Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Kicking off 08

It’s a New Year and I’m sending out my first Blainletter of 08. I know, I said I wasn’t going to be doing these blasts anymore but I keep getting such friendly feedback plus, several people came out to my gig at the Moonshine Café who would not have heard about it otherwise.

So let me tell you what’s coming up and encourage you to come out for one or more of the following exciting engagements:

Sunday afternoon at Hugh’s Room (the actual time is 1-4pm, regardless of what’s been published elsewhere) I’ll be repeating the popular “Blues Campfire” that I previously hosted at the Blues Summit and the OCFF Conference. This is a great warm-up to the Maple Blues Awards on Monday night and many of the nominees have indicated they would try to drop by including Dawn Tyler Watson, Danny Brooks, Little Miss Higgins as well as several visiting artists like Layla Zoe (from BC now settling in TO), Terry Gillespie (Ottawa) and Max Cann (UK). Danny Marks will be there too to keep me in line. The line-up will probably change because the nominees have a busy rehearsal schedule on Sunday but there will surely be some surprise guests, too. We only do a couple of songs each…yes, that includes me…but it’ll be a good time and a great opportunity to see some of your favourite blues artists playing some of their new tunes in a laid-back informal setting.

Next month I make a liitle trek to St Catharines on February 2 to guest with Mojo Willie at his regular Saturday Matinee at Fat Tony’s Pizzeria. Then on February 8, the Winterfolk Festival kicks off and I’ll be making a couple of appearances there. See myspace for gig details.

On New Year’s Eve I took some time to reflect on the year past and to cast the “runes” to give me a liitle hint for the future. This year I was encouraged to receive a message that this would be a “breakthrough” year. That was great to see because it was getting ridiculous – for the last few years, every time I did my runes, they told me “stand still”, “tread carefully” and the big one… “the seeds have been planted – now you must wait for the harvest.”

Maybe this will be the harvest. I can’t say I’ve been very aggressive about lining up gigs – in particular, festivals. But I’ve discovered something: Some years I’ve hustled and sent out packages to every festival and other years I’ve done nothing but I always end up doing 4 or 5 festival dates no matter how hard I tried (or not). Go figure. I guess this will be one of those “laissez faire” years but any festival bookers reading this are invited to see the Youtube clip I posted from last year’s Toronto Jazz Festival. Listen to those horns and tell me that is not a kick-ass band.

2007 ended with a great adventure – a big European tour with Kathi McDonald , Three weeks all over Germany as well as Switzerland and the Czech Republic then Amsterdam, Paris and the UK. You can read all about it on my blogspot ( I really enjoy being a sideman, and especially when I get to play bass. Last week I had the opportunity to back up Mose Scarlett at Hugh’s room and what a pleasure it was. Even if I wasn’t able to keep up with some of those old jazz turnarounds, we were in the pocket and it was a pure delight. Maureen Brown was playing drums and she was most complimentary about my new tune “Forgotten”. It’s about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the musicians of New Orleans…but it relates how much they’ve contributed to American music and how little they received in return. Mo said it almost brought her to tears. I’ve got a bunch more new tunes and will hopefully get them onto a CD in the coming year. I’m about due.

Out and about: Last Saturday I was sitting at a big jazz event at the Convention Centre and found out after I left that three of the most important jazz festival directors were sitting directly in front of me. I could have slipped my package right into their purses and they would have had a nice surprise …or not. Sitting just a couple of rows in front of me was the legendary Quincy Jones and I couldn’t help watching his face as he received lots of accolades and as the “Jazz Masterworks” orchestra played some of his famous tunes. I felt sorry for the bass player who got off on the wrong foot (the wrong key?) at the beginning of “Q” medley. That must be tough when the composer is right there in the front row (probably thinking “I didn’t write that!”)

While at the Jazz Convention, I attended a Vocal “Masterclass” with Kurt Elling. His best quote of the day was “Improvisation is composition sped up, composition is improvisation slowed down – with an eraser.” Oliver Jones was being interviewed and spoke about choosing your material for the audience. “Never forget you’re playing for them,” he said, and he would always include familiar material “to give people a point of reference.” Then as he made his set list, he would choose the first, fourth and seventh song “for himself” and the rest for the audience. I won’t have that problem because practically the only songs I remember are the ones I wrote…and even then a verse might escape me.

I so wanted to attend the “walking bass” clinic but it was at 9am and that just didn’t work out. After the long-winded Jazz Masters presentations, I was ready to head home but Tierney Sutton was doing a showcase and I wanted to hear a couple of tunes (since she was my “cover girl” on the Downtown Jazz newsletter). Well even though I entered the theatre with a big fat headache (I hadn’t eaten since morning), I could leave until it was over – I was captivated with her unique take on some of the most banal standards. She was phenomenal, repeatedly getting the audience to their feet in the middle of a song and of course a lengthy standing-O at the end. Next night in the same theatre I was listening to some of that “out there” jazz and just couldn’t handle it any more so I high tailed it up to the Silver Dollar to see my fave – Duke Robillard and I was not disappointed. Now that’s virtuosity…with a groove!

Rumour of the week: Amos Garret’s next album is going to be all Percy Mayfield songs. That should be something special. Don’t know where I heard that…

Welcome to the Holiday Blainletter

I’m still decompressing from a month-long tour and happy to be back in Toronto hearing some great music and playing some too:

Friday, Dec 14
Brian Blain
Moonshine Café, Oakville
Show: 9pm $5.00

In January I’ll be making a couple of appearances at Toronto’s premier showcase room. Hugh’s Room (Jan 10 w/The Blues of Winterfolk and Jan 20 –noon- Brian’s Blues Campfire Brunch warm up for the Maple Blues Awards).

I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to play since I got back but I got to jam it up with Suzie Vinnick (and Rick Fines) at a birthday party last week. Despite skipping some fine functions like the Socan Awards and the Aboriginal Awards I heard some great music since I got back. Last Saturday Night it was the Women's Blues Revue. I have worked with most of those musicians at one time or another so I would not miss this for the world. Dawn Tyler Watson had the closing spot and she deserved it. Every singer was great but the one people will probably remember most is the 13-year old wunderkind, Nikki Yanofsky. Great review from Brad Wheeler:
I feel like I’m watching my family when I see those girls playing. Here’s a clip of Layla Zoe from the show that somebody shot from the balcony: