Another death in the family. Less than two weeks after the passing of Gene Lees, the ranks were thinned even more by the passing of Rob McConnell. But the legacy left by him leaves no doubt that his music will live on. Like Duke Ellington, the orchestra was his instrument and his arrangements will be a living memorial to his great talent as an arranger.
A native of London, Ontario, he took up the valve trombone in high school and began his performing career in the early 1950s. In 1954 he played in Edmonton with the band of saxophonist Don (DT) Thompson. Back in Toronto he played piano in drummer Alex Lazaroff’s Rhythm Rockets and trombone with Bobby Gimby before moving to New York for several months in 1964 to play, mainly with Maynard Ferguson’s big band.
On his return to Toronto he became one of the busiest studio musicians and arrangers in town. At one point he was doing the Bob Maclean Show five days a week, playing the Juliette Show, both on CBC plus any number of jingles. Whichever way you slice it, McConnell was a very successful studio musician, but the real satisfaction came from playing jazz, mostly in small group settings until he formed the Boss Brass in 1968. The band’s first engagement was at the Savarin, an attractive watering hole on Bay Street in Toronto. As the band’s name suggests, it originally had no reeds. The instrumentation was 16 pieces consisting of trumpets, trombones, french horns, and a rhythm section – but no saxophones, much to the chagrin of the local reed movers and shakers. Eventually McConnell repented and introduced a saxophone section in 1970. He also added a fifth trumpet in 1976, bringing the total to 22 members.
Inevitably it took some time for the band to be recognized in the United States, but Times jazz critic Leonard Feather, in 1986, proclaimed it the jazz band of the year. Now this was long after the heyday of big bands and for such a group to win critical and a degree of financial success was quite remarkable - an achievement all the more extraordinary when you consider the fact that five Juno and three Grammy awards were accumulated by the Boss Brass over the years.
I think it’s fair to say that it was because of the Boss Brass that McConnell was regarded as one of the major Canadian jazz musicians on the world stage. In 1997 he gave up the unenviable tasks of running a big band and formed a 10-piece group which still had the unique McConnell sound and with which he continued to work until bad health forced him to slow down.
As a person, McConnell had his light and dark sides – we all have different facets to our personality and he was certainly no exception – and was not always the easiest of people. He could be grumpy and difficult to work with, but those of us who knew him offstage also saw a much more gentle, good natured man in contrast to the crusty persona he could present.
He had a biting sense of humour, and pity on anyone on the receiving end of it. I like to think of him as the Don Rickles of jazz.! There was also a wry side to his humour. His close friend, Ted O’Reilly recalled the following little episode.
“The Boss Brass did a CJRT concert at the Ontario Science Centre for me one time, and it was intense. Setting up a 22-piece orchestra, complete with microphone setups and sound checks was hard work. To add to that, we got word that Dizzy Gillespie was going to come to the concert. It went well, of course, but at the end of the hour, with an empty hall, there was Rob collecting all the music, packing his horn; and me, wrapping up mic cables and putting equipment away. Rob stopped, shook his head and laughed, saying ‘Here’s the reward of the jazz world: you the producer, me the leader – where’s the broom to sweep the floor?”
Like many great artists McConnell coped with feelings of insecurity throughout his career, using that bluff exterior he presented to the world as a cover. Not that he was modest or insecure in his belief in the greatness of the Boss Brass – and rightly so.
On a personal note, I’m proud of the fact that in my last year as artistic director of the Toronto Jazz Festival I was able to present McConnell and the Boss Brass in what was to be their final performance. When I called him he really didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting the Brass together, and suggested that I hire the tentet instead. For my part, I knew exactly what I wanted, and fortunately I was able to convince him that a July 1 noon-hour concert in the marquee at City Hall and free to the public would be a perfect way to celebrate Canada Day, and that the Boss Brass had to be the band.
Just before the start of the performance on that day we had a few private minutes together, and it was quite clear that Rob was less than well. We walked to the tent and I know it was an effort for him to even get onstage, but there he was, cracking a joke, making the audience and his musicians feel good and launching into what was to be the last hurrah.
Drummer Dennis Mackrel summed it up nicely: “Rob McConnell was a giant among musicians and one of the finest arrangers of his day or anyone else’s. To listen to his writing was a lesson in excellence, and remains one of the best examples of just how high the bar can be!”
Thank you, Rob, for the musical pleasure you gave to fans around the world and the music that will continue to inspire young players for years to come. The boss is dead – long live the Boss Brass.
As I was writing about Rob McConnell, word came in that we had lost yet another jazz master with the passing of pianist Hank Jones. Born in 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he outlived two younger brothers, trumpeter, composer Thad and drummer Elvin, surely one of the most musical families in jazz.
Jones was a prodigious talent and revered by every other piano player. Case in point: seven years ago The WholeNote printed a piece I wrote after spending an afternoon with Oscar Peterson. I talked about his huge talent as an accompanist, knowing when to use his great technique and when to leave spaces, and O.P. said, “Do you know who my teacher was? It was Hank Jones.” He then spoke about the Jazz At The Phil concerts when the closing of the show would feature Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by Jones. “Hank would be right there, playing for Fitz and I’d soak up whatever I could, ‘cause he taught me everything I know about it. I learned from Hank Jones. I’m not ashamed to say that – I’m proud to say it.”
Jones leaves a wonderful legacy, and although we feel sorrow we should also celebrate his remarkably rich gifts.
Happy listening and make some of it live jazz.
Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and the former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beat Columns (Live Music)
Another death in the family. Less than two weeks after the passing of Gene Lees, the ranks were thinned even more by the passing of Rob McConnell. But the legacy left by him leaves no doubt that his music will live on. Like Duke Ellington, the orchestra was his instrument and his arrangements will be a living memorial to his great talent as an arranger.
What a heavenly time to be a club owner, jazz musician or music lover! Although it’s impossible to attend absolutely everything you read about in the summer festival season, the mood remains festive so long as snow is impossible (knock on wood!). But seriously, whether or not it rains, there’s a decidedly warm buzz in the air these days.
Fans of Anne Marie Leonard’s Open Mic (formerly held at the defunct Statlers on Church) will be pleased to know that she is now holding it in the same vibrant neighbourhood Thursday nights at Fuzion, (www.fuzionexperience.com) located at 580 Church Street just north of Wellesley. Charismatic Leonard currently coaches dozens of performers and accompanies three choirs in the Greater Toronto Area. Listen to her masterful way with the ivories at www.annemarieleonard.com, and be sure to check out the Thursday night open mic from 9-midnight. All styles welcome. Arrive early to catch entertaining vocalist Mark Cassius with lovely Ken Lindsay on keys from 6-9pm.
Two Much Fun
Speaking of duos, every Torontonian needs to experience Robert Scott and drummer Great Bob Scott, who come across as marvelously mad geniuses. The pair never fails to enchant an audience with their energetic delivery of a diverse repertoire. Scott (www.robertscottmusic.com) and Scott (www.myspace.com/greatbobscott) are thankfully easy to catch, appearing regularly three times a week: down at the Novotel at 45 The Esplanade every Wednesday from 7-11pm and Saturdays from 8:30-midnight, as well as Friday nights starting at 9:30pm at the Pantages Martini Lounge located at 200 Victoria Street. Real pianos, no cover!
Attention Piano Lovers
Speaking of real pianos, there are two very exciting series to report about: Merriam Music (www.merriamlive.com) in Oakville is launching a monthly piano series on Sunday June 6 featuring Robi Botos, Adrean Farrugia and Stu Harrison showcasing three state-of-the-art pianos. Limited to 100 seats, the series features divine acoustics, wines, cheeses, scotches and an interactive audience component with your questions. Also, Gallery 345 (www.gallery345.com) at 345 Sorauren Avenue has a nine-foot Baldwin and a seven-foot Steinway, this month featuring a “Piano Jazz Masters” series June 13 with the Matthew Shipp Trio, June 20 with the Mario Roman Quartet and June 27 with the Hilario Duran Trio. Check the website for times and ticket prices.
Jazz Festival Pride
The TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival will be proudly presented simultaneously with Pride Toronto and the G20 summit! Looks like the world will be in our city, so here’s hoping this helps. In terms of programming, there are dozens of noteworthy choices.
Harry Connick Jr. and Orchestra: consummate entertainer, the famed and photographable New Orleans native makes a welcome return to Toronto, backed by full orchestra at the Canon Theatre on June 27, 8pm, tickets $50-150. www.harryconnickjr.com.
Herbie Hancock Imagine Project: the highly influential and critically acclaimed pianist will be featuring songs from his most recent triumph, River: The Joni Mitchell Letters with the Imagine Project, completed by Vinnie Colaiuta, drums, Lionel Loueke, guitar, Greg Phillinganes, keyboards, Tal Wilkenfeld, bass, and vocalists to be announced. Opening set by Juno-winning bassist/composer Brandi Disterheft. Mainstage Concert Series, June 26, 8pm, tickets $55. www.herbiehancock.com.
Dave Brubeck: with a legendary career that spans over six decades, his compositional experiments in odd time signatures, improvised counterpoint, polyrhythm and polytonality still turn heads. At 89-and-a-half years young, the consummate entertainer is a marvel to behold. Don’t miss Brubeck’s Quartet as part of the Koerner Hall Jazz Series on June 29, 8pm, tickets $50-75. www.davebrubeck.com.
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette: this consistently imaginative piano-bass-drums trio continues to set standards and is aptly known as the Standards Trio. Now in their third decade of collectively breathtaking, mind-boggling, heartfelt musical creativity, these are three grand masters you don’t want to miss. June 30 at the Four Seasons Centre, tickets $47.50-127.50.
It Ain’t Necessarily Jazz!
With hopes of drawing from outside of the jazz pool, the festival has invited pop acts set to make a splash, including Esthero (June 27 at the Lee’s Palace, $24.50), Serena Ryder (June 29 at Harbourfront’s Sirius Stage, $34.50) and Chaka Khan and Macy Gray (July 3 at Dundas Square, free). In contrast, the “Next Wave Series” at the Music Gallery (www.musicgallery.org) will be a magnet for lovers of experimental, envelope-pushing music. One such show will be Christine Duncan’s haunting Element Choir (June 29 at the Music Gallery, $20). Fearlessly conducted, this diverse group of musicians weaves unforgettable webs of improvised vocal textures.
Tribute To A Legend
The jazz world recently lost a genuine legend with the passing of Rob McConnell (February 14, 1935 – May 1, 2010). McConnell was a true renaissance man who wore many hats, earned many accolades and will not be forgotten. The Old Mill’s Dining Room will house a tribute to Rob McConnell’s legacy on June 24.
One, Two, A-One, Two, Free!
As always, the festival offers free-admission shows. The 12-noon lunchtime show on June 30 will be a particularly special performance, for it will be a CD launch by Ricochet, the brainchild of Adrean Farrugia, one of our city’s most creative pianists. When Farrugia takes a solo on any old standard, it’s hard not to be engaged by his playful approach to the familiar; his own compositions tend to be rich with flowing emotion, drawing from varied sources.
“The music is inspired by a need to try and cohesively combine all the things I love in music,” says Farrugia. “The music attempts to fuse jazz, classical, Indian, South African, pop and film-music textures and rhythms into a unified sound, while being equally appealing to both lay listeners and highly trained ears. Creating music that has a wide appeal without making sacrifices is very important to me.”
For everything from fabulous freebies to genuine grandmasters, visit the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival website: www.torontojazz.com.
Ori Dagan is a Toronto-based jazz vocalist, voice actor and entertainment journalist. He can best be contacted at email@example.com.
Atruism: technology shapes culture. One could argue that we are less the children of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bessie Smith and the Beatles than we are of Thomas Edison, Scott de Martinville and Charles Cros, and their progeny, the anonymous technicians who developed digital sound in the 1970s.
And yet the things that influence musicians most deeply remain unchanged. No recording matches the excitement of a masterful live performance. No online musical forum or resource replaces the one-on-one human connection between teacher and student through which musical ideas are most essentially conveyed.
We envy, admire and emulate musicians of renown. But we retain a special love for our teachers and mentors, who have touched us in way that a concert or recording never can. Agrade school music teacher, a private instructor, a conservatory lecturer; sometimes stronger as teachers than performers; sometimes well known, often not. It is they that give each of us the tools to add our unique voice to the music.
By all accounts, Deral Johnson was one such teacher. He taught choral music for 20 years at the University of Western Ontario, and after his death, March 24 this year, tributes from the musicians he touched poured in to The WholeNote and other forums. An expatriate American, Johnson taught in Texas and Colorado before moving to London in 1969. He threw himself into the Canadian music scene with a zeal and enthusiasm for which he became renowned, championing the music of Schafer, Cabena and Telfer, and training many distinguished Canadian musicians, including conductor and producer Robert Cooper, and University of Toronto voice professor Darryl Edwards.
Choral conductors who studied with Johnson include Michael Bloss, Lynn Janes, Jenny Crober, Ken Fleet and Carol Ratzlaff, all of whom direct choirs in and around Southern Ontario. Many of his former students speak glowingly of his combination of humour, rigour, kindness and passion. Margaret Thibideau, a former choral conductor, writes, “There was nothing quite like singing Gospel with Deral – it was fun, uplifting, and all I can say is that I have never had the privilege of finding anyone who even comes close to his high standards of musicianship or excellence.” Johnson will be missed both by those who knew him personally and those who felt his influence.
Meanwhile, the choral scene that Johnson helped develop and foster is in good form this spring. For instance, Robert Cooper’s Orpheus Choir performs the rarely heard Handel Oratorio Athalia on May 8, in a concert that showcases their Sedgwick Scholars (up-and-coming vocal talents who both sing in the choir and handle the solos). It is a mentoring programme now in its 20th year.
And Carol Ratzlaff’s Annex-based Viva! Youth Singers have a 10th anniversary celebration concert, May 16. The concert features commissioned new works by composers James Rolfe and Juliet Palmer, as well as a musical by Leslie Arden. With singers from 4 to 25 and a wide range of choirs to choose from (including one for parents!), the choir’s proud lineage is clear.
The number of choral concerts at this time of the year is astounding, and sorting through them a fascinating task.
For one, thing, this appears to be the spring of the “crossover” programme. Concerts including a mixture of Broadway, opera and cabaret music are being given by the Toronto Sinfonietta (May 1), Alexander Singers and Players (May 6-7), the East York Choir (June 6), the Harlequin Singers (June 4-6), and the Oriana Women’s Choir, in a programme centred around the music of George Gershwin (May 8). Concerts focusing on the beloved music of Gilbert and Sullivan are given by Chorus Niagara (May 15-16) and the Etobicoke Centennial Choir (May 28-29).
There are also many concerts of works from the classical canon. On May 2 the Toronto Classical Singers sing an all-Mozart concert. On May 8 the Burlington Civic Chorale does the same, in a programme that includes two masses as well as rarer Mozart choral works. On the same evening the Peterborough Singers sing Mendelssohn’s majestic Elijah, and Kitchener’s Grand Philharmonic Choir sing the Verdi Requiem. The Durham Philharmonic Choir’s May 15 concert include’s excerpts from Hadyn’s Creation, and on the same evening Orchestra London and Philharmonic Choir perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
From May 28-30 the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Grand Philharmonic Choir and Children’s Chorus perform that perennial favourite, Orff’s Carmina Burana. Three concerts featuring works by Bach are given by Orchestra London and Chamber Choir (May 5), Toronto Chamber Choir (May 16) and the St. Anne’s Concert Choir and Orchestra (June 5), in a benefit concert towards repairs for the St. Anne’s Parish. On May 1 the Tallis Choir focuses on the music of Purcell and his contemporaries, and on June 06 Unionville Symphonia and Chorus sing the Duruflé Requiem and the Haydn Te Deum.
And there are several of choices for modern and folk-based mass settings as well. The Amadeus Choir’s concert on May 15 includes Ramirez’s Misa Criolla and Toronto composer Sid Robinovitch’s Canciones por las Americas. The Toronto Beach Chorale’s May 2 concert includes Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia. Other multicultural offerings include a concert by the University of Toronto Gospel Choir (May 1), Plamen Ukrainian Women’s Vocal Ensemble (May 2), the Victoria Scholars’ “Postcard from Around the World” (June 6), the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir’s 84th annual spring concert (May 30) and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s “And Still We Sing,” featuring the steel pan work Legacy, in a programme focusing on music of the Caribbean islands (May 26 and 29).
That’s not all! In this magazine, and on our website, you’ll find many promising mixed end-of-season programmes by a wide variety of choirs. See The WholeNote’s listings for more choral events.
Benjamin Stein is a tenor and theorbist. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine that we’ve just learned that some hitherto unknown manuscripts of music by a number composers have been discovered – and the names of these composers are Mendelssohn, Liszt and Weber. Since we already know these names, our response might well be along the lines of “What an important discovery! The history of European music in the 19th century will have to be rewritten to incorporate these previously unknown works.”
Looking at the phenomenon of newly discovered work from a different angle, what, then, is our response to the news that the music of a number of very good early- to mid-20th century composers has actually been discovered, performed and recorded? The names of some of them are Busch, Braunfels, Kahn, Reizenstein, Röntgen, Weinberg and Eisler; and since they are not familiar names, it’s easy to dismiss them as “minor composers.”
In fact, this isn’t exactly news. About seven years ago the Royal Conservatory appointed guitarist Simon Wynberg artistic director of its flagship ensemble, ARC (Artists of the Royal Conservatory). In that capacity he’s been doing the programming and research for ARC, and has been in contact with musicologists, record labels and institutions who are researching lesser-known composer of the 20th century, many of them victims of the Holocaust.
ARC gave its inaugural performances in the 2002-03 season. Since then it’s given concerts not only in Toronto but also in New York, Washington DC and London. Wynberg has organized a major tour to Israel in March 2011, and concerts at the Concertgebouw. In the long term, he plans for the ensemble to continue to perform and record unjustly neglected works, many of which have fallen through the cracks because of the political upheavals of the 20th century, as well as commissioning new works from contemporary composers.
However, getting back to the present, the current news from ARC is the release of its third CD, Two Roads to Exile, on the morning of May 6, with a short performance of excerpts from this disc. (The free mini-concert is a special event for WholeNote readers.)
Interestingly, the two composers featured on this disc were not victims of the Holocaust. Both survived World War II, but in very different ways. One of them Adolf Busch, was not Jewish, and the form his exile took was to move to the United States; the other, Walter Braunfels, was half Jewish, and survived the war by hiding in a church in the German village of Überlingen.
Consequently the reason their music has been forgotten is not because it has been found after 60 or 70 years in a basement. In fact the String Quintet by Braunfels was actually published in the 1950s. Wynberg bought a score and set of parts for the ensemble from the publisher – brand new but yellow with age. The String Sextet by Adolf Busch, despite Busch’s having made quite a name for himself in the USA as a violinist and as a co-founder of the Marlboro Festival, was never published – more a casualty of the exigencies of life, and the disruption of forced emigration than anything else. The ensemble’s performances and recording were all done from a hand-written manuscript, presumably by the composer himself.
I find the last paragraph of the CD liner notes, written by ARC artistic director, Simon Wynberg, on the reasons for the obscurity of these two composers and their works particularly fascinating. “After the war,” he writes, “there was an understandable desire to protect and encourage the music that the Nazis had proscribed.” This led eventually to “the hegemony of the avant-garde” and the dismissal, particularly in universities, as reactionaries “those who had followed traditional musical avenues.” Braunfels and Busch were both masters of traditional practices, and so, from the avant-garde perspective, had nothing to say. I’ve listened to their music on this CD and can assure you that this isn’t the case; while the compositional procedures may be familiar, I would never describe the music of either composer as imitative or derivative.
In the course of our conversation, I asked Wynberg whether the history of 20th-century music would be rewritten to include many formerly forgotten composers. He commented: “The more intriguing question is whether we are gradually moving away from the concept of a ‘core repertory,’ towards the cultivation of a new, broader and younger audience who do not have an inbuilt allegiance to the pillars of repertory, but are curious to explore the vast range of music that is now so readily and instantly available.”
Looking at The WholeNote’s monthly listings from this angle it appeared to me that this development is well under way. On May 2, for example, Amici’s “Silenced Voices” concert reads almost like one of Wynberg’s ARC programmes, with infrequently performed music by forgotten or ignored composers such as Schulhoff, Klein, Ullmann, Stetsenko and Gomidas. Curiously, on May 7 and 8 Brahms’ Two Songs, Opus 91 for mezzo or contralto, viola and piano, which because of the unusual voice/instrument combination will never quite be “core repertoire,” will be performed in two completely unrelated concerts. (The piece will first be played on a programme by the Birthday Series at Heliconian Hall, followed by a performance on Lansing United Church’s Chamber Concert Series.)
The trend extends beyond chamber music to symphonic music, as many orchestras combine “core repertoire” with repertoire that is anything but. For example the Slovak Sinfonietta has programmed Zeljenka’s Musica Slovaca alongside Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto; the Oakville Chamber Orchestra has programmed Purcell’s Virtuous Wife and MacMillan’s Two Sketches on French Canadian Folk Songs with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; the Scarborough Philharmonic has compositions by contemporary Canadian composers Ronald Royer and Michael Conway Baker on a programme that also includes Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3; and the Toronto Symphony has programmed Stravinsky’s Petrouchka (which I think is considered “core repertoire”) along with de Falla’s Suite No. 2 from The Three-Cornered Hat and Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. There are lots of other examples of programming that even a few years ago would have been considered “adventurous,” but which evidently is now occurring frequently.
The Royal Conservatory has published a book, written by Simon Wynberg, to provide background to the “Music in Exile” project. Early in the book he explains that the sense of dislocation experienced by those fortunate to be exiled to the United States was due to the absence there of “the European sensibility that considered music and culture not just central but indispensable to life.” The situation in Canada is no different. While so much of our art-music here is European, it seems clear that if a strong cultural tradition is to take root here it can’t be simply transplanted European culture, but something that has grown out of life in this part of the world. We live in an interesting time, when performers and performing organizations – finding that sticking with what may at one time have been the “canon” in Europe doesn’t always work that well here – are motivated to explore new and less known repertoire, at the same time developing the cultural sensibilities of our place and time.
Allan Pulker is a flautist and a founder of The WholeNote who currently serves as Chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
The Aradia Ensemble has not been one to remain set in what’s usually considered the “baroque music norm.” They’ve often in the past reached out to collaborate with other traditions – for example Irish performers, Isadora Duncan dancers, Balinese gamelan.
The fascinating combination of baroque music and First Nations arts is the focus of their next presentation, “Thunderbird.” Intrigued to know how these two very different cultural expressions could be put together in one concert, I spoke to some of the performers involved. I can do no better than to offer their words:
“The biggest thread that ties together baroque and Aboriginal culture would be the beat that music provides. It starts with the heartbeat, it moves to the drum, the instruments strike up, people’s feet begin to twitch and dance is born. It may seem like a crazy thing to be combining such forces, but in my heart and mind it makes perfect sense that we are doing this concert. We all need music in our lives, no matter where we came from. No matter what exact form that music took during the early periods, we’ve always celebrated through song and movement.”
These are the words of Marion Newman, whose two lives as a classically-trained mezzo-soprano and a First Nations artist merge in “Thunderbird,” a concert centred around a centuries-old legend passed down for generations through the Newman family. On stage to tell it will be revered members of that family: Marion herself, of course; her uncle George Taylor, a renowned drummer and singer of stories of his people; and his son Jason Taylor, who will dance the story using a Thunderbird mask carved by master carver Victor Newman, Marion’s father.
Also on the programme is a new work by West Coast composer Dustin Peters, who explains how baroque and aboriginal elements reside in it: “The piece is not written in a baroque style; rather, sound qualities of a baroque ensemble are heavily considered. The use of harpsichord and chamber organ, gut strings vs. steel strings, period instruments, employing little vibrato in the strings have all played an important part in conceiving the work and its ‘sound.’ The text (in Kwakwala, sourced and developed by Marion Newman) remains the fundamental inspiration. It should also be noted that there is space for improvised contributions from the drummer and dancer written into the work.”
Aradia’s artistic director Kevin Mallon tells of the choices for the other pieces on the programme: “The Thunderbird is considered a ‘supernatural’ bird of power and strength. It is described as a large bird, capable of creating storms and thundering while it flies. The exploration of birds in baroque music is fairly standard, so we have decided to go more along the baroque Tempest way. Central to the baroque element are two works: Matthew Locke’s Music for the Tempest was written in 1674 for Shadwell’s Restoration version of Shakespeare’s Tempest. Included in this incidental music is an extraordinary ‘curtain tune’ which has as one of its markings ‘violent’ – this movement certainly hits the mark with the idea of the Tempest! The other baroque work is Louis-Nicolas Clérambault’s La Muse de l’Opéra. This is like a small opera – the music includes two dynamic storms, roaring waves and the earth trembling.”
This unique event takes place on May 15 in Glenn Gould Studio.
May 2: Community Baroque Orchestra of Toronto. This chamber orchestra specializes in music of the Baroque era performed on period instruments and in period style. They’ll present selections from Charpentier’s David and Jonathan, Telemann’s Water Music, and Lully’s Armide.
May 4: Vicki St. Pierre, a remarkable mezzo who is completing her doctorate in vocal performance at the U of T, gives her DMA recital in Walter Hall, singing solo alto cantatas by Bach and Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater. This free recital is one of many concerts of high artistic quality at universities, begging to be discovered.
May 5 to 8: Classical Music Consort. “2010 Springtime Handel Festival.” In this 4-concert festival at St. James’ Cathedral, some of Handel’s great but lesser-known solo, chamber and vocal music is explored. Founded by harpsichordist/conductor Ashiq Aziz, this group is committed to fostering new and talented performers, as well as giving innovative and enlightened performances of baroque and classical music.
May 7 and 8: The Toronto Consort presents “Lutefest,” which you can read about in this issue’s cover story. How fascinating to bring three world lute traditions together on the same stage!
May 8: The Orpheus Choir of Toronto presents another of Handel’s lesser-performed but great works, his dramatic oratorio Athalia.
May 9: Toronto Early Music Centre’s “Musically Speaking” series deserves to be better-known. In the serene, intimate setting of the Church of the Holy Trinity, these one-hour concerts bring exquisite music and wonderful performances. The series continues with a programme of late 16th-century Spanish and Italian repertoire, featuring soprano Katherine Hill, gambist Joëlle Morton and harpist Julia Seager-Scott.
May 12 to 15: Toronto Masque Theatre presents “A Molière Celebration.” Molière’s collaborations with two giants of French Baroque opera of his time, Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Baptiste Lully, are here celebrated in abridged versions (alive with vocal soloists, dancers, actors and baroque orchestra) of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Le Malade Imaginaire.
May 16 in Kitchener: Folia presents “The New Orpheus of Our Times: A Celebration of Arcangelo Corelli.” This is a tribute to the musician whose virtuosity, compositions and teaching brought the violin to new artistic heights.
May 16: Toronto Chamber Choir’s “Kaffeemusik: Bach and the German Motet.” The Choir’s afternoon Kaffeemusiks are mixtures of informative and entertaining commentary by music director Mark Vuorinen and music sung by the choir, with goodies to follow. In this presentation they’re joined by a chamber choir from Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, the school with which TCC has an educational partnership.
May 29: With intention to explore the sacred vocal music of the 17th century, Capella Intima presents a reprise of their well-received programme “Celestial Sirens,” performing a mass and motets by Cozzolani, Leonarda and others.
May 29 and 30, June 1: Tafelmusik presents Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt. As their press release states, “this is a tour de force of choral writing: Handel employs the choir to paint the vivid images of the Exodus on a musical canvas of massive proportions.”
June 5: With their indestructable panache, I Furiosi and guests recall the glory days of major battles and horrified, anxious soldiers, in “I (Furiosi) Declare War.”
June 5: St. Anne's Anglican Church presents “Raise the Roof with Bach.” Bach’s Magnificat in D and works by Vivaldi will be offered in a concert whose proceeds go toward repairs of historic St. Anne’s Church. The domed ceiling and chancel of this beautiful building display mural paintings dating from 1923, by ten Toronto artists, including three members of the Group of Seven.
Finally, the musical world mourns the death of Kenneth Solway, co-founder (with his wife, the late Susan Graves) of Tafelmusik. Their legacy is one of the foremost early music ensembles in the world, right here in Toronto.
Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities, who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year May is the new April. In the past, in Southern Ontario, April has seen the most operatic activity of any month of the year – but this year, May seems to have taken over that position. This month there are works from the 17th century to the 21st, most fully staged but some in concert format.
Dominating the schedule are three works staged by the Canadian Opera Company. The COC’s revival of its 1996 production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman opened on April 24 but continues until May 20. Evgeny Nikitin sings the title role, while Julie Makarov is Senta and Mats Almgren is Daland. The original director, Christopher Alden, directs, and COC music director Johannes Debus conducts his first Wagner opera for the company.
From May 1 to 30 the COC presents its first-ever Maria Stuarda, the 1835 opera by Gaetano Donizetti that premiered only three months after his Lucia di Lammermoor. Serena Farnocchia sings the title role with Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Elisabetta. Stephen Lawless directs the 2007 Dallas Opera production and Antony Walker conducts.
The COC concludes its 2009-10 season with its first production of Mozart’s Idomeneo since 2001. Toronto was treated to an outstanding Idomeneo from Opera Atelier in 2008, so it will be interesting to see how this 2007 production from l’Opéra du Rhin, directed by François de Carpentries, compares. Paul Groves sings the title role, with Krisztina Szabó as Idamante, Isabel Bayrakdarian as Ilia and Tamara Wilson as Elettra, so memorably sung for OA by Measha Brueggergosman. The opera runs from May 9 to 29 and is conducted by early music expert Harry Bicket.
Three more fully staged works come from smaller companies. Toronto Masque Theatre presents “A Molière Celebration.” In addition to purely spoken comedies, Molière also wrote so-called “comédie-ballets” that included interludes of song and dance often omitted in modern revivals. TMT will present the interludes written by Jean-Baptiste Lully for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in 1670 and those written by Lully’s rival Marc-Antoine Charpentier for Le Malade imaginaire in 1673. Soloists will include sopranos Shannon Mercer and Dorothea Ventura, countertenor Richard Whittall, tenor Cory Knight and baritone David Roth. Performances take place at the Al Green Theatre in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre from May 12 to 15, directed by Derek Boyes and conducted by Larry Beckwith. Visit www.torontomasquetheatre.com for details.
May will see the world premiere of Dean Burry’s The Secret World of Og, adapted from the beloved 1961 children’s book by Pierre Berton. The work is a commission by the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, and all 200 members of the CCOC will be on stage. As many will know, the story concerns four children who descend through a trapdoor into an underground world of mushrooms whose green inhabitants can only utter the word “Og.” CCOC artistic director Ann Cooper Gay will conduct and Joe Ivany will direct. The opera runs from May 5 to 9. For more information visit
Later in the month, from May 26 to 30, Urbanvessel revives its popular but highly unusual opera Stitch at the Theatre Centre. The 45-minute opera, subject of an “On Opera” interview with composer Juliet Palmer and librettist Anna Chatterton in March 2008, is written for three female voices accompanied only by the sound of sewing machines and concerns the mechanization of women’s work and its political ramifications. As in 2008, Christine Duncan, Patricia O’Callaghan and Neema Bickersteth will perform under the direction of Ruth Madoc-Jones. For more information visit
Two concert performances from Opera By Request fill out the month – Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail on May 7 and Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz on May 15. Both take place at the College Street United Church, 452 College St. See www.operaby-request.ca for details.
Finally, on May 1 and 2 Toronto Operetta Theatre is holding “A Gilbert and Sullivan Extravaganza,” a gala concert of G&S highlights including high tea. All the funds raised will go to assist TOT’s 2010-11 season. TOT patrons will know that the company was forced to cancel its production of The Pirates of Penzance last month for financial reasons. One consequence of the economic downturn in the arts has been the loss of donors and sponsors. TOT was hit particularly hard when a major sponsor pulled out just before the current season began. The company had to raise emergency funds simply to stage its second show, Canada’s own operetta, Leo, the Royal Cadet, a work that TOT’s efforts had rescued from undeserved obscurity. As Canada’s only professional operetta company, as one of the few in the world that strives to present works from all the national traditions, and as a company that from the beginning has showcased Canadian singers, TOT is a gem that must be preserved. Potential sponsors and donors please take note. Visit www.torontooperetta.com for more information.
Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-based writer on opera. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
With the wealth of choirs, opera companies and vocal music presenters that have a penchant for new music, we’re never at a loss for performances of contemporary repertoire. But this month there’s a visibly larger interest in the human voice, with several new-music presenters offering programs from the traditional to the unusual. Accompanying these concerts, summits and site-specific installations is an equally far-ranging exploration of themes concerning our place in the world and the state of humanity.
The Talisker Players, who are certainly no strangers to vocal music, close their 10th anniversary season on May 11 and 12 with “Illuminations” – a title that refers to the mystical and visionary texts that influence the selected pieces. The Taliskers depart from their usual chamber ensemble format to present Benjamin Britten’s stunning Illuminations, based on the fantastical poetry of Rimbaud, for soprano and string orchestra. Rising talent William Rowson conducts soprano Meredith Hall, who reaches beyond her renown in early music circles to also perform Harry Freedman’s Trois Poèmes de Jacques Prévert for soprano and string quartet. (It’s a shame that we won’t get to hear the Freedman in its original setting for soprano and string orchestra; he withdrew that version in 1981 and replaced it with the current setting.)
Also joining the Talisker’s is the much-in-demand tenor Lawrence Wiliford. Credited for his luminous projection, lyrical sensitivity and brilliant coloratura, Wiliford will perform Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis for tenor and strings, and Toronto-based Andrew Ager’s From the Rubáiyát for tenor and string quartet. A generation older but still a contemporary of Britten’s, Finzi may be lesser known, but certainly no less talented when it comes to lush writing, here inspired by metaphysical texts from Thomas Taherne. Ager’s rich and expressive piece, based on words from Persian philosopher Omar Khayyám, shows stylistic affinities with these British composers. It would have been lovely to hear the version for string trio and French horn, as it appears in the CentreStreams online audio service. Perhaps there is an opportunity to programme it with Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings in the future?
Nonetheless, these two concerts at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre allow us to hear lush music in the capable hands of excellent performers. For more info visit www.taliskerplayers.ca. For tickets call 416-978-8849 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few days later, we take a sharp turn towards the outer reaches of vocal exploration when a trifecta of adventurous vocalizers land at the Music Gallery and surrounding sites for the Voice Summit. Toronto’s Christine Duncan, Vancouver’s DB Boyko and New York City’s Shelley Hirsch show us why the world’s oldest and most democratic instrument has retained its power to create unbounded sonic experiences that also collapse social barriers.
At 8:00pm on May 16, Duncan and Boyko launch the Summit with a site-specific performance of Stall, a newly commissioned work by Victoria-based composer Christopher Butterfield, at the Harrison Baths and Swimming Pool. Stall, for voices and ambient sounds, explores the soundscape and social boundaries of the public washroom. The work is intended to cajole, disturb and at the same time demand restraint. Using a combination of absurd spoken word, humorous chant and a barrage of cut-up text, Stall examines the more subtle aspects of this particularly ubiquitous but often socially uncomfortable location.
Duncan and Boyko have a history of collaboration and over the years have developed a mesmerizing musical rapport that should make for a captivating world premiere performance. Back in the Gallery, the remarkably accomplished Shelley Hirsch will deliver a solo concert vocal improvisations at 9:00pm. Her practice encompasses story telling, staged performances, compositions, improvisations, collaborations (with a “who’s who” of contemporary music), installations and radio plays that have been presented on five continents. Those inspired by what they hear may want to attend Hirsch’s free vocal improvisation workshop on May 17. For more details visit www.musicgallery.org. For tickets call 416-204-1080 or visit www.ticketweb.ca.
Continuum’s 25th anniversary season closes on May 21 at the Music Gallery with “Wisdom of the Elders,” a concert that ambitiously seeks to ask questions about the human race and its place in the world. A cornerstone of the programme is a newly commissioned work by Toronto composer Juliet Palmer. How it Happened for ensemble and narrator re-examines an aboriginal creation myth in a setting of text taken from Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water. Renowned actor and activist RH Thomson joins Continuum as narrator for this world premiere.
Two works by American proto-minimalist Tom Johnson draw on diverse sociological inspirations. Narayana’s Cows uses the population explosion calculations of 14th-century Hindu mathematician Narayana as cumulative musical building blocks. Tortue de Mer for bass saxophone transcribes sand-drawing games and story-telling practices of the Vanuatu people of the Pacific islands. Soprano Carla Huhtanen returns to Continuum to perform British composer Geoff Hannan’s Where I Live is Shite/Where I Live is Posh, a politically satirical work that tackles the subject of contemporary population pressures that result in absurdity, irritation and unhappiness. The progamme is rounded out by a reprise of early-career Canadian composer Aaron Gervais’ Jackhammer Lullaby – a re-arrangement of his work Community-Normed, which was commissioned by Continuum in 2008. In writing about the piece, Gervais said “I’ve become increasingly interested in presenting pieces in multiple versions and combinations. Why multiple versions? Because music today is multiple. Everyone is exposed to music from multiple cultures, from multiple time periods and in multiple versions. Musically, Jackhammer Lullaby presents a humorous musical setting of trying to fall asleep with construction going on outside the window.” For more info visit www.continuummusic.org. For tickets, visit www.wisdom.eventbrite.com.
The month closes out with Urbanvessel’s remount of its Dora-nominated Stitch from May 26 to May 30 at the Theatre Centre. This production brings together the original creative team behind the sold-out, critically acclaimed production that premiered during the 2008 Free Fall festival. Stitch is an a cappella opera created by composer-librettist duo Juliet Palmer and Anna Chatterton. As they describe it, the opera is “hemmed in by the language of sewing and the inexorable rhythm of the machine, [where] three women fight to find space for imagination and individuality. Stitch gives voice to the unseen women who clothe us all.” Ruth Madoc-Jones directs a remarkable cast of vocalists: Christine Duncan, Patricia O’Callaghan and Neema Bickersteth. For more info, including details about the May 29 gala performance and links to sneak-peek videos, visit www.theatrecentre.org. For tickets, call 416-538-0988.
Jason van Eyk is the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
May is “Canary” month – the month in which The WholeNote publishes its annual Choral Directory – so I thought it fitting to first mention what some of the choirs are doing with world music. Echo Women’s Choir (directed by Becca Whitla and Alan Gasser) celebrates spring, freedom and the outdoors with “Throw the Window Open,” May 16 at Church of the Holy Trinity. Among others works, the programme will include songs from South Africa and the Republic of Georgia sung in the original languages, as well as Holly Near’s Hay una mujer, which commemorates women who were “disappeared” during the Chilean junta of the 1970s. Toronto’s Afrocentric choir, the Nathaniel Dett Chorale, performs May 26 and 29 at the Glenn Gould Studio. “And Still We Sing...Steel Singin,” features the new steel pan ensemble Legacy Groove Pan. The programme will showcase Trinidadian Calypso rhythms, West Indian folk music, works by David Rudder, and more.
The Toronto Jewish Folk Choir presents its 84th spring concert at Walter Hall, May 30. The concert which celebrates the memory of Emil Gartner, the choir’s longest serving conductor, will feature his daughter, Toronto Symphony cellist Esther Gartner, in Srul Glick’s Yiddish Suite No. 1, composed to poems by Yiddish-Canadian poets. She’ll also premiere a new work by Raymond Luedeke, commissioned for this concert, as well as perform in Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes with a chamber ensemble. The programme also features classical works, as well as songs in Hebrew and Judeo-Spanish.
As much a world-music concert as an early music one, “Lutefest” closes the Toronto Consort’s season with performances on May 7 and 8. I won’t go into detail here as it’s the topic of our cover story, but I couldn’t leave it out entirely. The programme features three instruments that are essentially cousins: the Middle Eastern oud, played by Bassam Bishara; the western lute (whose name is derived from the French “l’oud”), played by the Toronto Consort’s Terry McKenna; and the Chinese pipa, played by Wen Zhao. Do read the cover story for more!
Presented by Small World Music, the Gundecha Brothers present an evening of Indian Dhrupad music. Dhrupad is a slow, meditative, deeply spiritual ancient vocal music tradition, and Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha are, like the Dagar brothers before them, two of India’s leading artists in this style of music, performing both at home and internationally. You can hear them at The Yoga Sanctuary (2 College St.) on May 7.
Toronto’s Lula Lounge is a well known hotbed of musical activity, and this month they present “Lulaworld 2010,” a festival of world music running May 5 to 30. This concert series presents both Canadian and international artists, representing a truly global array of musical identities, with a special focus this year on Latin America. The festival opens with Latin jazz ensemble Bomba with bassist Fito Garcia and vocalist Marlin Ramazzini. There are too many artists to list here, so please visit Lula’s website at www.lulalounge.ca.
Here are some highlights of “Lulaworld 2010.” Afrolatino Dance Company and Roberto Linares Brown present a Cuban Cabaret, “I am Cuba,” with show-girls, a Cuban orchestra and dance lesssons, May 8. Kinobe and Soul Beat Africa perform Ugandan roots music and original compostions, May 13. Colombia Mon Amor with Orquesta Fantasia present Colombian music, featuring a salsa ensemble with dance lessons by Bailaboogaloo, May 15. Son Jarocho with Cafe con Pan and Yohualichan offer an evening of Mexican music in honour of the bicentennial of Mexican independence, May 16. (This is preceded the afternoon before with a film screening of Los Soneros del Tesechoacan, followed by a dance and music workshop.) Mondo Uke features world music for the ukulele, with a bossa nova workshop for uke players followed by a concert of global ukulele music, May 17. Viva Celia presents a tribute to Celia Cruz, “Queen of Salsa,” featuring vocalists Patricia Cano, Alberto Alberto and Luis Mario Ochoa, May 22. And there’s a whole lot more!
Caribbean/Latin Jazz ensemble CaneFire launches its second CD, Pandemonium, May 19 at the Glenn Gould Studio. This Toronto group has been around for the past five years, and has won praise in Trinidad and Tobago after appearing in festivals there. I’ve had a listen to some of the album, and can testify that this is top-notch, polished performing of instrumental and vocal jazz, with the virtuoso steel-pan playing of Mark Mosca as one of the many highlights. Headed by pianist and composer Jeremy Ledbetter, the band features well-known guest musicians David Rudder and Hermeto Pascoal, as well as Alexis Baró (trumpet), Braxton Hicks (saxophones), Yoser Rodriguez (bass), Alberto Suárez (percussion) and Chendy León (drums). This promises to be a lively evening!
Opening May 19 and running to the 23rd, Seventh Stage Theatre presents 9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo. The play presents a portrait of nine Iraqi women, “a timely meditation on the ancient, the modern and the feminine in a country overshadowed by war.” The production features an all-star cast including someone who neeeds no introduction here, Arabic singer Maryem Hassan Tollar, who wrote the music for the production as well as acting in it.
Here’s some news about world renowed mrdangam player and and professor of south Indian music at York University Trichy Sankaran: “I wanted to let you know that my father is releasing a book, The Art of Konnakkol (Solkattu – Spoken rythms of south India),” writes his daughter Suba, of Autorickshaw fame. “It’s a groundbreaking work and educational manual, including accompanying CD”. Both father and daughter, members of Autorickshaw and other special guests celebrate with a free concert at the Music Gallery, May 27. The book will be available at a reduced price, this time only!
And heading to the traditions of North India, the Toronto Tabla Ensemble performs at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre, May 28 and 29. They join forces with two dance companies, Chhandam and Lavish. For more info, visit www.tablaensemble.com.
Coming up in June is another Small World Music presentation, in partnership with Roy Thomson Hall, Persian vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian performs with Shahnaz Ensemble, June 6. One of the most well known artists of Iranian classical music, Shajarian has had a career spanning over 40 years, both at home and internationally. He’ll be accompanied by an ensemble of 15 instrumentalists.
Karen Ages can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
We all know who Satin Doll is – but how many of you know Queenie Pie? They both inhabited the world of Duke Ellington, although one was a lot more successful than the other.
Satin Doll, a collaboration with Billy Strayhorn – and indeed there was some question as to who was the real father – saw the light of day in 1953; Queenie Pie had a much longer gestation period beginning in the early 60s and was still a work in progress at the time of Ellington's death in 1974. (I've reviewed a new recording of it in the DISCoveries section of The WholeNote this month.)
Queenie Pie was a musical, originally intended for National Educational Television in the USA, which in 1970 became PBS. The work was loosely based on the story of C.J. Walker who developed hair-care products and through her efforts and business acumen was the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire.
Jazz impresario Norman Granz remembered Ellington having begun the project in the early 60s and that Ella Fitzgerald was supposed to play Queenie Pie, but PBS support was withdrawn and, necessity no longer having to be the mother of invention, the work languished to the extent that when the Duke died it was still incomplete. What material there was consisted of some lead sheets, lyrics and harmonic progressions.
When the work was first performed in 1986, a libretto had been adapted from Ellington's original story, additional lyrics were written and a score in the style of Ellington had been arranged.
Now, here's the 64 dollar question: Is it still Ellington?
There are, of course many examples of unfinished works, completed by other musicians – Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10, Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 7 and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem are famous examples – but they were certainly partially completed, not simply melodic lines and harmonic suggestions.
It has to be understood also that Ellington's true instrument was his orchestra and he wrote with his own musicians, especially his soloists, in mind, and was able to experiment with colourings, tonal effects and the unusual voicings that were his hallmark. And having a working orchestra enabled him to hear his music being played. It is well known that in lean years the royalties from his "hits" subsidized the band, enabling him to keep using his "instrument." In a Newsday interview in 1969 he said, "The writing and playing of music is a matter of intent... My music fits the tonal personality of the player. I think too strongly in terms of altering my music to fit the performer to be impressed by accidental music."
It all leaves me just a bit uncomfortable about calling Queenie Pie an Ellington work. Any thoughts?
Mary Lou Williams
This month sees the centenary of one of the most significant women in jazz, a fact that is sadly overlooked by many. I'm referring to Mary Lou Williams, who was the most important female jazz musician to emerge in the first three decades of the music. She also had a bearing on the career of Duke Ellington; in 1941 Mary Lou traveled with and wrote for the Ellington Band for about six months. One of her arrangements was called Trumpet No End, based on the changes of Blue Skies and it is a prime example of just how well she could write. Duke Ellington said of Mary Lou, "Her music retains, and maintains, a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul."
She was a composer, arranger and master of blues, boogie woogie, stride, swing and be-bop. She also had to cope with a musical environment in which women instrumentalists were hardly plentiful and women arranger/composers were as scarce as hen's teeth.
She was the first jazz composer to write sacred works. She composed three complete Masses, one of which, Mary Lou's Mass, was performed right here in Toronto. I was fortunate enough to know her and privileged to assist in presenting that performance.
If your travels should take you to Washington DC, the 15th Annual Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Centre will celebrate the 100th anniversary of pianist Williams' birth with three evenings of concerts featuring top female jazz artists: vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, pianist Geri Allen, bassist Esperanza Spalding and saxophonist Grace Kelly; vocalist Catherine Russell, drummer Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra.
There will also be a celebration in New York on Williams' birthday, May 8, at the Church of St. Francis Xavier. A very special lady indeed.
Right here in Toronto here are a few things worth the mention. On May 2 there will be a fundraiser at Koerner Hall for the Geneva Centre for Autism featuring Chaka Khan and Matt Savage and his band. For info call 416-408-0208.
On the 8th, St. George's Memorial Church in Oshawa will present Jazz at George's with vocalist Lynn McDonald, Dave Restivo, piano; Pat Reid, bass and Ted Warren, drums. Call 905-263-2791. On the 25th and 26th of the month at the Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, the Art of Time Ensemble will present "The Songbook 4," featuring vocalist Mary Maragret O'Hara, saxophonist Phil Dwyer, guitarist Rob Piltch and cellist Rachel Mercer. For reservations call 416-703-5479.
The Annual Ken Page Memorial Trust Gala fundraiser will be held at The Old Mill on May 20. Warren Vaché and brother Allan Vache, trombonists George Masso and Laurie Bower, John Sherwood, Neil Swainson, Don Thompson, Reg Schwager, Terry Clarke and Lucian Gray are confirmed at time of writing. They will also be joined by a saxophone player called Galloway. It promises to be a pretty special evening. For reservations please call Anne Page at 416-515-0200 or e-mail email@example.com
I hope your May days will be distress-free. Happy listening.
Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and the former artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In last December’s Bandstand column I talked about choirs performing with concert bands and how that form of joint venture was very popular over the Christmas holiday season. At that time we lamented the dearth of music written specifically for such a combination. Subsequently, I received a few letters on the subject, but little evidence to contradict what I had written. I still found little evidence of any conscious effort on the part of bands, choirs, arrangers or composers to rectify that situation. What a pleasant surprise it was then when, a few weeks ago, I was treated to no fewer than three such works on a single programme.
The event was a joint concert in late March by the Oriana Singers of Cobourg and the Concert Band of Cobourg. With the assistance of a grant from the Trillium Foundation of Ontario these organizations were able commission two special very diverse arrangements. The first arrangement, entitled A Ruth Lowe Celebration, was a medley of tunes by that Canadian composer, including “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “Put Your Dreams Away.” I’m accustomed to hearing choirs perform with bands, but there’s always the sense that separate groups are sharing the platform. Rather, in this concert, there was the sense of hearing a unified single ensemble, and listeners were treated to a smooth blend of voice, woodwind and brass rarely heard.
Their rendition of Freddy Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody was very different. It bore no resemblance to the arrangement often performed by concert bands, and certainly did not indicate that its roots were in a rock band some years ago. The third joint venture was an original work on a sacred theme. “Benedictus” by Steven M. Baric exploited the unique tonality of these combined forces in a way rarely heard.
In a future issue I hope to be able to get some insight into the process involved with the Trillium Foundation for such purposes. I also hope to get information on how other groups might obtain copies and performance rights for these works, which deserve to be heard more widely.
In our concert listings in last month’s issue there was an announcement of a joint venture on May 1 by the Orillia Wind Ensemble and the Cellar Singers. I hope to attend their version of the “Last Night of the Proms," in my quest for more of that combination.
The second topic has to do with how the role of women in bands has changed over the years. When I first started playing in a “boys’ band” some years ago, I was unaware of how girls were routinely excluded. That’s probably because there were girls in our band. Solo cornet and first trombone positions were both held by girls. On reflection though, perhaps they had received some preferential treatment; they were daughters of the bandmaster.
Some time ago I wrote about the controversy sparked at the University of Toronto in 1947 when a young woman applied to join the band. The student council held a formal debate to determine whether or not the musician in question should be permitted to join the band. I’m happy to report that the woman is still playing regularly in a community band some 63 years later.
My interest in this subject was kindled again when a friend sent me an email with an article about a trumpet soloist in a community band in Massachusetts. As a child in elementary school, Edith Pliskin always wanted to play an instrument and thought of taking up the violin, she said, “but my brother, Jimmy, suggested the trumpet because few women play that instrument.” When she attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the university did not permit women to play in the band. “At that time it was for men only.” Sound familiar? Well Edith now has her day. Her next performance will be with a wind ensemble at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, on May 4. As usual, she will probably play at least one solo. Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that Edith celebrated her 90th birthday a while back.
If that isn’t sufficient evidence of how the role of women in bands has changed, consider this. The next International Women’s Brass Conference will be held June 16-20, 2010, in Toronto at Humber College. This annual conference was founded in 1993 by Susan Slaughter, principal trumpet of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra who is retiring at the end of this season after 40 years of leading the brass section of that orchestra. In her honour, the conference has announced the 2010 Susan Slaughter International Brass Competitions. These competitions for women performers of all brass instruments will be held prior to the conference from June 13 to 16. The conference will be hosted by well known Toronto hornist Joan Watson and Denny Christianson, head of music at Humber College.
Most portions of the conference will take place at the Humber College Lakeshore Campus with concerts at the Assembly Hall a short distance to the East. The Grand Finale Concert of the conference, appropriately named “Brass Belles,” will take place at The Jane Mallett Theatre. It promises to be a spectacular pairing of some amazing IWBC Guest Artists and Toronto’s own Hannaford Street Silver Band. Look for more details in the June issue of The WholeNote. In the meantime visit their website, www.iwbctoronto2010.com.
Another item I was going to talk about was migrating back to orchestral playing after years of playing in concert bands. However, I’ve run out of space – more on that in a future issue. Let’s hear your stories.
This month’s lesser known musical term is CACOPHANY: “a composition incorporating many people with chest colds.”We invite submissions from readers.
• May 1, 7:15pm: Milton Concert Band presents “A Perfect Score – Music from Movies and Television.” St. Paul’s United Church.
• May 1, 7:30pm: Orillia Wind Ensemble presents “Last Night
of the Proms.” Rule Britannia, and other classics. Roy Menagh, director, with the Cellar Singers. Orillia Opera House, 20 Mississaga St. W., Orillia.
• May 2 and 9, 3:00pm: Wellington Winds presents “The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire.” Works by Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Grainger, Cable, Benjamin and others. Daniel Warren, conductor; Michael Purves-Smith, oboe. First United Church, 16 William St., Waterloo.
• May 7, 8:00pm: Etobicoke Community Concert Band, John Edward Liddle, conductor present “Glorious and Free,” a programme of marches, anthems and songs. A musical tribute to our Canadian military featuring Kathy Thompson, guest vocalist. Silverthorn Collegiate Auditorium, 291 Mill Road, Etobicoke.
• May 15, 2:00pm: Northdale Concert Band, with conductor Stephen Chenette, pays tribute to legendary Canadian composer and trumpet player Johnny Cowell. The concert will feature some of Cowell’s most famous solos as performed by well-known trumpet player John Edward Liddle plus a special guest appearance by Johnny Cowell himself. Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Drive. Admission free.
• May 15, 7:30pm: Festival Wind Orchestra offers “Spring into Summer,” Keith Reid, conductor. Jarvis Collegiate Institute.
Down the Road
• June 20, 3:00pm: Hannaford Street Silver Band presents “Brass Belles” with brass band showpieces by international composers, performed by an all-female cast of soloists and led by guest conductor Gillian MacKay, Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre.
Jack MacQuarrie plays several brass instruments, and has performed in many community ensembles. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Live music is the red thread that ties the club listings together, but the ever-expanding list contains everything from extravagant to unpretentious, from dance hall to pool hall. To help plan your next outing, in the spotlight this month are places where dancing and dining are ideal.
Dovercourt House: Dancing is the main attraction at the Dovercourt, where Swing Toronto (aka “Odd Socks”) gives happy feet a chance to dance every Saturday! Sensational swing bands set the scene every Saturday from 9:30pm-1am, preceded by two beginner dance classes at 7pm. $13 for unlimited dancing, $15 including one class, $18 includes both classes. On Saturday May 29, a non-profit tribute to influential American dancer, instructor and choreographer Frankie Manning (1914-2009), one of the founding fathers of Lindy Hop. www.odd-socks.org
The Reservoir Lounge: The charming “Res” is one of Toronto’s historic jazz venues, and the only one with a dance floor to boot. Known for being Michael Buble’s old stomping ground back in the day, this club is where you can find great jazz, jump blues, and boogie woogie including endearing acts like Sophia Perlman and the Vipers on Monday nights, Bradley & the Bouncers on Wednesdays and Tyler Yarema every Tuesday and Saturday Night. The fantastic fusion menu is very much worth mentioning and so is the mouth-watering martini selection! www.reservoirlounge.com
Lula Lounge: Lovers of world music will embrace the Lula World festival from May 5 to 30. If your mom likes to dance, don’t miss Mother’s Day brunch on May 9 with the incomparable Luis Mario Ochoa and his Cuban Sextet, followed that evening by a passionate concert with vocalist Eliana Cuevas featuring Luanda Jones. A double bill on May 12 unites eclectic vocalist Yvette Tollar and Serbian saxophonist Jasna Jovicevic. On May 22 musical director Sean Bellaviti presents Viva Celia: a tribute to the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. Full details on this extraordinary multicultural extravaganza at www.lula.ca
Hungry? Famished? Pregnant? Craving? Hear live music here
Aquila Restaurant: Passionate about good food, owner and Chef Jose Corniellis smokes meat the old fashioned way using natural wood, and sticks to organically grown produce. Entrees on the extensive menu include bison striploin ($19.95), naturally smoked salmon ($18.95) and Australia rack of lamb ($25.50); plenty of lunch specials and weekend brunch. Stay for live jazz every Saturday night including “Bari’d Alive” with Anthony Terpstra and Phil Skladowski on the last Saturday of every month. www.torontorestaurants.com/aquila
Ten Feet Tall: This east side eatery is a significant source of good times, thanks largely to its tastefully creative menu. Savoury items include Chicken Imperial ($14), Pad Thai ($14), make your own pizza and the popular new, Mac ‘n’ Cheese Boutique! Live music fits well with the funky décor in this vibrant Danforth spot; Saturday night cabarets go from 8-10pm and Sunday afternoon jazz matinees go 3:30-6:30, no cover charge, reservations encouraged.
Plum 226: Formerly the Anabella Lounge, this charming new Cabbagetown room is under new management and has recently reopened after renovations. Below the restaurant, the intimate 30-seat lounge has much to boast: an appetizing Italian menu, friendly service, stellar atmosphere and priceless live music. Romantic, elegant and reasonably priced, this is a great date destination! Exquisite tapas, pizzas and pastas, and mains including Atlantic Salmon ($20) and Sea Bass ($23). Catch the Lisa Particelli Trio on Friday May 21, No Cover, 8-11pm. Norman Marshall Villeneuve plays the last Friday of every month.
Happy Birthday To NMV: Speaking of Norman Marshall Villeneuve, the veteran jazz drummer celebrates his 72 birthday at The Pilot Tavern on Saturday May 29th from 3:30-6:30pm.
Rarities & Reservations
Funny how some patrons seem to have reservations about making them. Or perhaps, they forget. In any case, to avoid disappointment, be sure to buy your tickets or book your seats in advance. The following rare appearances are definitely worth reserving for:
The Old Mill: Thursday May 13, 7:30-10:30pm, experience the world-renowned talents of the Peter Appleyard Quintet in the Old Mill’s Dining Room. British by birth, Appleyard made Canada his home in 1951 and has since enjoyed a glorious career as studio musician and television personality. At 82, he still swings like nobody’s business. Joining Appleyard in concert will be four fine gentlemen of jazz: guitarist Reg Schwager, pianist John Sherwood, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke. $35 Cover. Also at the Old Mill this month, on May 7 and 8, a two-night stint with gifted pianist, vocalist and composer Laila Biali at the Home Smith Bar with bassist Jordan O’Connor and drummer Ben Wittman. www.oldmilltoronto.com
Chalkers Pub: Saturday May 15 from 6-9pm, don’t miss a rare club appearance by seasoned vocalist Lisa Martinelli, an expert jazz educator at Humber College, The University of Toronto and formerly York University. She’ll be accompanied by Adrean Farrugia on piano, Pat Collins on bass and featuring Kevin Turcotte on trumpet. $10 Cover. Also at Chalkers Pub, don’t miss two Donny Hathaway Tributes this month starring the sensational Michael Dunston Sundays May 2 and 16 from 7-10pm, $20 cover, available online at ticketweb.ca or by calling 1-888-222-6608. www.chalkerspub.com
Hugh’s Room: Tuesday May 18 starting at 8:30pm soulful vocalist Sacha Williamson showcases her heartfelt music heard all too rarely in this city. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door…you know the drill! www.hughsroom.com
Speaking of buying your tickets in advance, the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival has announced the lineup for this year’s edition, and certain shows are bound to sell out. Headliners include: Nikki Yanofsky (June 25), Herbie Hancock Imagine Project plus Brandi Disterheft (June 26), Harry Connick Jr. (June 27), Stanley Clarke Band featuring Hiromi (June 28), Dave Brubeck Quartet (June 29) and Keith Jarrett with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette (June 30). Full details available at www.torontojazz.com