I was thrilled to hear Trombone Shorty again, since the last time they came to town (a show that Downtown Jazz presented at the Opera House) there was such a crowd in the place there was no oxygen and then after imbibing a little too much (and it doesn’t take much to get me tipsy) I felt the need to sit down and there were no chairs anywhere. I stepped outside and “when I regained consiousness…” I must have written about this in a previous blog, but the joke around the festival HQ now was that they brought back Shorty so I could get a chance to see the show. I’m sure there were some other factors. Saida Baba Talibah did the opening set – I caught the last couple of tunes (though I could hear the rumble from the media trailer). Turns out a lot of the low-end was coming from Tuba Joe, from NYC. We had a nice chat after and he was explaining his rig – how he gets a tuba to sound like a punchy Fender bass. We got talking so much that I never made it over to the Spectrum Road show at the Sound Academy. I heard it rocked.
Next night was the most anticipated show of the festival (by many), Esperanza Spalding. And she delivered some heavy jazz. A couple of my bass-player mates were in the crowd and seemed to be suitably impressed. Esperanza is a sweetheart but I will have to say the award for most thoughtful opening act goes to Gretchen Parlato who played some equally serious jazz, with impeccable vocals, and also left behind some delicious cookies for the media staff. It’s the small things you remember. I caught some of the 5-o’clock show and it was a loving tribute to George Shearing played by some local musos who played with George a lot, Reg Schwager, Don Thomson, and Neil Swainson. The played perfect recreations of the “Shearing sound” with piano and vibes playing the same lines.
On Friday (Day 8) Tedeschi-Trucks hit Toronto with a vengeance. Last time Susan Tedeschi played the festival it was at The Opera House on Queen East. It was not a blues crowd and it was not a blues opener, it was Alex Pangman doing her thing with Colonel Parker. Old Timey. This time the opener was a country/bluegrass outfit fronted by a young woman who carried the rhythm on her flat top guitar. And the fiddle & mando players were virtuosos. But still, it was a little generic for a jazz festival. They ‘ll probably do better than any jazz act as the next Lady Antebellum.
On the break, I was sitting by the stage entrance and who came in to sit next to me but the whole Trucks clan – grandparents and kids. I asked if he was “the dad” and he said yes – he was Butch Trucks, legendary drummer of the Allman Brothers. After a couple of tunes, I said to him “your boy plays every solo like it’s the last one he’ll ever play” and he responded something like “yea he’s got a lot of soul.” The little ones were maybe 5 & 7, very well-behaved and digging the show - I asked the little girl if she played guitar and she said no, shyly. I said “not yet.” Grandma looked like a “hippie chick of a certain age” and she was standing most of the time grooving to the music. The band played a killer set – best blues show of the year (so far) if you ask me.
Tedeschi-Trucks are at the top of the blues food chain and they’ve worked there way up there slow and stead, first individually and now together. They spared no expense to put together this show – top sidemen, 3 horns and 2 back-up singers. Everybody on that stage could be a star in his own right, and some are. They brought not only their own monitor guy but they brought their own monitor board. And the show sounded great. There had been reports of a very loud sound-check but they were probably just seeing how much they could get out of the mains because it was not too loud at showtime. When I swung by the square to pick up my car there was a big truck loading out all the extra gear they brought. I haven’t seen that much backline since Bootsy Collins last year.
In contrast the Tedeschi-Trucks with two tour buses and all that extra gear, next day Canadian blues buzz-act Matt Andersen arrived on the site by himself with his guitar and a Long & McQuade bag with a set of strings and a Boss tuner. He then proceeded to change his strings 20-minutes before showtime, something most of us guitar players would be reluctant to do. He must have stretched them out pretty good because he didn’t have any tuning trouble and he tore through a great set for 500 fans. He’s still a gentle, unassuming character for someone who’s now in the big leagues. Joan Osborne played first and did her hit but I didn’t really feel a connection with her music. Mind you, I loved what she did with the Funk Brothers. Before Matt ended his set, I took a walk down Queen Street to the Horseshoe to hear two more artists I had never heard of, Becca Stevens and Nellie McKay. Yawn.
I wanted to go back up to the Orbit Room to hear Donna Grantis. The previous night I went up with Clayton and Colleen Allen was the special guest. She was playing great, with lots of sax/guitar doubling. Clay sat in for a tune and I tried to corner the very-busy Colleen for a recording session. Saida Baba Talibah and her other guitarist, Hill, arrived to jam but I just had to head home. It’s been a long week.