Thursday, August 31, 2017

Blainletter #94 - See You in September

Where has the summer gone?

Well lookie here, summer's almost gone and I bet you didn't even notice there hasn't been a Blainletter since July.  Seems I'm not too motivated to get one out when there's no gigs to promote and August was a quiet month – very quiet.  And I didn't even get down to Cape Cod this summer…or even to my sister's pool in KW.

But things are picking up and I'm happy to say that my residency at the Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill will resume on Saturday, September 16 where I'll be playing with maestro Michael Fonfara, who has fallen in love with that grand piano and drummer Don Vickery who I played with in the 90s and promised myself that I would get him again sometime and the opportunity presented itself for this kick-off at the venue where he has his own residency with the Canadian Jazz Quartet.  Don't let his jazz reputation fool you – he loves to play the blues and has accompanied some of the greats  including Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Williams and decades as Jay McShann's go-to stickman. Downchild pianist Michael Fonfara, winner of numerous JUNO and MapleBlues awards, who started out with Toronto's Jon and Lee & The Checkmates in 1963 and went on play and record with international superstars like Rhinoceros and Lou Reed

I will also be playing with Michael THIS FRIDAY NIGHT (Sept 1) at the Thornhill Pub. It's an early set 7pm start.  If it's nice we'll be playing on the patio.  And on Saturday, September 9 (nice or not) I'll be playing on Stage #1 at the Southside Shuffle in Port Credit with Mark "Bird" Stafford doubling on drums and harmonica as only he can do.  Get there early because we're the first ones up on that stage at 1PM, immediately followed by the Street Shuffle with blues bands up and down Lakeshore Blvd.

Then I've got a mini-tour of Quebec at the beginning of October (at least I've got an "anchor" gig) and I'll tell you more about that in the next Blainletter

On the business front, things have been hectic in Bluesland (aka The Toronto Blues Society) where in addition to getting the newsletter out (it's in the mail tonight, fyi), I was tasked with shepherding the launch of not one, but two new websites for TBS (coming very soon) a brand-new mobile-friendly website and a separate voting site for The MapleBlues Awards.  Even though I was the instigator in the original TBS website (back when websites didn't even have graphics) I had not been very involved in recent years but had to jump in because of staff changes at the TBS (we miss you, Alice!)

Out and About

Once Toronto Jazz was over, I was able to enjoy a few of the festivals that happen in and around Toronto, some like Beaches Jazz and Afrofest are just a walk away and one, the Festival of South Asia, was actually at the foot of my street.  The last week-end of Beaches Jazz finished off with MonkeyJunk and Paul Reddick (together) and they did not disappoint.  I caught a few other shows over the course of 3 week-ends – they might be stretching their festival a little thin by taking up the entire month of July but I'm not complaining – I could just walk down the street and hear what I wanted.  Beaches Jazz had some great moments and you can check out my compilation video of the Streetfest.
A Taste of Beaches Streetfest
I went to the Steetfest on the Thursday night because Friday & Saturday are such a crush of people. I used my new app to track how much I walked - 13k! The success of Streetfest might account for the not-so-great attendance at the main stage.  After seeing Afrofest completely fill that huge park, the jazzfest looked kinda lame, but provided some great music nonetheless.  Afrofest was a great thing to experience but, like the Festival of South Asia, they are community events and the provide the entertainment that their community wants – not necessarily world renown sitar players or kora players.  More like wedding fashion shows, little kids dancing to pre-recorded tracks and young handsome singer/dancers doing afro-hip-hop.  Ironic that to hear the great masters of those music cultures you have to go to a Small World event at the other end of town where the audience is predominantly white baby boomers.

I always enjoyed the Markham Jazz Festival and even played it a few times back when Hal Hill was booking it. It's a beautiful setting for this tiny perfect festival.  I was only there for one night and missed most of the blues but it was great to hear Carol Welsman after all these years.  If I'd had a chance to say hello I would have reminded her of the time I came by the jazz festival office late one night (back when it was over the Montreal Bistro) and there in the boardroom were Barb McCullough (the lady who hired me) and Carol herself licking stamps and stuffing envelopes and if I ever had any illusions about what it's like after you've "made it" this helped me realize that the folks who make it are the ones who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. And I've stuffed a few promo packages myself since then…
Here's a clip of Markham Jazz headliner David Clayton Thomas trading licks with everybody's favourite sax player, Colleen Allen
A couple of weeks before, I took in a bit of the Harabi African week-end at Harbourfront Centre and heard the best kora playing I've heard in a while. Noumoucounda Cissoko is my new favourite kora player.  I still love Mansa Sissoko but haven't seen him in several years - still hoping for the day we might get a chance to record something together.  Interesting that the Sissoko of Mali is spelt different from the Cissoko of Senegal. [video]

I didn't think I'd get to the Kitchener Bluesfest this year - there were some great African guitarists at Harbourfront so I was all set to go back to Harbourfront on the Saturday - but thanks to my friend Laila's prompting, I decided we would make the trek to KW and I'm glad I did.  I found out after that the Friday night got mostly rained out.  Lachey Doley (yes, Clayton's brother) had to end his set after only a couple of songs and Paul Reddick and Lucky Peterson didn't get to play. Here's a little montage of some of my favourite moments:
Rick Estrin playing hands-free harp (ie it's in his mouth) and other highlights from Kitchener Bluesfest
A few tunes into Shawn Kellernan's afternoon set, he invited a 13 year old called Avalon Fraser to sing a tune and get a taste for the big stage.  Right after, Lucky Peterson hit the stage with him and basically took over the show.  Shawn was glad to oblige - never being known as a powerful singer.  I missed most of David Wilcox set but caught this little moment when he acknowledged a young gal's birthday. Then over to the tent to hear Tarbox Ramblers (this was a band I had wanted to see for years but had a totally different idea of what their music).  It's rough and ready hill country tuning-optional blues a la R. L. Burnside.  Then Ann Vriend - a fabulous singer - with Rooster Davis. And finally the main attraction for me - Rick Estrin and the Nightcats.  I was excited just to hear Rick - a real eccentric bluesman - but before the set, my friend Larry told me Kid Andersen was playing guitar.  I had never heard of Kid Andersen until Rockin' Johnny Burgin told me about him. I played bass for Johnny when he was in town and he gave me his recent CD - produced by, who else, Kid Andersen. He plays on it too and after seeing him live, I think he's my new favourite blues guitarist. 
For the true guitar aficionados, here's the entire clip of Kid Andersen's version of Lonnie Mack's classic guitar instrumental, "Wham"
As always, lots of great music in and around this town, and I hope I can continue providing some of it.  August was bereft of gigs for me but lots coming up in September so I hope to see you at one of my gigs sometime.

Now Southern Texas, the birthplace of so much of the blues music we love, has come under another assault from Mother Nature and it is heartbreaking to watch all the hardship those folks are going through. The Jazz Foundation brought over 1000 musicians & their families back after Katrina, by rehousing, donating top shelf instruments and creating paying gigs for hundreds and they have started connecting with dozens of jazz, blues, and roots musicians in Harvey's wake, to help them rebuild, repairing homes, replacing belongings and treasured instruments and even replacing work.  If you want to help, go to

Closer to home, the entire music community has been sending good vibes to A Man Called Wrycraft who designed practically everybody's CD cover (including mine) and is now undergoing some pretty radical life-altering surgery.  Somehow he's still posting humourous and encouraging messages on Facebook so no doubt he'll be back in action before we know it.  And just today we got the news that Canadian music pioneer, Lighthouse co-founder Skip Prokop, has passed away.  Another one bites the dust.

Hope you appreciate our bountiful life here in Canada like I do. Every day.

See you out there,

BrianB, aka Butch, Nappy, Shaker, Two-Lane Blain, Colorblind Brian, Stringbuster, Buddha of the Blues