OK, it’s all starting to blur into a solid stream of music with musicians playing at the highest level. Some world-renowned and others are total unknowns (in this town, anyway) but when you see them in full flight you know right away that you are witnessing something special. Some have that extra connection with the audience (George Benson last night was positively chatty with the crowd, finally stopping himself “hey, I came here to play guitar” and he played it beautifully). I made my way out halfway through his set but ended up talking with the Treasa Levasseur gang outside the tent (she opened the show) so I heard him changing gears into a more acoustic sound but I was trying to get down to the Opera House for Soul Rebels, a New Orleans horn band produced by my friend Scott Billington. They did great and made lots of new fans in Toronto. They’re getting the big push so you’ll be hearing more of them. Before Benson I was at the sold out show for guitar god Bill Frisell at Harbourfront and what grabbed my attention right away was the immense respect for him that the audience was radiating. Almost religious. Everybody felt like it was a privilege for them to be in this space about to be transported into another realm, and they were. It started out with spacey guitar sounds and special effects – not unlike some new-age mood music that jazz fans would typically dismiss – but then a Beatles melody would appear in the mix and he would take it to another place and of course the guitar playing was exquisite. Many years ago I walked out of a Bill Frisell show because it was just so atonal (and so loud) that I couldn’t take it. All is forgiven now, Bill.
Monday morning, I was dealing with some Internet connection issues on site but when I was talking to Patti, our Director of Operations, she was predicting this was going to be a day from hell, and she was right. Nothing was flying out of New York and we had at least 20 artists and crew left stranded in NYC including Roberta Gambarini’s pianist (the amazing Dave Restivo filled in and saved the day) and Natalie Cole and her band (nobody could sub for her!). Black Monday in jazzland. Transport volunteers spent the whole day at the airport waiting (and hoping). I got to see two artists that had huge followings and yet I personally had never heard of either of them: Robert Glasper and Los Amigos Invisibles. Both had sold out shows (Glasper had a second show added and that was a good example of social media in action – they packed the house for a last-minute midnight show at the Wrongbar). Los Amigos Invisibles had a huge crowd at the Horseshoe and I think it was mostly Venezuelans. They were singing along with the band who gave a very spirited performance). And then there was my man, Roy Hargrove. I was right next to him as he was getting his horns out to jump on stage and I wanted to say “Hey remember the time we jammed the blues together at the Rex?” but I restrained myself. He is always amazing and surrounds himself with the top players on the planet. I dropped in to the after hours jam at the Now lounge but there was no one there except myself and Clayton and one other table. Hosting the jam was Ken Skinner and he played a bit then got the two fellows that were sitting there to play a couple of tunes. I asked the piano player his name but of course I’ve forgotten it – Patrick Hewen, maybe. I think they were from Montreal and they played some pretty “official” jazz. Ken is a helluva player – I hadn’t seen him play in a long time. He invited me to come back with my guitar and I did put my guitar in the car next day but haven’t been back.
Sunday I made a point of seeing that extraordinary pianist Hiromi. Last time I saw her she was with bass guru Stanley Clarke and I remember him walking over to the piano with his electric bass guitar and trading riffs with her with their faces just inches apart. The intensity was unbelievable. The intensity was still there this time, but did not get to the level I remember with Stanley (mind you, she had a wonderful 6-string bassist this time). I raced out to see nearly a whole show of Mike Stern – I’d only seen a song here and there and I was determined to get the whole experience this time. I was not disappointed – he is a guitar wizard, and like so many bands I’ve seen this week, he had a drummer that was phenomenal. I usually make my exit when there’s a long drum solo – you know it’s going to be a long one when all the other players leave the stage – but these drummers this week are so musical, you are captivated. You can’t go anywhere.
I started the day with a couple of matinees in clubs up north. Saw my old bandmate Roberta Hunt doing a great New Orleans tribute (with my new favourite female sax player, Alison Young) then up to Chalkers to hear Fern Linzdon, who I have met a couple of times but never seen. Rob Fogle was in the audience and said “don’t you get a nosebleed coming this far north?” It’s true, I don’t make my way past Eglinton very often (though I will be doing a gig at the Mad Bean on Eglinton on Saturday afternoon, July 7, 2-4pm)