And...scene

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Sun Jul 3 1:20pm

My wife said to me this morning, "Looks like you've got more white hair." I looked in the mirror. She's kinda right. But if less sleep than usual and my #jazzfestdiet contributed to my new hair colour, I think it was worth it - these past ten days have been spectacular.

I'm sitting this morning in my home office, drinking a home made americano, looking at an empty schedule (for the next few hours, anyway). It's nice. But it's hard not to feel a bit sad.

I had a lot of fun this year: I saw a lot of outstanding music, met lots of nice people, stayed up way past my bedtime and even got on stage a couple of times at the late night jam. There are always issues which need work and concerts to which we wish we had sold more tickets. But the vibe this year was generally positive: we received lots of excellent feedback, created some new partnerships, built on pre-existing relationships and watched our audiences bop, sway, sing, dance and generally have a blast at every show.

For whatever role you played in this year's festival - musician, audience member, donor, moral supporter, colleague, volunteer, voice from afar and yes, even constructive critic - I say thank you. We truly could not do what we love to do without you.

Here's a recap of Day 9.

12:30 pm - The Youth Jazz Showcase, like the Big Band Slam, is a highlight for me each year. Three groups featuring emerging jazz musicians from at home and abroad take to the mainstage to show their wares - and the performances are exceptional every time. Yesterday the young musicians of the National Youth Jazz Combo impressed with the quality of their playing, especially given three out of four members are still in high school; I also enjoyed the variety of music they played this year. North Pandemic Groove Quartet, from Hokkaido, Japan, roused the audience with their groovy, funky interpretation of jazz. And David Gilmore, with members of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, laid down some fiery contemporary jazz, highlighted (as noted in yesterday's post) by Matt Stubbs on clarinet and vocalist Malwina Masternak; drummer Yair Amster's original composition brought the Showcase to an exciting conclusion. It's cliche perhaps to say it again here, but jazz is in very good hands. Kudos must also go to those working behind the scenes to get these musicians to our stage: Cathy Mitro and Kirk MacDonald (National Youth Jazz Combo), John Cripton (North Pandemic Groove Quartet) and Michael Borgida (Berklee).

I next took advantage of some down time to grab some lunch and catch up on some work, then decided to drop in to a couple of nearby venues. Jesse Barksdale's quartet was in fine swinging form under the big tent on the Hilton patio; the Boxcar Boys seemed to be having a blast (and sounded fantastic) roving through the Distillery (leading at times what felt like the slowest - but most musical - parade ever...they really are a fun band); and then Eric St-Laurent's quartet started up on the patio of the Mill Street Beer Hall. I don't like to pick favourites (okay sometimes yes I do), but Eric's music is pretty fantastic - a mix of jazz and Afro beats (Eric on guitar along with piano, bass and hand drum), with Eric playing impressive and melodic solo lines over top.

At 6:30 pm Raoul and the Bigger Time fired up the Outdoor Stage with their mix of blues and soul. Raoul held down multiple roles - emcee, voice and harmonica - and the combination of good music, beautiful weather and a long weekend meant that by the end of his set, a sizeable crowd has amassed. Each tune seemed to be more energetic than the last, and the band received a well-earned ovation after their final note.

Dinner break (cue elevator slash lounge music)...

The final mainstage concert of the festival started in a low-key but musically effective fashion. Joe Jackson had requested a bit of time between the emcee's introduction and the start of the show. Often that means the entire band is set to make a dramatic entrance and launch full on into their set. But last night, about ten minutes after the emcee left the stage, Joe simply walked on stage, alone, sat at the keyboards and, for the next 15 minutes or so, acted, as he called it, as "his own opening act". Just voice and piano. It was intimate and enjoyable (more so than I had expected) - a chance to hear his voice at work without anything else happening on stage. The rest of the band (guitar, bass, drums) soon joined in, and while I found the energy stayed a bit static, by the end of the concert the tent was rocking. Many in the audience were clearly devoted fans, applauding familiar songs and singing along, and I suspect the opportunity to see Joe in this more intimate setting was special for many in attendance.

Around 10 pm I made my way to the Jazz Bistro to hear some of Alfredo Rodriguez' final set. He was playing solo, and he wasted little time demonstrating why he's earned acclaim as a pianist: his technique is monstrous. In this solo format, I wonder if he played more notes than he might in a small ensemble setup; his approach seemed almost impressionistic, creating soundscapes with fast-moving, full and lush chords. I especially enjoyed his playing when he broke into single-note lines - whether stating a melody or soloing. His interpretation of "Quizas, quizas, quizas" ("Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps") was a welcome contrast to the busier playing - simple, lovely and demonstrating a light touch on the keys. Alfredo has been to Toronto a couple of times, but never on his own bill, so I was glad to see a relatively full house for the late show (the early show was sold out), and the audience seemed to be hanging on to his every note.

By 11:15 pm I was at the Horseshoe Tavern to catch the second set from the Hot Sardines, who performed their interpretation of early swing music and original compositions set in an early swing style. I was expecting a dance party and found that the music - and the audience - was a bit more subdued, but the musicianship on stage was impressive. The instrumentalists played perfectly in-style while creating tasty and exciting solos; the tap dancing was a fun addition to the mix; vocalist Miz Elizabeth owned each tune and was also an engaging host. By the end of the set they did have the crowd hooting and hollering, and their show - along with the positive vibe in the room - was a lovely way to wrap up the final ticketed event of the festival.

So all that was left to do was get to The Rex for the late night jam. And if anyone was tired after 9 days of jamming, they weren't letting on. When Chris Gale opened up the stage, there were lots of local musicians ready to join in the fun; the hang at the bar was hopping. It took a few days, but I think the jam got to where we had hoped it would be: good music on stage, good hang offstage, and a good combination of musicians and the general public in the audience. I enjoyed too having a gathering point each night. The last night especially is a bit bittersweet on the square - tear down of the mainstage and green room areas starts immediately after the final note on stage - and often it's a bit anticlimactic. To have a place to go last night was therefore welcome, and a nice opportunity to put an exclamation mark on the festival's activity. Our thanks go to Tom, Bob, Avi and everyone at The Rex for hosting the jam, and to Chris Gale and the rotating cast of musicians making up the house band each night.

Some Day 9/festival stats:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much I enjoyed my espresso/chocolate/cream beverage at the Distillery yesterday afternoon: (insert Homer Simpson drooling sound here)
Number of new coffee shops I discovered this year near Nathan Phillips Square: one (thank you for some excellent espresso M Square Coffee Co.!)
Total hours of sleep achieved over the course of the festival: about 45, I think. Maybe 50.

So that's it. Well, sort of. Our official programming is done, but there is still lots of music happening in clubs around the city today - check out the full schedule here. And please don't let this be the end of your jazzventuring - as I've mentioned often, we are lucky to have some of the best jazz musicians in the world living and playing in Toronto year-round. Make seeing live jazz a regular habit!

And what's next for me? Well, tonight we have a thank you gathering for festival volunteers, then I'm back at the Rex with my band, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, for our annual Radiohead Jazz Project (8 pm). I'll take a few days off to recover and reconnect with my family. Then soon enough it will be time for post-festival reports, meetings, brainstorming...and then we'll be on to planning the 2017 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

Thanks again for helping to make our 30th anniversary festival one of our best yet. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Josh