Thursday, July 6, 2006

Brian's festival blog

Did I say I'd be sending daily reports during the jazz festival? Ooops, I blinked and it's over.

Phone just rang. It was Bell Canada calling about repair ticket number such-and-such at 100 Queen Sttreet West... I had to laugh. The whole site is torn down and now they call to respond to my frantic call on day 2 of the festival when the internet went down (at the most inconvenient time, of course). Thank goodness they (mistakenly) sent us more than one modem and a quck swap had resolved the problem.

Last night was the last of the tent series and traditionally, everyone would go hang out at the after hours till 4am. Unfortunately the after-hours is happening at the Rex and the Rex has a bit of a bee in their bonnet about people with festival passes expecting free admission. I walked in with Harry Manx, who dropped in while he's touring Ontario with Michael Kaeshammer, and he had to pay. Open Letter to the Rex: "Hey guys, you should buy the bar across the street because they were doing very good business just with the folks that were turned away (or ejected) from the Rex." I stood helpless as I watched John the doorman turn away a couple of the Diva Big Band members - I would have tried to say something if I hadn't already been through a big discussion with the doorman who reminded me that as a musician, I should understand that they need to collect the money to pay the musicians. Well other headliners graciouly paid the admission fee, Geoff Keezer and McCoy Tyner's extraordinary bassist Charnett Moffet. I'm going to be watching what he does next...he really was able to make the bass do stuff I've never heard. Anyway, I think he just paid whatever the get in because he was starving! The Divas, on the other had, just stomped away furiously...they are, after all, divas. They had some amazing charts - great arrangements and fine playing from all 15 of them. Ann Hampton Calloway was a phenomenal front-person. Kidding around with the audience...singing up a storm...making up a song about Toronto with lyrical ideas from the was like May West revisted. The Divas (let's get the name straight at least one time: Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra) will surely make an impression as they continue on the jazz festival circuit, undoubtedbly relating how they were expected to "pay to play" at the after-hours jam in Toronto.

I had two gigs on the first week-end of the festival (I won't do that again!) but somehow everything got done. I played the newly constructed Greektown stage in the Alexander the Great Parkette with two phenomenal musicians - Carlos del Junco and Henry Heilig. They billed me as Colorblind Blain Blues to remind everybody (especially me) that I was going to be playing Blues this time. Last time I was invited to play up there it was the 04 Jazzfest and I thought (since it's a jazz festival) that I would do something completely different. I went in with a DJ/remixer called Caspar Project along with a tabla player who doubled on digiridoo. I played a MIDI duitar and sent a feed to the Caspar who also grabbed clips from the tabla and digiridoo and looped them. It was a lot of fun...but not (as the club owner pointed out) the jazz trio they expected. We were fired after the first night. I was fired from my own festival - that was the running gag at HQ for a while. Anyway, this time they loved it. And I loved it because I had a quiet, attentive audience - who could ask for more?

So, what else did I see, you ask? Well, I didn't make it to Mike Stern which was right after my gig but I just didn't have any steam left. Heard it was a phenomenal show. Saw Molly Johnson on opening night and she spun her magic spell like she always does. Colleen Allen played beautifully - she is at the top of my list of people I want to play with before I die. The following afternoon I slipped off to the Distillery to play a solo set at the City Roots Festival. They were very appreciative and I stuck around for the "grand finale/group hug" with a bunch of folkies gathered on the stage singing Goodnight Irene. How quaint. Then it was back into the jazz zone where I heard such phenomenal artists as John Pizzarelli, Paquito D'Rivera, Pharoah Sanders and Charlie Hunter and his unique 8-string guitar - even if Charlie wasn't playing the bass part on those two extra strings he would still be a phenomenal, soulful guitarist. His keyboard player was a monster - I think his name was Deutch (??). I told Charlie about a young woman I met who played a similar guitar (Kate Shutt?) and he remembered her. He must have a network of 8-string devotees all over the planet.

On Sunday night I made my way down to Harbourfront to hear the Maple Blues Revue - The singers, Dawn Tyler Watson, John Mays and Chuck Jackson were topnotch and the whole show ran like a well-oiled machine - which it is under the leadership of Gary Kendall. Not a big crowd but a phenomenal show. Blues is hurtin'.

Tuesday I watched the opening acts for Preservation Hall but then skipped over to the Hummingbird to hear Etta James. The voice is still there, but it was pretty low0-key compared to other performances I've seen years back. Boy has she lost weight...she looked like a sweet old grandma, except for when she was humping the stool and shaking her booty.

Also at Harbourfront I saw the Neville Brothers with Roxanne Potvin opening. Roxanne may have been a little nervous about that show but she was all confidence on that stage. I saw one thing that I noted as a GOOD TIP: When she wanted to acknowledge a solo from one of the sidemen, she just pointed rather than trying to say his name. Many a time I've fumbled a lyric entrance just because I'm saying somebody's name. Next time. I'll just point - everybody knows his mane anyway. It also made me realize that I often stifle a spontaneous burst of applause after a solo or whatever. If the audience wants to applaud, we should encourage them, no? Then I made it back to the main stage to catch the encore of Maceo Parker (which lasted as long as some folks' entire show - he played almost 3 hours straight - old school...)

Other stuff...more than I can relate here. Everyone playing at a very high level. Buck 65 struck me as the next Tom Waits. Seu Jorge had a huge following (mostly Brazillians, I guess) and he gave a beautiful show - holding it all together with his beat-up nylon string guitar, probably the same one he had when he was busking on the streets of Rio. Dave Brubeck showed that even as you are well into your eighties, you can still play with the vigour of a twenty year old.

My "discovery of the year" was bass player Charnett Moffet, who was here with McCoy Tyner but who sat in with anybody who would have him (and everybody wanted him). He was doing some things with the sting bass that I've never heard. It was quite something to see Neil Swainson relinquish his bass to Charnett mid-song at the Montreal Bistro in what turns out to be the last jazz jam ever to take place at the Bistro as it closed for good after the festival. That's right, there's no more Montreal Bistro. And now I have to find a new venue for my 60th Birthday bash. Argh!