Saturday, October 6, 2018

Lepatriinu at Hugh's Room

Still no sign of Professor Piano

My old buddy Scott Cushnie has been missing for a month. It's incomprehensible, but it looks like he went out into that huge downpour of August 7 never to be seen again.  Police have poured over security videos in his hood (River & King).  He must have got disoriented in that horrible storm (which flooded the blues office). If you never got to hear him play you really missed something. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

We're Back at the Old Mill!

My Folk Music Ontario 2018

Folk Music Ontario is an annual conference and showcase for the folk community.  I always discover some great artists (and hear later about all the great ones I missed). Here's a video montage (7 minutes or so) of some of the artists I saw (in the same order I saw them).  It will give you an idea of how broad the definition of "folk" is becoming.

I drove up on the Saturday with Huma, Office Manager at the Toronto Blues Society, and the first performance I saw was Amanda Rheaume, who I've been working with at the TBS.  Her song opens the clip and it's become a bit of an "earworm" in my head. She had a great guitar player…wish I could remember his name.  Next up, the Slocan Ramblers (who got a standing ovation), the charming Melanie Brulee singing "These Boots" en francais.  Then the soaring vocals of the Lifers, Big Little Lions (Helen Austin and Paul Otten), Manitoba Hal's new project with Karen Morand, "Even the Bird Was Free". 

Sugar Brown had never done a "guerilla showcase" before and worried there might just be a couple of people to play to but I told him one of those people might be a festival director or a label president. It happens. After Ken (Sugar), I wanted to head home. It was nearly 2am, but as I made my way through the crowded hotel corridor with lots of string bass players snaking their way through, I passed a room where there were just two musicians and zero audience so I was drawn in and sat down (I guess I remembered exactly how it felt when you're playing to nobody as a stream of people walk by the door).  They were playing a South African groove – Brian Litvin & son. When he finished the song, he reached out to shake my hand and said "I know you – you play guitar."  He was very complimentary. And I liked what he was doing, too. In the Borealis Records suite, I heard Anne Lederman in a duo with a great cellist then the irrepressible James Gordon singing a song about the band he played with years ago, Tamarak. Alex Sinclair played some beautiful second guitar. A First Nations artist named Jay Gilday has a whistling cowboy kind of stance, a young fiddle sensation, some Inuit throat-singing, even a DJ (Shreem) working with a celtic fiddler, then another First Nations group, Kym Gouchie and Northern Sky, who got everybody into a Round Dance. Singer-songwriter Johnson Crook probably has more commercial potential than most of the artists I saw and the showcase room closed out with a group I've been wanting to see for a long time, Les Poules a Colin. Back on "guerilla showcase" floor, I ended my evening hearing a tune from Braden Gates whose name was suggested to me more than once over the weekend.  Very Dylanesque, would you not say?

There were a couple of interesting artists who didn't make it onto my vlog.  Two different artists were playing a fiddle like a guitar (or a uke) and running it through all kinds of effects processors.  Respectfulchild was pretty special and there was a First Nations artist - kind of androgynous looking but you knew it was a woman when she broke down in the middle of a tune and had to stop and ask for a tissue.  She explained to the sympathetic crowd that she was a high-school teacher in the far north and one of her kids had been sent home under some sad circumstances as she explained that the residential school system trauma is not over and is still part of the sad state of affairs for kids in the far north.  One interesting artist with a bluesy bent I never got to hear was Kalyna Rakel but I got her CD and look forward to hearing her live real soon.

Edisode 4 - Brian Blain's CD Crowdfunding Campaign

Here's Brian playing "Bulletproof", his tune about the great Kathi Macdonald
Pre-order the album at

Stringbuster jam1

If you watched me on FaceBook Live the last couple of times, and watched to the end, you would have seen me looping 4 bars of the tune and building up 6 tracks of MIDI notes – one track for each string.  Those MIDI notes are run through lots of "smart" filters and devices and even a "groove template." 

This is not only a "work-in-progress", it is an "instrument-in-progress"  In episode 3, we went live with my first attempt with the MIDI looper running 6 channels – one per string (and it didn't blow up).  In Episode 4, Joel took the helm at the iPad, played a little bit with the synthesizer sounds and kicked in a beat, and I feel like that was a milestone, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

As I'm writing up my recollections of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, I'm spinning Laura Hubert's new CD, called "One Night in Kensington" which captures the free spirit of that village and the unfettered abandon of Laura's singing.  Recorded with gusto, live and in-your-face with top TO  jazz musos. The perfect soundtrack for my blogging.

I took in all 3 days of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, a baby festival now three years old and run like no other festival I've heard of. But, as they say, it's all about the music, and KMJF is doing it "their way".  And they've found a formula that works for them, though it is a bit awkward.  Each venue has to clear the room after every performance and the artist gets whatever was collected while s/he was paying.  It's all cash.  And it won't surprise you to know that this festival was founded by a bunch of musicians so this was their solution to artists making a few bucks even though the festival has no corporate sponsorship and little grant money (if any). Most performances were $20, so you can see how a jazz fan could drop a couple of hundred bucks if they were trying to see lots of shows.  There was "curated busking" on the streets but I didn't run into much of that. I was sitting next to one one lady who was quite livid that she was going to have to pay again for the next band.  "I paid to get in and I'm not paying again!" 

As I checked in to the artist "lounge" - where you could store your instruments, grab a beer and some fried chicken & biscuits (deelicious!) and hang out - I noticed a nice bouquet of flowers for Molly and the crew and I was reminded of the time in my early days working at the Toronto Jazz Festival when I came back to the office the day after the festival ended and there was a beautiful flower arrangement on the board room table with a lovely thank-you note and it was guessed it, Molly Johnson.  That sort of thing did not happen very often.  What goes around comes around.  There's a reason Molly is so beloved in this town and it's a beautiful thing she has done with KMJF.   

Got to the Kensington Market Jazz Festival just in time to enjoy a little hospitality at their media launch which led to Turbo Street Funk doing a New-Orleans style march to their gig up the street. I saw bits of Tony Quarrington & Zoey, John McLeod Orchestra with Alistair Kay demonstrating unique tri-tone bone technique. Kevin Breit channeling the Beach Boys and rapper Branco free-styling on the theme of “Free Willy” suggested by an audience member. Great backup from George Koller, Eric St-Laurent & friends. 

Lou Pomanti kicked off Saturday with some "soul jazz" in the tradition of Les McCann and Ramsey Lewis. Start my day! Then over to the outdoor stage to catch the end of Jaymz Bee's extravaganza. At the Poetry Cafe it was a group hug of musicians playing a lot of the tunes that dearly departed Kiki Misumi used to play and showing support for her husband local guitarmeister Reg Schwager . Bill McBirnie was swinging in a beautiful garden setting. Then I swung by the Hot Box where I will be emcee on Sunday, and heard Jozsef Botos, then caught Tania Gill at the Lola, and later her hubby Victor Bateman who surprised me by pulling out a tune I wrote a long time ago - back when I made my first CD in the early 90s, a CD that would never have happened if Victor had not arranged for me to record a demo at one of his buddies' (before the days when everybody had a recording studio in their basement). My day at Kensington Jazz ended with two fabulous singers at the Handlebar - Lori Cullen and Suzie Vinnick. Perfect weather and great vibe.

On Day 3 I didn't get to see a lot of pals who were playing in the market because I volunteered to be an emcee at the guitar series that was happening in the "Hot Box" Café.  Brian Katz, Margaret Stowe, Rita di Ghent & Brian LeGere, Nathan Hiltz, Daniel Greaves, Sabrina Soares (from Australia) and guitar legend Lorne Lofsky played. It was part inspiring and part discouraging watching these folks playing at such a high level. What a scene in that joint (pardon the expression) with folks slipping by the stage area to get to the outside "potio" where they could load up their humungous bongs (see video below)