Celebration is in the air

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Mon Jan 29 3:55pm

Oh hi there. It’s been a little while.

Last year was...interesting. Having celebrated a round-number birthday in December, 2016, I started 2017 on an optimistic note. And lots of great stuff happened over the 12 months - some exciting performance opportunities (thanks Allison Tanchuk and Toronto Mass Choir especially), two personal grants towards a new big band album, and, even with some major changes, the most fun I’ve had at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival in a few years. But even so - something felt a bit...off. And, based on a completely unscientific evaluation of social media posts at the end of 2017, it seemed I was not the only one feeling that way.

And so I’m grateful that, as we come to the close of the first month of the new year (already!), there has been cause for celebration.

After a welcome and refreshing holiday in Rabbit Lake, Saskatchewan (map here; average daily temperature while we were there was a balmy -18 Celsius), I returned to the office in good spirits, and with good reason. As some of you have already seen in other posts, after eight years as part-time Artistic Director for Toronto Downtown Jazz, on January 15 I began as full-time Artistic Director for Toronto Downtown Jazz. While the job description doesn’t change much, I’m excited to have more time to delve into my work here, dig deeper into the local and international communities, and help the Festival as much as possible to grow over the next few years.

But I was not the only one ringing in the new year in fine form. I was in the audience for two actual celebrations this month, plus one show which sure felt like a party. I was at Koerner Hall twice - first for the Maple Blues Awards, then for the Humber @ 50 concert. These were two massive and well-produced shows: an impressive stream of artists, both in the presenter (for the Blues Awards) and performer roles (each night), took to the stage, and each evening ended at exactly the right time - no small feat! I enjoyed the buzz in the hall and the talent on display at each show. Some new names for me at the Blues Awards; for Humber @ 50, Kurt Elling sounded fantastic, but, as one would expect, the local talent was equally as impressive: Humber’s Faculty Big Band shone, with soloists and leaders including Pat LaBarbera, Laila Biali, Rik Emmett (what a voice!) and Rich Brown aptly demonstrating why Humber College continues to play an important role in jazz education, even after 50 years.

On January 18, I was at the Aga Khan Museum for my first ever Yemen Blues experience. Okay so before we get to the concert - the Aga Khan Museum has a yurt. It is awesome. And now I want a yurt. (My wife is less convinced). Anyway...Yemen Blues performs in a variety of configurations; this show featured a quintet: trumpet, oud/bass, keys, drums and leader Ravid Kahalani on vocals. Ravid’s instrument is incredible; he easily moved from harsh grumble to clean falsetto, all while singing in multiple languages. The band has mastered the art of the slow build: the packed house was kept on its toes throughout, and turned into a full-fledged dance party by the end of the show.

So - I’m looking forward with cautious optimism. There is much work to be done - personally, professionally - but, as outlined here and as indicated perhaps by this post’s photo, there is reason for celebration. The year is off to a good start. We’ve already announced an interesting variety of TD Discovery Series Special Projects, and we’ll be soon be announcing our first - and what I think is an exciting - slate of shows.

Stay tuned for more. And - nice to see you here!

Josh