The cast of What Goes Up learning frisbee. Photo credit: Dahlia KatzOn August 19 to 22 on the 17th floor of the new offices of Canada’s newspaper The Globe and Mail, a remarkable new initiative for fostering the creation of new musicals is taking its first public steps.

REPRINT is the first project of a new program called LAUNCH PAD, created by the combined forces of The Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals – and it sounds thrilling.   Three creative teams have spent the last ten months creating new short (approximately 20-minute) musicals, each inspired by an article and/or photograph from The Globe and Mail’s archives.

A photo of screaming fans at the Beatles concert in Toronto in the 1960s inspired the team of Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston and Nick Green to create Fan Girl, set in a contemporary (2019) YouTube world of fans and idols. The famous widespread blackout of 2003, as captured in the photo of a couple sitting in a Riverdale Park looking out over a Toronto without lights, led to the creation of Cygnus by composer/lyricist Anton Lipovetsky and book writer Steven Gallagher, all intrigued about how major events like this can bring people together unexpectedly. And in perhaps the most unexpected choice of all, it was photos of frisbee players on the Toronto Islands in the 1980s that caught the imaginations of composer Colleen Dauncey, lyricist Akiva Romer-Segal and book writer Ellen Denny (whom readers will remember from playing the leading role in Britta Johnson’s musical Life After) and led them to create What Goes Up—an exploration of the little-known world of Freestyle Frisbee competition (which bears the same relation to the sport of Ultimate Frisbee that figure skating bears to hockey).

Each short musical has its own specific director and music director team, but all three shows share the same cast of four actors. Guiding the project as a whole are program co-directors  Robert McQueen (acclaimed director of Life After, Fun Home, and many more) and New York City-based orchestrator, musical arranger and music director Lynne Shankel (previously in Toronto for Life After).

Fascinated by this project, its structure and its ambitious goals, I reached out to The Musical Stage Company’s artistic director Mitchell Marcus to find out more.

The following interview has been condensed and edited.

WN: The upcoming REPRINT is the first project of LAUNCH PAD, a new initiative from The Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals. Can you tell me what inspired this idea and what your goals with the program are?

MM: Because musical theatre is in its infancy in Canada, some of our most innovative and interesting writers likely have not had many (or any) chances to bring a musical to full production. This is problematic, as creating a good song or an interesting story is only the first phase of being a great musical theatre writer – musicals are a highly collaborative form and so much of the work happens not just in a writer's head, but through 'in the room' experience, where pieces are rewritten and honed over and over again in a collaborative setting.

LAUNCH PAD was intended to bridge this gap for a large group of people, in a country with limited capacity to develop tons of full-length musicals each year, and to offer exciting voices the chance to take their work through a full developmental process. Long-term, we hope that it gives us an army of artists (composers, lyricists, book writers, directors and music supervisors) who understand the trajectory and phases of developing new musicals, and who develop a common language around how to do development work.

WN: The performances of REPRINT will take place on the 17th floor of the offices of The Globe and Mail newspaper, and each of the three short musicals is inspired by a photograph and/or headline from the Globe’s archives. Can you tell me what inspired this specific location and context?

MM: In 2016 we invited writers to respond to the permanent collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The resulting short musicals were exceptional, and the experience for the audience was superb – having a common collection as a prompt, and allowing the audience to experience the final product in the space that houses the collection, really demonstrated the artistic process. It struck us that newspaper articles similarly offer a wonderful prompt. News tells us stories through facts. But it's ripe for inspiring characters, circumstances, worlds and conflicts. In particular, because of their glorious 17th floor space in their new building, we thought that The Globe and Mail would have both the right archive and the right performance space to help audiences see the hidden 'theatre' in our collective history.

WN: There are three teams involved in REPRINT, each responsible for creating and preparing one of three short musicals – teams that include composer, lyricist, book writer, director and musical director (though some team members wear two “hats”). How were these teams chosen?

MM: Because the goal of the program is to build an army of people who have a common expectation around new musical development, we chose a collection of people who are excellent in their craft, who we feel (based on their past work) can make a major contribution to the development of new musicals in Toronto, and who would benefit from fine-tuning their work on a full-length development process. Remarkably, other than two composer/lyricist teams, no one had partnered together previously. This was a huge risk, and the artists took an enormous leap of faith letting us pair them up in combinations that we felt would be fruitful based on what we knew of their work. Thankfully, I think the matches turned out to be fantastic!

The cast and creative team of REPRINT. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.WN: There is one small team of four musical theatre actors who will perform all three shows. How were these people chosen, and how has having this set number of very specific performers affected the creation of the shows? 

MM: We went in search of actors who fulfilled two criteria: [first], we needed very versatile performers, as we had to choose a cast before the works were written. Second, we knew that these pieces would be seriously "in development" until the very first audience, so we needed actors who could learn music and lines quickly, and who thrived in an environment that was constantly changing. After we created a shortlist based on those criteria, we tried to find an assortment of ages, genders, looks, types, etc. so that we would be covered no matter what the musicals ended up requiring.

WN: Can you tell me about the process that the teams have gone through to create their new musicals for REPRINT

MM: In the fall, the writers were given access to the news and photo archive at The Globe and Mail. First step was to select a prompt which spoke to them alongside a rough idea for the musical. The writers created a first draft and had a chance to work with their directors, music supervisors and actors in a two-day workshop in the winter, after which they received notes from their teams, from our organization, and from two international mentors who were attached to the project. They then created a second draft in the spring and again had a two-day workshop and notes. Over the summer, they had the chance to go on a writers' retreat to fine-tune their final draft. And then, during the three-week rehearsal period, they had the chance to continue to hone the work as it was staged. In between, we also had sessions with international experts in musical theatre to talk about effective methods of collaboration, and at the end of the process, international guests come to see the works and then meet 1-on-1 with the writers about their musicals.

WN: This is an exciting experimental process for creating new musicals. Have there been any surprises for you along the way? What can audiences expect?

MM: The biggest surprise has been how well the teams have thrived in this complex structure – and how truly helpful I think this has been to solidify a practice of developing new musicals for them and for us as an organization. 

For audiences, I think it will be absolutely thrilling to watch three original pieces that are each so different and yet so compelling. It will be a tour-de-force to see these actors transform from show to show. Plus, REPRINT will demonstrate the breadth of imagination that exists in both the minds of our talented local writers and the black and white pages of the newspaper.

Fan Girl
Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston (music & lyrics)
Nick Green (book)
Tracey Flye (director)
Adam Sakiyama (music director & supervisor)

Cygnus
Anton Lipovetsky (music & lyrics)
Steven Gallagher (book)
Ann Hodges (director)
Wayne Gwillim (music director & supervisor)

What’s Goes Up
Colleen Dauncey (music)
Akiva Romer-Segal (lyrics)
Ellen Denny (book)
Lezlie Wade (director)
Shelley Hanson (music director & supervisor)

All three musicals will star Brandon Antonio, Kaylee Harwood, Michael De Rose and Kelsey Verzotti.

REPRINT is onstage from August 19 to 22 at The Globe and Mail Centre, Toronto. It will be filmed for broadcast via podcast in 2020. The original articles that inspired the works can be viewed online here.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

Syreeta Hector in Black Ballerina. Photo credit: Jason Tse.The SummerWorks Performance Festival is celebrating its 29th year of showcasing new and groundbreaking multidisciplinary theatre, music, and dance in Toronto from August 8 to 18.

Though similar to the Fringe in that there are many wildly different companies and artists to see, SummerWorks is very different in that the Fringe chooses its shows by lottery, while Summerworks chooses its shows by a careful process of application and selection. Under artistic director Laura Nanni’s leadership, the festival’s jury process has led to increasingly fearless, risk-taking programming, giving both artists and audiences an opportunity to explore many of the often difficult ideas and topics at the forefront of our contemporary world.

This year there are over 400 performers in over 30 events, based mostly in the Queen Street West area near the Theatre Centre, but also at individual sites around the city. Looking at the lineup of music theatre works, five in particular  stood out for me. While all completely different, they do have two things in common: each piece has an urgent story to tell – and in each case, music is an integral part of the telling.

Cliff Cardinal. Photo credit: Nadya Kwansibenz.1. Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 11-17

Perhaps the most high-profile music theatre work in the Summerworks Presentations series is Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special. A highly anticipated follow-up to Cardinal’s multi award-winning solo show Huff, it teams him again with his director/dramaturge Karin Randoja. While Huff  was hard-hitting in its depiction of the lives of a group of Indigenous youth dealing with substance abuse and a high risk of suicide, audiences also found it hilarious and this same combination of dark humour and grounded storytelling is expected in this new solo show, though this time it will probably be on the lighter side. Cardinal (son of acclaimed Canadian actor Tantoo Cardinal) grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation listening to CBC Radio, but not hearing the experiences of his family and community being represented very much in its programming. To address that gap, he has created his own ‘CBC broadcast’ and filled it with dark and catchy folk songs, miraculous stories of familial resilience, and legends of Turtle Island survival, with an aim of entertaining – as well as giving untold stories their time on the air.

2. Audible Songs from Rockwood
Theatre Centre, Franco Boni Theatre, August 10-18

On the darker side is Audible Songs from Rockwood, a “concert staged for theatre” based on the album of the same name by Simone Schmidt and her band Fiver. The songs in turn are based on the case files of women incarcerated at the Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Kingston, Ontario between 1856 and 1861. Yes, prison and criminalized insanity make for a dark musical show, but this is part of what makes SummerWorks important – that it does not shrink from telling these uncomfortable stories.

Schmidt, a veteran songwriter, spent two years conducting research in the prison archives, retrieving the stories of these women. This led to an acclaimed album of songs that have now been turned into a theatrical event (co-created with director Frank Cox O’Connell and designer Shannon Lea Doyle), which uses these story songs as a starting point to ask questions about not only the historical definition of sanity, but also the contemporary ramifications of a system of incarceration built upon the foundation of a colonial settler agenda. Schmidt, who has a distinctive husky alto voice, leads the cast of three which includes Carlie Howell and Laura Bates.

3. Crossing Into Lullaby
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 8, 10, 11

In the Lab series of works at an earlier stage of creation, Crossing Into Lullaby takes as a starting point an old family story of an undiagnosable sickness that binds the living to the dead. More enigmatic fable than historical fact, the show revisits this story in a re-telling by creator Dian Marie Bridge and a team of multi-disciplinary artists, and harnesses voice work and electronic soundscapes in an attempt to cure the sickness by breaking the bindings of the story’s characters’ unspoken fears and laying them to rest. The use of music to heal in the story and production is particularly intriguing.

Syreeta Hector in Black Ballerina. Photo credit: Jason Tse.4. Black Ballerina
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 11, 14, 18

Another show in the Lab series, Black Ballerina, starts from a very real and very personal point of view – that of creator and performer Syreeta Hector, a young but already highly accomplished dancer and educator of mixed Indigenous, African, Canadian and French descent.

Trained at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre as well as the National Ballet School’s Teacher Training Program, and having received a master’s degree from the Dance Program at York University, she uses this new solo show to explore questions of identity and dance form, specifically the clash between her own blackness and the usually white bodies of the classical ballet world. She promises to dig into these issues, including the need we all feel to fit in, through storytelling, movement and music (an original score by Zarnoosh Bilimoria). To give even more depth and detail to her vision is movement dramaturge Seika Boye (It’s About Time, Dancing Black in Canada 1900 - 1970). It will be fascinating to see the range of movement the show employs.

5. The Breath Between
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 8, 10, 12, 16

The Breath Between, created and performed by the young artists of the AMY (Artists Mentoring Youth) Project, seems to strike a true note of hope in the context of calamity. Set in a future following a climate catastrophe where everyone is forced to live under the control and cover of “the Dome,” the queer youth of Tkaronto emerge to take part in the first Pride event in years, only to discover that it is not the celebration they had hoped it would be. A small band of them break out of the dystopia and journey into space to explore the meaning of community, connection, and home. While the format of an interweaving of monologues, poetry, movement and music is not in itself ground-breaking, it sounds as though the content is refreshing in finding positivity despite the surrounding dystopia. The young characters share stories of their resilience, but even more importantly, their dreams of what new worlds we can make together – even in apocalyptic times.

Please see www.summerworks.ca for a full schedule and information about all the shows and events. Tickets for most shows are $15-35, and some events are free.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

JenShyu Photo1 StevenSchreiberbannerJen Shyu, who performs at the Guelph Jazz Festival this year. Photo credit: Steven Schreiber.Though many summer festivals have already wrapped up their 2019 editions, the season isn’t over yet. There are a number of late-summer festivals slotted for August and September, both in southern Ontario and further afield. Whether you prefer to make a day trip out of town or stay close to home, there are upcoming musical offerings that suit your end-of-summer plans.

Here are five music festivals to consider visiting before the end of the summer.

1. Guelph Jazz Festival
September 11-15
Guelph, Ontario

Founded in 1994, the Guelph Jazz Festival always promises varied and risk-taking programming, with a range of local and international artists. This year – the festival’s first under the artistic co-leadership of Scott Thomson (artistic and general director) and Karen Ng (assistant artistic and general director) – features several notable experimental artists, including vocalist/dancer/multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu’s interdisciplinary solo show Nine Doors and Nova Scotia-based jaw harp player chik white. The festival has organized a Friday Night Street Music Party, 7pm to midnight on September 13 in Guelph’s Market Square. Festival details at www.guelphjazzfestival.com

2. The 21st-Century Guitar
August 22-25
Ottawa, Ontario

This summer, the University of Ottawa Piano Pedagogy Research Lab, the International Guitar Research Centre (University of Surrey), the Canadian Music Centre, and the Ottawa Guitar Society have joined forces to co-host The 21st-Century Guitar, a conference focusing on interdisciplinary perspectives towards guitar performance, composition and pedagogy.

Featuring guitarists from classical, experimental, folk, and numerous other genres, the conference promises a wide range of guitar-centric music – including presentations of solo and duo pieces from Canadian and international composers, a selection of works using 8-channel sound and surround video projection, and performances by a giant ‘guitar orchestra’. Details at www.21cguitar.com

3. Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival
September 13-22
Picton, Ontario

Running from September 13 to 22, the PEC Chamber Music Festival is one of several music events taking place in Prince Edward County each summer. Now under the artistic leadership of the New Orford String Quartet, the PEC Chamber Music Festival promises an impressive program of top-notch Canadian artists. With performances this year by the New Orford String Quartet, Gryphon Trio, soprano Julie Nesrallah with collaborative pianist Robert Kortgaard, and brothers Jamie and Jon Kimura Parker in a program for two pianos, the festival is full of concerts perfect for a mid-September day trip. Info at www.pecmusicfestival.com.

4. The Fifth Canadian Chopin Piano Competition
August 23-29
Toronto, Ontario

At the end of August, the Canadian Chopin Society will present the fifth edition of the Canadian Chopin Piano Competition, hosted at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Presented in conjunction with the renowned International F. Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland, the Canadian competition is open to Canadian pianists in both Junior and Senior divisions.

In addition to competition rounds open to the public, the Canadian Chopin Society will also present Polish pianist Krzysztof Jablonksi, the competition jury chair, in a solo recital of Chopin’s music at Koerner Hall. Details at www.rcmusic.com

5. Summer Music in the Garden
Thursdays and Sundays until September 15
Toronto, Ontario

The Toronto Music Garden continues its annual summer programming until mid-September this year, offering a variety of free outdoor concerts from now until the end of the summer. Upcoming highlights include performances by Eastern European vocal quartet Blisk; Laüsa, a group rooted in the traditional music of Gascony in southwest France; local cello duo VC2; and Aiyun Huang and Mark Fewer, in a program of works for percussion and violin. More information at www.harbourfrontcentre.com.

Jake Epstein. Photo credit: Jacob Cohl.On July 12, I went an hour and a half early to Kensington Market in the hope of being first on the waiting list to get tickets for the brand-new solo musical at the Toronto Fringe Festival: Boy Falls From The Sky: Jake Epstein at Supermarket. Others had beaten me to it and I was number 3 in line, but I took my chances and waited.

The run had sold out very quickly, perhaps because of how well known Jake Epstein is from his time starring on TV in Degrassi: The Next Generation, and more recently on Designated Survivor and Suits – or perhaps because he was so brilliant as Bruce Springsteen in The Musical Stage Company’s 2017 theatrical concert Uncovered: Dylan and Springsteen. In any case, the word of mouth from long before the start of the Fringe was that this was a “must-see” production.

Written and performed by Epstein and supported onstage by music director Daniel Abrahamson on  piano, the show was developed with director Robert McQueen (Fun Home, Life After) and is produced by Derrick Chua for Past Future Productions. 

This is Jake Epstein’s first solo show, and is based on his own experiences of both the highs and unexpected lows of following – and achieving – his dream to be a performer on Broadway. The stories, interwoven with songs throughout, start off with relatable memories such as family road trips to New York, Epstein and his sister singing along in the back seat to recordings of Broadway cast albums from Lion King to Les Mis, imitating the voices of their favourite performers. Inspired by the audience reaction to the child performers they see in the musical Big, he auditions back home for the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and soon is auditioning for professional productions in Toronto and landing the role of the Artful Dodger in the Mirvish production of Oliver. Later he wins a leading TV role on Degrassi: The Next Generation, but when he auditions for the Juilliard School in New York he doesn’t get in – just one of the many self-deprecating stories about unexpected setbacks that he shares with us along the way. However, meeting with two strangers on the street outside Juilliard, they ask to take a selfie with him because they love him in Degrassi and he is inspired to stay in New York  and soon lands leading roles in North American touring productions of cutting-edge musicals American Idiot and Spring Awakening.

When in 2012 he is cast as the alternate for the lead in the troubled Julie Taymour/U2 musical Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, it’s a dream come true (complete with actually flying around the Broadway theatre), but he gets hurt and doesn’t want to tell anyone back home. A year later he has another iconic chance – to create a leading role in a new Broadway musical, Carole King’s husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin in Beautiful. Once again there are brighter and darker sides to the story, and as a result he spends more time back home in Toronto.

A recurring theme in Boy Falls From The Sky (yes, the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to his role in Spiderman) is Epstein not wanting to seem ungrateful for his luck and the success he has achieved, marked by the repeated singing of snatches of “give them the old razzle dazzle.” Luckily for us in the audience, eventually he did tell the full stories of what his life on tour and on Broadway was really like, and friends and family encouraged him to turn those stories into this show.

This is excellent musical theatre storytelling by a performer with natural star power – including the ability to make everyone in the audience feel as though he is talking to them alone. Add to that the edgy energy of a BYOV “Bring Your Own” Fringe Venue in Kensington Market and the fact that the star and writer is a hometown boy made good, and the 70 minutes speed by too fast and are over too soon.

Jake Epstein's Boy Falls from The Sky is from the first moment engaging and fun, his presence electric and yet relaxed, his timing perfection and the laughs strongly rooted in self-deprecating honesty. I loved this show – as I had hoped I would.

Boy Falls From The Sky: Jake Epstein Live at Supermarket ran from July 4 to 13 at Supermarket, Toronto, as part of the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

The Dover Quartet in Koerner Hall. Photo credit: James Ireland.The afternoon before the Dover Quartet’s concert at Toronto Summer Music in Koerner Hall on July 17, second violinist Bryan Lee gave a public masterclass in Walter Hall that offered a preview of the Dover’s approach to performance. The masterclass presented three chamber music works by Debussy, Mozart and Dvořák played by fellows of the TSM Academy. Lee thought that the McGill-based Iceberg String Quartet’s playing of the fourth movement of Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor needed more of a sense of gesture – they were holding back, he said. Lee had followed the score without taking notes, giving detail-oriented comments with an authoritative sense of clarity: “Find different types of non-competing sounds so they come out in the texture,” he said. “And do something extremely uncomfortable – it felt really tame.”  It could be really exaggerated – by a factor of ten – he said.

After a second group of fellows played the first movement of Mozart’s String Quintet in D Major, No.5 K593, Lee said: “I think the larghettos need more rhetorical time and the allegro needs more joy and drama.” Later he said that some chords were “kind of crunchy,” provoking some smiles. He told the fellows who played the last movement of Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No.2 in E-flat Major, Op.87 that they needed to pick spots to really emphasize, and take more time to appreciate everything going on in the music so that it didn’t feel like a big run-on sentence.

All of which shed light on the masterful performance of the Dover Quartet the next day. They made each note count and every gesture meaningful. Britten’s String Quartet No.1 in D Major, Op.25’s nakedly quiet opening bars with Camden Shaw’s expressive cello pizzicatos broadened into a series of distinct voices by the entire quartet, contributing to an implacable sense of unity as the music rose to a level of urgent passion. They played the brief second movement with flair and authority and brought out the achingly romantic melody and profound sense of calm in the third movement, the work’s emotional centerpiece; the finale’s light-fingered passages were simply astounding. With their superb sense of Britten’s sonic architecture, the Dovers’ reading felt definitive.

Intense and propulsive, they held nothing back in Bartók’s String Quartet No.3, mining its igneous beauty. After intermission, they brought out the lyricism and sense of optimism inherent in Dvořák’s popular String Quartet No.12 in F Major, Op.96 “American,” and balanced its folk-infused amiability with a sense of restraint that flowed easily and organically. Typically crowd-pleasing was the second movement’s melt-in-your-mouth tune that seemed to dissolve into thin air. A spontaneous standing ovation brought the Dovers back for a sublime take on Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood.

Joel Link, violin; Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano; Camden Shaw, cello; Milena Pajaro-van Stadt, viola. Photo credit: James Ireland.Two days later on July 19 in a sold-out Walter Hall, three members of the Dover Quartet – first violinist Joel Link, violist Milena Pajaro-van Stadt and cellist Camden Shaw – joined pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin for what turned out to be my personal highlight of TSM 2019 thus far: an impassioned performance of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor, Op.25. Lush and warm, well-balanced – no one was hiding – with an intensity that conveyed the score’s riches (including hints of the composer’s Second Piano Concerto), the first movement set the stage for what was to follow. The grace of the second movement and the lyrical wonderland of the third led to the angular, animated, assertive finale with its wild abandon. No standing ovation was ever more deserved. 

The Dovers brought out the best in Richard-Hamelin, who began the evening with Rachmaninoff and Chopin. He has an agreeable tonal disposition for chamber music, his round tonal texture making each note meaningful, but always within the boundaries of the ensemble as a whole. His solo Rachmaninoff – the composer’s five Fantasy Pieces, Op.3, written when he was just 18 – was lyrical and warm, with a balanced rubato that enhanced the music’s melodic core. The famous second piece, Prelude in C-sharp Minor – a piece that audiences loved and Rachmaninoff grew to hate – was followed by three more, including the tuneful exoticism of the Serenade in B-flat Minor. Richard-Hamelin finished his solo selection with Chopin’s Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22, the dreamy Andante – with its second theme reminiscent of a Ballade – settling into the big footsteps of the Polonaise.

A key element of Toronto Summer Music’s Academy program is the opportunity for its fellows to perform with some of the world-class musicians who act as their mentors during their stay here. In a brief email exchange with Richard-Hamelin [published in the summer issue of The WholeNote], Richard-Hamelin told me that inspiration was the most important thing a mentor can do. “A great mentor, over a very brief period of time, can make you love the music you’re playing to a point where you don’t want to stop working until you’ve done justice to it.” The fruits of Richard-Hamelin’s own mentorship were on display last Saturday, July 20, in Chausson’s Concert for Piano, Violin and String Quartet Op.21. The instrumentation made for many possible pairings – violin and piano, violin and string quartet etc – and the music’s exuberance was contagious, leading to a spontaneous standing ovation. The fellows included the Iceberg Quartet and violinist Gregory Lewis, one of CBC’s “30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30.” Richard-Hamelin’s sensitivity shone through and Lewis’ confidence was apparent in a work that ultimately favoured the violin. 

Before intermission, the Dover Quartet’s Camden Shaw and his heartfelt cello playing shepherded two fellows in Dvořák’s charming Piano Trio No.4 in E Minor, OP.90 “Dumky,” one of the most lovable pieces in the repertoire. 

Toronto Summer Music continues at various locations throughout Toronto until August 3.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, pianist Steven Philcox and the New Orford String Quartet. Photo credit: Sean Howard.Toronto Summer Music’s 2019 season opened on July 11 in a festive mood before a full Koerner Hall audience, with a gala roster of performers emblematic of the talent this year’s edition promises.

Artistic director Jonathan Crow astutely chose the CBC’s Tom Allen to host the proceedings, introduce the artists and connect whatever dots needed connecting vis-à-vis this year’s TSM theme of “Beyond Borders.” This Allen did with his inimitable enthusiasm and an engaging and informative patter was – part ringmaster, part colour commentator. His backstory of the Turkish-Viennese linkage, anecdotes of violinist-composers Pablo de Sarasate and Fritz Kreisler, as well as how Ravel came to write Cinq mélodies populaires grecques, brought an extra sense of immediacy to the performances.

The evening began with Jon Kimura Parker’s unpretentious playing of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Major, K331 “Alla turca.” Parker’s unadorned simplicity suited the first movement’s theme, its variations elegantly shaped, the whole an expression of Mozart’s melodic heart. After a brisk Menuetto, the finale’s famous Turkish march put TSM’s celebration of the cross-cultural influences that have pervaded classical music on display, thanks in part to Parker’s fancy fingering and rhythmic integrity.

Adrianne Pieczonka, fresh from her celebrated turn in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Met in May and her recent assumption of the post of first vocal chair and head of the vocal department of the Glenn Gould School, soared in Ravel’s Five Popular Greek Songs. Reminiscent of Cantaloube’s Songs of the Auvergne in their wild abandon and evoking the purity of the outdoors, Pieczonka (with pianist Steven Philcox) gave us an experience rich in joy.

Kerson Leong, violin, and Rachael Kerr, piano. Photo credit: Sean Howard.Just before intermission, violinist Kerson Leong (and pianist Rachael Kerr) brought the audience to its feet with a dynamic, kinetic, authoritative performance of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. Just 22, Leong, a protégé of Jonathan Crow, dazzled the crowd with his command of his instrument and stage presence. He returned after the break with a Kreisler set that began with a tasteful rendering of La Gitana, moved to Kreisler’s arrangements of Cyril Scott’s Lotus Land and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.17, and concluded with the well-judged pyrotechnics of Tambourin chinois.

After Parker came back to perform Chopin’s Ballade No.4 – presenting its evocative sonorities in a compact tonal palette – it was left to Pieczonka to conclude the evening with John Greer’s arrangement for string quartet and piano of Richard Strauss’ ineffable Four Last Songs. Pieczonka, Philcox and the New Orford String Quartet made it memorable. The power of the first song, the joyousness of the second suffused in beauty by its end, and the transformative journey into heavenly bliss by the fourth – this was the outlier to the Crossing Borders theme, unless you consider it the ultimate border crossing. Violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan’s exquisite support of Pieczonka was palpable.

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, pianist Steven Philcox and the New Orford String Quartet. Photo credit: Sean Howard.The following evening found the New Orford on the Walter Hall stage celebrating ten years together. Crow recalled before introducing the quartet’s encore, François Dompierre’s lovely, wistful Pavane solitaire, that their first-ever concert had begun with Haydn’s String Quartet Op.20, No.2, followed by a string quartet by Canadian composer Sir Ernest MacMillan and Beethoven’s Op.132. Their concert on July 12, ten years later, began with Haydn’s Op.20, No.4 followed by the world premiere of Canadian composer Christos Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 “The Transforming” and Beethoven’s Op.59, No.3. Such is the cyclic nature of programming.

The New Orford’s playing of the Haydn’s first movement was buoyant and exacting, attentive and cohesive; the immaculate sense of ensemble that resulted typical of their professionalism. The affecting slow movement, filled with yearning, showed off the quartet’s precision and first violinist Andrew Wan’s deftness. After a jaunty Menuetto, the concluding Presto, with its scurrying orchestral quality, was sheer brilliance.

Commissioned by TSM for the New Orford String Quartet, Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 “The Transforming” is “a deeper view of crucifixion and resurrection as metaphors for everyone’s life and the future of the world,” the composer said in a 30-minute lecture an hour before the concert. His initial reaction to the commission when he heard the name New Orford was that it would be a licence to be “difficult” – such was his admiration for the quartet’s remarkable music-making skills. Hatzis talked about how chamber music can create interpersonal relationships through putting everyone’s ego aside, because a quartet as a whole is a person in its own right; how Beethoven’s late quartets owe much of their power to that characteristic; and how this latest quartet is the culmination of a 25-year cycle that began with his first quartet in 1994.

The first movement, Pesach, came across as complex and mesmerizing, with intense silences and dramatic chords reduced to repetitive three-note phrases. The second, La Pieta (Jerusalem), was inspired by Renaissance paintings but is defined by Hatzis’ use of Hubert Parry’s anthem of the British Empire, Jerusalem, its beauty declaimed by pianissimo descending notes and the inscrutable hymn based on the text by William Blake. “Every time I hear that hymn I get chills,” Hatzis said in his lecture. Regeneration, the final movement, with its celestial arpeggios tuned in just intonation in C, begins with a quiet sul ponticello pizzicato that passes through an intensely calibrated build-up to a new order. The use of quarter tones introduces a new vocabulary. Kudos to the New Orford String Quartet and first violinist Jonathan Crow for their definitive performance.

After intermission, the third of Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartets brought the concert to more familiar terrain and produced the third spontaneous standing ovation of the opening two concerts. While the first movement was not as surefooted as we have come to expect of the New Orford, the rest of the composer’s middle-period masterwork was a model of elegance culminating in a flourish of a finale.

Toronto Summer Music continues at various locations throughout Toronto until August 3.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

CAPTION: Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood. Photo credit: Laura Headley and Phyllis Jacklin. When I first investigated the extensive, 24-panel brochure for this year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival, I was struck by the phrase “Jazz After Dark,” which appeared as one of the many thematic concert categories that the TJF used to shape its 2019 offerings. (Some other categories: Emerging Artists, First Plays, Educational Programs, CBC Music and JUNOS 365, and a “musical celebration” of “gospel, jazz and hip hop” on Bloor Street.) I’d spoken to TJF Artistic Director Josh Grossman in May about the festival’s 2017 shift from Nathan Phillips Square to Yorkville, and the coincident severance of links to the many clubs that used to present music under the auspices of the festival, albeit with no real administrative oversight from the TJF offices; during our conversation, Grossman had mentioned that there would be more nocturnal options in and around Yorkville, so that festival patrons could easily move from outdoor stages (whose days typically finished by 9:30pm) to nearby indoor venues (at which performances began at 10pm).

TJF’s goal, then, was clear: work with local bars and restaurants to create a kind of pop-up ecosystem of late-night jazz venues, in order to create a fuller, more all-encompassing experience for patrons who would – at least theoretically – be able to seamlessly transition from out- to indoor shows, all the while feeling as though they were still participating in activities that were comfortably within the festival. Given the location, this is a more daunting task than it might seem. For those who may not know: though Joni Mitchell may have sung about the way “music comes spilling out into the street” in the area during the late 1960s when it provided a comfortable home to artists, bohemians, and other members of the contemporary Canadian counterculture, Yorkville does not currently have an abundance of live music venues (it is possible, however, to purchase “handcrafted bohemian moccasin boots,” currently on sale for $458.43 at Free People, a local boutique). (The Pilot is something of an exception: while it is not a full-time music venue, it does host a weekly jazz series on Saturdays, although it was not a festival venue this year as it was last year.)

And so – being of relatively sound mind and body, having an overarching interest in Toronto jazz in general and the TJF specifically, and, most importantly, looking for any excuse to get out of my apartment and not spend another evening contemplating the horrifying inevitability of my eventual descent into the endless silent void, I decided to check out the TJF’s “Jazz After Dark – Presented By Mill St. Brewery.” My goal: attend a show at each of the four night-time venues, and attempt to assess whether the TJF’s evening offerings hang together and feel linked, both to one another and to the festival as a whole. Briefly put: does the TJF succeed in creating the kind of ineffable festive affect that, while difficult to plan and implement and control, constitutes an immediate and palpable shared experience for festival attendees, from the most ardent local jazz fan to the friend of a friend who was dragged along to the show and whom I heard asking aloud (hand to God), “isn’t Miles David [sic] the ‘Wonderful World’ guy?” More briefly: does the “Jazz After Dark” portion of the festival feel, well, festive?

Mill Street Late-Night Jam at Proof Bar

As in previous years, the jam – a central component at most major Canadian jazz festivals – was held at Proof Bar at the InterContinental Hotel, located opposite the ROM on Bloor Street. Hotel bars seem to provide the de facto location for Canadian jazz festival jams; hotel-bar-pricing on drinks notwithstanding, the choice seems logical. The InterContinental is something of an upper-middle class hotel, with large washrooms, crisply-uniformed staff, and the kind of stark marbled lobby that would come standard with, say, a starter mini-mansion in Thornhill. The bar area is fairly large, and is mirrored by an even larger back patio; in my two visits to the jam, both areas were full. With the exception of two of its ten sessions, the jam was hosted by bassist Lauren Falls. Falls is a confident, experienced jazz player, and was also adept at managing the jam’s attendant duties. (In addition to playing as much as is needed for your particular instrument, hosting a jam also requires you to meet with prospective jammers as they arrive, keep the ever-shifting ensemble organized, and keep track of tunes, all the while maintaining some semblance of consistent set lengths; it’s a bit like being both server and chef simultaneously.) Between my two visits to the jam, I took in a combined total of three and a half sets of music, all of which were interesting, entertaining, and indicative of the high level of musicianship in Toronto. Most of the musicians I heard seemed to be Torontonians who had come specifically to play, as opposed to musicians (local or otherwise) who had played in the festival and were stopping off for a post-gig nightcap. At one point, a couple in attendance got up and started swing dancing; more on this later.

Hemingway’s Restaurant and Bar

I know I joked about the moccasins, but Yorkville is much more like The Distillery than it is, say, the Upper East Side, and most of its dining and shopping options are geared more towards the visiting sub- and exurbanite than towards the demonstratively wealthy. Hemingway’s – which, like The Pilot, contains a number of distinct rooms, including a never-unbusy rooftop patio – is more typical of the area than a bar like Proof, and features local craft beer priced at a reasonable $8.50 for a 20oz. pint (because, as the drink menu reads with no hint of irony, “SIZE MATTERS!”). I went to Hemingway’s on Saturday, June 29, and started things off by eating some nachos and drinking a 20oz. pint on the aforementioned rooftop patio with some friends, including JUNO-award-winning saxophonist/comedy enthusiast Allison Au, who was gracious enough to hang out with me on that particular evening, and my brother Sean, who has not won a JUNO, and whose knowledge of modern comedy is middling at best. After paying our reasonable bill, we went downstairs to watch guitarist Margaret Stowe play with her trio. Stowe – a fluid, technically-accomplished guitarist, whose playing pairs folky lyricism with an athletic grace – was holding court on the main floor. It was a beautiful, warm night, Hemingway’s was beyond full, and staff members were never seemed anything but polite and good-natured about everything in what, as far as I could see, was a pretty good venue.

Sassafraz Restaurant

After watching Melissa Aldana’s set on the Cumberland mainstage, van-owner/bassist Mark Godfrey and I tried to go to Sassafraz, but it was busy, and it was impossible to secure a table close to the band. Happily, the Sassafraz windows were wide open, and we were able to enjoy the music while sitting at a table in the Village of Yorkville Park (as it is named on the TJF brochure).

Later, while the band at Sassafraz was playing a 32-bar standard, an aggressive man stood close to us and yelled “Really?! The blues, in Yorkville, the richest neighbourhood in the city? Nice, reaaaaal nice.” He moved away quickly, so I did not have time to tell him my theory about how Yorkville is really more like The Distillery than it is the Upper East Side, or about Hemingway’s reasonably-priced 20oz. pints.

The Gatsby At The Windsor Arms Hotel

I saw two shows at The Gatsby: the violinist Aline Homzy, who played a beautiful show with bassist Andrew Downing and guitarist Jozsef Botos, and the guitarist Eric St-Laurent, who played with bassist Jordan O’Connor and pianist Todd Pentney. The Gatsby – a neo-jazz-age bar, named, presumably after the titular character of The Great Gatsby, a novel about the ultimate meaningless of decadent wealth – is located in The Windsor Arms hotel, which, as I learned online, has “been the home away from home for visiting royalty, aristocracy, stars of film and screen as well as heads of state and industry.” The décor is heavy on chandeliers and velvet. There is also a rack of fancy hats available at the entrance to the tea room, so that High Tea attendees won’t have to endure the shame of being hatless in the very room, apparently, in which Richard Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor for the second time, in 1967. (Some Wikipedia research indicates that Burton and Taylor were still on their first marriage by 1967, and would not divorce and remarry until 1974-75; in any case, one imagines that Taylor would have brought her own hat.) Perhaps it’s because of all of the velvet, but The Gatsby had good acoustics, and worked well, at least from a sonic perspective, for the drummer-less groups I heard. As at Proof Bar, the food and drink options, though tasty, were not inexpensive, and attendees tended to be an older, sedate crew, with the notable exception of musicians who were there to support their friends.

On Dancing

As I mentioned above, there was a moment at the jam when a middle-aged couple got up and started swing dancing (they seemed perfectly nice, and I’m sure they were having a good time, and what’s to come is really not about them, although, I suppose, it really is). This dancing occurred during someone’s solo, continued until the end of the song, and, minor occurrence though it was, proved to be a deceptively complicated moment to parse; I’ve come back to it more than a few times over the past week. Initially, it seemed nice, as any physically affirmative reaction to live music tends to seem: the couple enjoyed the music, and, like so many have before, they started to dance to demonstrate their appreciation and to participate more fully in the experience. But I soon started to wonder if it wasn’t, well, sort of disrespectful to the soloist and to the band, if not intentionally so: is a jam not meant as a dedicated space specifically for musicians, in which they have the freedom to engage in the creative play of improvisation for an audience that should not treat them, even inadvertently, as background music to another activity? But, then again, the idea that jazz is calcified art music and that audiences should be bound by strict behavioural guidelines seems damaging, and, anyway, who’s to say that the couple dancing weren’t fully invested in the band’s music, and were earnestly trying to participate and honour the art they were experiencing? And yet: did the dancing not represent, in a venue that was not set up for dancing, in front of players who were concentrating on the deeply serious act of improvising, a moment in which the audience, innocent though it no doubt was of its error, made a claim about the balance of power in the room? I don’t know; it is still hard for me to say.

And so, as to whether the “Jazz After Dark” offerings fulfilled their implicit mandate to foster the intended post-sunset festival vibe: I can’t say, really. The more pressing question seems to be related to the dancing episode, and the complicated power structure that exists between festival, venue, artist, and audience. It is, I suppose, this: who is a jazz festival for, anyway? It is certainly not just for the audience, but nor is it for the artists. It is, ideally, both, simultaneously. But how can any festival – not just the TJF – strive to better strike that balance? I don’t know, at least not yet. It’s getting late, and I need to get to bed.

The TD Toronto Jazz Festival ran from June 21 to 30, 2019, in various locations throughout Yorkville, Toronto.

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

A new report published by Orchestras Canada last month promises to shed new perspective on classical music in Canada – and on how the orchestra can do better for the communities it aims to serve.

Co-authored by Soraya Peerbaye and Dr. Parmela Attariwala, “Re-sounding the Orchestra: Relationships between Canadian orchestras, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour” serves as a preliminary investigative look into Canadian orchestral culture, with a specific focus on interrogating the orchestra as a colonial, political and educational entity. The product of over one year of research, interviews, and roundtable discussions with arts administrators, orchestral artistic directors, Indigenous musicians and musicians of colour, the report is an effort to consolidate research and recommendations for a more equitable framework for orchestral music – including discussion around gender and racial diversity, cultural appropriation, and decolonization.

The report was presented at an Orchestras Canada national conference in Ottawa on June 12, and is publicly available for download here on the Orchestras Canada website.

Organized into three main chapters, “Re-sounding the Orchestra” begins with a presentation of insights gathered from interviews and roundtable discussions on the relationship between an orchestra and its surrounding communities. The second chapter takes the Orchestras Canada 2017 IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) initiative (of which this report is a part) as its basis, and presents an overview of issues related to equity, diversity and coloniality in Canadian orchestras. The third, titled “Re-visioning Western classical musical training for the 21st century”, discusses how issues of equity are connected with orchestral training, mentorship and collaborative processes, including potential new directions for classical music education. The report ends with recommendations by the authors for how Orchestras Canada as an organization might move forward in the pursuit of defining – and creating – a more equitable orchestral culture.

As co-author Attariwala details at the beginning of the report, this is an important opportunity to open up discussion around the often-problematic legacies of the country’s musical institutions. “Who belongs in the orchestra, and whose music belongs in the orchestra?” she asks. “What is the relationship between orchestras and other musical cultures? Can those relationships exist equitably and according to current definitions of cultural ownership and sovereignty?” 

They’re challenging questions to answer, but the current report is an encouraging start towards reconsidering and reinventing those orchestral relationships. It’s a valuable document, not only for orchestral personnel, but for anyone interested in the creation of more equitable futures in the arts – and hopefully, the beginning of more discussions to come.

Re-sounding the Orchestra: Relationships between Canadian orchestras, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour” was published in June 2019 by Orchestras Canada, and is available online on the Orchestras Canada website: https://oc.ca/en/resource/re-sounding-the-orchestra/.

Melissa Aldana. Photo credit: Harrison Weinstein.On Tuesday, June 25, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival hosted the Chilean-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana. Aldana had a busy day: in addition to performing on the TD Mainstage in Yorkville with her eponymous quartet in the evening, she also made a guest appearance with a student ensemble from Berklee College of Music (her alma mater) in the afternoon, and participated in a masterclass in the morning. The masterclass, part of the TJF’s Jazz Musicians Intensive series, took place at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College Chapel, and was hosted by Mark Micklethwaite; though Aldana played two beautiful solo pieces to bookend the event, the masterclass primarily took the form of an interview.

Aldana has become something of a household name in the jazz community in recent years, but for those who may not have been familiar with her resumé, the masterclass was a good opportunity to learn. On paper, Aldana’s many accomplishments – full scholarship to Berklee to study with the likes of Joe Lovano and George Garzone; 2014 DownBeat Critics Poll Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist; winner, at age 24, of the 2013 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Saxophone Competition; and the recipient of a substantial prize and a record contract with Concord Jazz – constitute an enviable template for early-career success. When Aldana elaborated on these experiences, however, she was remarkably candid about the difficulties that her particular path had presented to her.

Many of these candid moments came near the end of the masterclass, in response to audience questions. When answering a query about whether she would consider moving out of New York (an emphatic “no,” as she hasn’t found another city that is as musically inspiring), she spoke openly about the difficulties that New York presents, including the cost of living, the low pay for creative gigs, and disparity between the high number of excellent players and the relatively low number of gigs. She also talked about the financial realities of her contract with Concord Jazz: though winning the Monk Competition was a boon for her career, she didn’t feel that Concord was really invested in her as a long-term artist, and that she saw maybe “a couple of cheques for $60” in royalty payments from Melissa Aldana and Crash Trio, her one Concord album. (Her newest release, Visions, is on the label Motéma, about which she spoke fondly.) Speaking freely about money is something that many young, successful jazz artists don’t always do, but Aldana reiterated what most in the room probably knew: that you make money as a musician from touring, which she will be doing with her band in North America and Europe for the majority of the summer. 

When I watched Aldana’s quartet – which included the pianist Sam Harris, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Kush Abadey – perform later that day, I was struck by several qualities of the music: Aldana’s tone, phrasing, and far-reaching technical command of the saxophone; the interplay between Harris and Abadey, both of whom have the ability to fill space in creative, musical ways without being intrusive; and the depth and melodicism of Aldana’s compositions. Throughout the concert, however, I kept coming back to a moment that occurred near the end of the masterclass, when Aldana was asked about how she maintains her motivation to tour, to compose, to rehearse and practice and write emails and deal with the endless waves of complicated overlapping responsibilities that attend a career as a musician. Her answer was simple, delivered with the same good-natured equanimity with which she’d spoken throughout the masterclass: because “playing music makes [her] feel lighter.” It is the work, as she further explained, that helps to make her feel calm, to make sense of other parts of her life, and to feel that she’s making a positive contribution to the world. After spending the morning cheerfully de-mystifying various aspects of her professional life, she could easily have faltered when asked to discuss the experience of playing; instead, she spoke honestly about the ways in which the work of music is its own unique reward. 

The TD Toronto Jazz Festival presented Melissa Aldana in three events—“The Jazz Musician Intensive 2019: I’m out - now what?” (10:30am, Victoria College Chapel), Berklee Quintet feat. Melissa Aldana (2pm, TD Mainstage), and the Melissa Aldana Quartet (8:15pm, TD Mainstage)—on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, Toronto.

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

Makaya McCravenOn Saturday, June 22, I attended drummer/producer/bandleader Makaya McCraven’s concert at Adelaide Hall as part of the 2019 TD Toronto Jazz Festival. It was the sole festival show taking place at Adelaide Hall, also known as RADIO (it’s listed as Adelaide Hall on the TJF brochure, as RADIO on Google Maps, and as both on the venue’s website, although apparently the name was officially changed last year).

Conveniently, I was able to chat with TJF artistic director Josh Grossman, who happened to be standing near me in the audience before the show started. Grossman – who, it should be noted, was sipping a Mill Street beverage, an appropriately on-brand gesture given that the brewery is an official TJF sponsor – informed me that the show was originally meant for the Horseshoe Tavern, but, due to some logistical issues, had to be moved to an alternative venue. A few nights after the McCraven show, the Horseshoe hosted a double bill with Ghost-Note and Rinsethealgorithm; as all three groups play within a certain groove-based tradition, it’s easy to see the spectral framework of a venue-specific series that didn’t quite materialize. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the festival’s first choice for venue, Adelaide Hall has good sound, a relatively open layout with good sightlines, and an atmosphere that lent itself well to McCraven’s music.

I first heard the Chicago-based McCraven relatively recently, on Marquis Hill’s 2017 standards album The Way We Play; I remember being struck by McCraven’s ability to play time with propulsive authority while still remaining open and communicative. (Listen to his brushwork on “My Foolish Heart” for evidence of this, as he brings intensity and weight to the arrangement’s 3/4 groove.) It wasn’t until I did a bit more research on him that I realized the extent of his creative output and the breadth of his artistic practice, which includes playing in more traditional jazz settings with artists such as Hill and guitarist Bobby Broom, performing DJ sets at Turntable Lab NYC, and playing with his own project for Boiler Room London

It was a version of the latter band that played in Toronto. In addition to McCraven on drums, the ensemble included Greg Ward, saxophone; Matt Gold, guitar; Junius Paul, bass; and Greg Spero, keyboards. McCraven and co. played funky, groove-oriented material – music that, though deeply rooted in jazz, had strong elements of hip-hop, rock and other genres. With the exception of some crisply-delivered lyrics, sung by Paul on the Tony Williams composition “There Comes a Time,” it was an instrumental show, with a setlist that seemed specifically organized to keep the energy high throughout the evening. All five band members have chops to spare, but it was in the intelligent, methodically-constructed arcs of tension and release that the group really shone, honouring the compositions by putting the emphasis on groove and group interplay rather than individual feats of musical athleticism. Not that there weren’t thrilling solos (there were!), but the show’s most rewarding moments had more to do with texture and groove.

The last official song of the show – before the encore – was the McCraven original “This Place, That Place,”  a jittery, high-energy piece that features syncopated sixteenth-note shots over an odd-metre vamp. McCraven soloed over the vamp near the end of the tune, and even then, in a moment in which an audience might expect a band-leading drummer to let the notes fly, he played a measured, thoughtful, patient solo that ultimately proved to be one of the highlights of the evening.

An exciting show overall, in an unexpected venue that functioned well as a Toronto Jazz Festival showcase space for beat-driven music. 

The TD Toronto Jazz Festival presented Makaya McCraven on June 22, 2019, at Adelaide Hall, Toronto.

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

The WholeNote Podcasts

ArtworkWelcome to the Conversations <at> The WholeNote podcast page. Below you will find our podcast episodes for your listening pleasure.

To listen, you have a few options:

  • You can listen via this website you can scroll down and find the episode you'd like and click play there.
  • Or you can download and save the podcasts on your phone, tablet or computer - and then you can listen to it anytime (even without an internet connection) by downloading from the episode articles below.
  • Or you can subscribe to this podcast on your favourite podcast service including iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, BluBrry, PocketCasts and more. Just open your podcast app and search for Conversations at The WholeNote and hit 'subscribe'. 

If you are unable to find us on the podcast app that you use, please let us know and we'll do our best to try and make it available to you.

Scroll down to select individual episodes to enjoy.

Back to top