Disterheft. “Playing outdoors at the festivals has a special kind of magic, especially when you are playing ballads or really swingin’ tunes. The audience gets into it in a different way. It’s challenging because you’re already sweating even before you start to play.” Brandi Disterheft’s sextet will be touring Canada in late June and opens for Dave Brubeck on July 1 at 8pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival. (photo Ori Dagan)

Guitarist, pedagogue, journalist and jazz ambassador Andrew Scott points out: “What’s interesting about playing outdoors is that you can reach people that you wouldn’t find at a jazz club – and that’s truly unique to the experience of playing this music live. As for the summertime, personally I find it to be a rewarding time in terms of recording music because I’m too busy with teaching to do so during the academic year. Also I have much more time to practice. Andrew Scott’s quartet will celebrate his most recent CD, Nostalgia, at Chalkers Pub on June 13 from 6-9pm.

“For those of us who make our living teaching during the rest of the year, summer can be ‘feast or famine,’” says imaginative jazz pianist Adrean Farrugia, who teaches at York University in Toronto and Mohawk College in Hamilton. Summer for me is a good time to take a break from it all. I love to check out live music, relax, and go camping. To answer your question, if I can be perfectly honest, I hate playing outdoor gigs – bad acoustics, wind, sheet music flying everywhere. It can be a bit of a nightmare.Dreamy-voiced singer Sophia Perlman unites with Adrean Farrugia at the Commensal Vegetarian Restaurant on July 3 from 6-9pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival.

Enchanting vocalist Julie Michels disagrees. “Love the outdoor gigs. You take away the four walls and people listen in a completely different way. Unless of course it gets rained out. It always irks me when festivals don’t have a rainout contingency plan.” Julie Michels plays Statlers Piano Lounge every Sunday from 6-9pm and collaborates with bassist George Koller at Ten Feet Tall Sunday July 5 from 3:30-6:30pm as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival.

Latin jazz singer and songwriter Amanda Martinez cannot help but connect her music to the summer. “I spent my first few years as a singer getting my gigs in the summertime. I had a regular Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening at Sassafraz – used to stand right outside the window, watching the people do their rounds around Yorkville. People would hear the music and come in, which was really nice.”

Amanda Martinez will open for Al Di Meola as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on July 2 at 8pm.

One of Canada’s most acclaimed and one of this city’s most in-demand jazz players, Dave Restivo enjoys being busy. “After surviving the Canadian winter, everyone seems to be more receptive. And creatively it can be a very rewarding time, with so many festivals and tours happening.”

To name but two of numerous imminent gigs, Dave Restivo will be playing a free noon-hour concert at The Boiler House on June 5 as part of Art of Jazz with Ashley Summer on bass and Alyssa Falk on drums; he’ll also be playing with Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, a free noon-hour concert at Nathan Philips Square on Canada Day.

On playing jazz in the summertime, The WholeNote’s own Jim Galloway laments: There was a time at the CNE when there was a lot of work for musicians in the summer, quite a bit of it jazz, and that’s all long gone. So when things come along, I’m happy to play.” On the challenges of playing outdoors: “If it’s a small group in an outdoor venue, it can be difficult to get the audience to focus on you. If it’s a big band, you don’t have that problem. And while I like to play acoustically, in an outdoor venue you’ve got to have some sort of reinforcement, and that can make it or break it.”

Galloway has been the Artistic Director of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival since its inception. On this year’s hot tickets, he says, "It’s great to have the opening concert with Sonny Rollins, because he is one of the very few saxophone giants we have left. It’s always a pleasure to hear him, and he’s a really nice man. I’m also excited about welcoming back Dave Brubeck to the festival. He’s not only a jazz giant but also a household name. He’s still playing very well, still inventive. Overall, I guess I’m excited that it’s coming close, because once it starts, there’s nothing you can do to stop it – let's hope!”

Jim Galloway guests with the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Quotes June 25 at 5pm and hosts a free noon-hour concert with friends on July 4 at Nathan Phillips Square.

While many music presenters celebrate the close of their concert seasons, others are just starting up. And with the arrival of warmer weather, it’s nice to know that there is at least one outdoor venue offering a series of free concerts. The Toronto Music Garden (475 Queens Quay West) is in its tenth year of presenting concerts on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, running June 28 to September 20. Glancing at the schedule of events (curated by artistic director Tamara Bernstein), it’s interesting to see the way in which “world music” has seeped into the fabric of general concert programming, without necessarily being labelled as such. Perhaps we’ve become less self-conscious of our own multiculturalism, something we increasingly take for granted in the “global village” that is our city.

Global village: Muhtadi International Drum Festival, June 6,7

Read more: A climate change

A dear friend who works in theatre was coming from out of town. Discussing this much-anticipated visit over email, she commented that spending one of our few precious evenings at the theatre might be “a bit of a busman’s holiday”.

Intrigued, I had to know where this expression came from. It seems that back in the days of horse-driven omnibuses, drivers often grew very attached to their particular team of horses. During their days off, many would disguise themselves as regular passengers in order to keep a critical eye on the relief drivers.

Musical “busman’s holidays” seem to be the norm for many musical folk – either because they are performing at festivals or have signed up for master classes and workshops, or because they seek out festivals where they can hear music instead of rehearsing and performing it. Here’s another version: at least a couple of string players I know listen only to hard-core metal or classic rock tunes while they car-pool from summer gig to summer gig.

Read more: Birds on the Buses?

As summer approaches, so do the many opportunities to enjoy nature’s beauty and wonderful music in, but mostly outside, our cities. Below are several events that would be of special interest to seekers of historical performance. Don’t forget your sunblock!

The Grand River Baroque Festival, June 19-21 (, takes place in and around the Buehlow Barn in Ayr and also Paris, Ontario, just outside of Brantford. Special guests include the fabulous Flanders Recorder Quartet, presenting their “Banchetto Musicale” program, and Folia (violinist Linda Melsted, lutenist Terry McKenna, and harpsichordist Borys Medicky), reprising their fascinating “Chocolate Road” programme. The opening gala features the irrepressible artistic directors Nadina Mackie Jackson (bassoonist) and Guy Few (trumpeter), plus members of Folia and violinist Julie Baumgartel in various concerti by Vivaldi.

Read more: Early, and often

It’s June and the festival season kicks into overdrive with events from coast to coast, and groups of musicians doing the festival circuit. For the most part, they arrive, play the concert and move on, without many opportunities to hear other musicians and hang out. That’s life on the road. Another phenomenon, the jazz party is, from a social point of view, somewhat different: for three or four days a group of musicians have the chance of spending time together and socializing.

Last month I was in Midland/Odessa, Texas, for their 46th annual jazz party: a three-day event featuring a lot of the usual suspects, including, among others, Harry Allen, John Allred, Jake Hanna, Ken Peplowski, Bucky Pizzarelli, Allan and Warren Vache, and relatively new additions such as bassist Nicki Parrott and pianist Rossano Sportiello. Over the course of the weekend I was reminded of how much pleasure is derived from the social aspect of these get-togethers. The party circuit is made up of a relatively small band of modern day minstrels who travel huge distances to make their music. For example, Warren, Rossano and I saw each other three times over a period of three weeks in May, but to do so we each travelled over 10,000 miles!

Read more: Sumer Is Icumen In

With summer approaching, most community musical groups will have finished the last of their regular concerts. Some will close down for the summer, while others will embark on a mixture of park concerts, summer festival performances and various other less formal musical events. This slowdown in more structured activities could accord band and orchestra members opportunities for revitalization and musical exploration. In chats with our editor, a variety of pathways to explore came to mind. What about trying our hands at a different instrument, a different method of studying our instrument or exploring a different musical genre?

Read more: Time for other paths

This month I write of two singers who have little in common but are both well-worth seeing and hearing. The first is a resident musician of Toronto, the second a visitor from Turin, Italy.

Laura Hubert is an artist deserving of wider recognition, so it’s nice to see that she has three gigs at this year’s Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival. Formerly a founding member of Juno-winning rock act the Leslie Spit Treeo, Hubert’s powerful voice has a chameleonic quality. Her palette is rich with colours and shades: whether the song is sweet, bitter, saucy or dry, each interpretation is both artful and tasty. And then there are the songs themselves. Be it blues, western swing, torch song or novelty, Hubert fashions each with a style all her own. Supported by some of Toronto’s premium jazz musicians including musical director Peter Hill on piano, a night with the Laura Hubert Band is your best bet for entertainment. On June 22 the band celebrates Laura’s birthday and marks the end of a 10-year Monday night stand at Grossman’s Tavern, but will be moving to a new location for July. For gig listings visit, song samples at


Roberta Gambarini is one of the most celebrated jazz singers today. She sings in a manner reminiscent of late jazz royalty, particularly echoing the supple tone, flawless intonation and adventurous phrasing of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, respectively. Born in Turin, she started out as a clarinet player and switched over to voice at 17. She has released two highly acclaimed recordings: the Grammy-nominated Easy to Love (2006) and an endearing album of duets with living jazz legend Hank Jones on piano. Roberta Gambarini will be performing as part of Art of Jazz (June 5-7) at the Distillery District on Sunday June 7, at 9:00pm at the Fermenting Cellar Stage. She will also be providing a vocal clinic on the afternoon of Saturday June 6. For tickets and more information visit

by Jason van Eyk

By the time May rolls around, we can be sure that warmer and sunnier days are here to stay. So, it's no surprise that many of Toronto's new music performers and presenters are pursuing nature themes for this month's concerts.

Running throughout the month is New Adventure in Sound Art's Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art, which takes as its theme "Ecology: Water, Air, Sound." In this era of climate change and global warming, we're all alerted to environmental indicators of temperature, air and water quality, as well as light (UV index) and soil (waste disposal and brownfields). However, one environmental element to which we pay exceedingly little attention is sound. Most people would be surprised to know that we are affected by noise exposure more than any other environmental stressor. Yet, because the associated health effects of noise are not considered as immediately life-threatening as those for other environmental elements, it is regularly pushed to the bottom of the priority list.

Feedback Fred (aka Benoît Maubrey) "feeds back" his own voice
through the interaction of his wearable PA system. Marie-Josée
Chartier, through interaction of movement with light sensors,
produces an "audio ballet".

Read more: Back to Nature

Would you like to swing on a star,
carry moonbeams home in a jar,
and be better off than you are....

“Embracing” is a word that can be used two ways. Interesting how either way it applies to making music, and particularly to choral singing.

Choral music is "embracing": like a hug that is big enough for as many as many need one. Simple folk melodies and great majestic scores all invite us to be "in the music" as choristers or as audience. This embrace can transcend all kinds potential barriers: age, gender, race, and other diverse but less visible socio-economic walls in our complicated lives.

We are "embracing music", when we sing with others. With our breathing unified, and often our hearts on our sleeves, we wrap a collective voice around a piece of music and hold it tight, and by extension, around one another. It's an act of love.

The Timothy Eaton Memorial Church Choir School "Sing Out!" (May 8)

Read more: Embracing Music
Back to top