Friday, June 26, 2015

Blainletter 76 – Festival Fever

I think I just saw Al Di Meola fire his guitar tech right on the stage of the Toronto Jazz Festival.  He was having trouble with his amp (a hi-end boutique amp called Fuchs) but it sounded fine to me (and probably to the other thousand people in the tent).  You can see in Bill King's video that he keeps turning around and calling over his guitar tech but then a little later he came on the mic and said "paging my guitar tech. Is my guitar tech in the house?" And then after a pause, "Is there any guitar tech in the house?" At which point some guy stood up and Al invited him up to the stage. Then the real guitar tech shows up and Al says to him"you go sit down, I've got a new guitar tech" but then both techs were crouched behind the amp.

You could tell he was already pretty niggly about his sound – he was late for the sound check (he was flying in while the rest of the band was on the tour bus) and I could hear him saying "nothing is the same…it's all changed!" so they kept working on his guitar sound while Hilario Duran waited patiently to start his set on the outdoor stage.  Then, after the band was introduced, I was surprised to see Al and his guitar tech walk past me towards the dressing room and I overhear him saying something like "well, where are they, then?"  Moments later he walks past me again and I see he's putting in some earplugs – I guess that's what he was looking for. 

The audience's patience was further tested when he stopped the show (after the tech-firing incident) and asked the audience to give him 5 minutes to fix his amp.  No one seemed very troubled by this and I got the feeling his crowd would walk over a bed of burning coals to see their guy. I was not around for the rest of the show so I can't report what happened at the end. You'd think they'd carry a spare amp – they were hauling a big trailer behind their tour bus.  Maybe that trailer was filled with the elaborate plexiglass wall that was used to surround the amp (and another one for the drummer).

The night before I had a very pleasant a late night hang with Booker T and his wife Nan (?) hearing about their son the guitarist who had just joined the band (Blainreaders will know that I'm a big advocate of fathers & sons playing music together).  And I got to tell Booker how my first exposure to music (that I can remember) when I was barely able to walk and found myself at eye level with two stockinged feet playing the pedals on a Hammond organ and feeling the sound through my body. I didn't get to tell him the part when I looked up and saw the first black person I'd ever seen in my little life (there were no black people in Sherbrooke). That was at a summer resort called Beau Site in the Eastern Townships - Little Lake Magog.

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Here's Booker on guitar singing "Mannish Boy"  (did you know he wrote "Born Under a Bad Sign"?  And played bass on Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"?  And lots more! Fascinating hearing stories from Booker as renowned musicologist Rob Bowman was encouraging him to get to work on his autobiography. 

Now that the Festival is almost done, I've had a little time to do some blogging (as well as laundry, a home cooked meal and mowing the lawn!).  One little fire to put out – the modem in the Jazz-FM tent got fried in the big downpour but it's fixed now.  The festival is running like the well-oiled machine that it is.

One show just got cancelled – Sonny Knight and the Lakers at the Horseshoe Tavern on Friday. "Transportation issues" as they say – code for "somebody couldn't get across the border." The band just posted a pic of themselves gazing at Niagara Falls from the American side. They also were scheduled to play at Ottawa and Montreal jazz festivals.  Blackburn will taking their spot at the Shoe on Friday night.  I wish I could say come to Snarky Puppy in the tent but it’s sold out (I think it was the first show to sell out!)  But you can bet there'll be another thousand people standing outside the tent, where the sound (and the sightlines) are not half bad.

These ten days of Jazz Festival are about the only time of year that I have anything resembling a full-time job (come to think of it, it does not resemble a full-time job very much but you know what I mean).  Alas there was no "play" for me at this year's festival, no gigs with or without the Blainettes.  But the good news is next week I head down to the Mont Tremblant Blues Festival to play with my buddy Larry Kurtz – and they've got us doing enough sets and workshops to make up for 3 festivals.

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Opening night of the jazzfest was a funk-fest and the whole square was packed with fans of Parliament Funkadelic, Morris Day and The Time, and my favourite – Dumpstaphunk.  I had been very disappointed when a huge downpour forced them to shut down their set after a couple of songs at Beaches Jazz last year, and I'm sure they were quite disappointed too.  Well they made up for it this time and put on a great show.

Morris Day is someone I never heard of – probably because I'm the only person on the planet who did not see the movie "Purple Rain." I had retired to the media trailer to catch up on some work but had the window open and could actually see a bit of the stage (the drummer).  I listened but I was not drawn to get a closer look but I was told after that half his appeal is the dancing and the stagecraft.  After seeing a couple of video clips I see what they mean.

George Clinton and P-Funk were amazing, even though I'm sure it's tamed down a bit from their heyday.  I never saw them back then but I remember doing some recording sessions in Toronto in the same studio right after they had wreaked havoc and after them, us Canadian joint-smokin' hippies seemed like altar boys.

The next night was Tower of Power, more funk.  My drummer friend Mike Fitzpatrick was a little disappointed that Dave Garibaldi was not at the drum kit – it seems he's recovering from hip surgery.  But the band raised the roof and there were lots of smiling faces.  Also got to see a few tunes from Robert Glasper (not as experimental as I expected but then he was promoting an album called "Covered" so I guess it was only natural that he was playing some standards (and a Prince tune that isn't a standard – yet). 
Then there's Mike Stern.  Already the highlight of the festival for many people.  I would count myself in that group, maybe a tie with the Toronto Mass Choir. Here they are raising the roof:

There's a couple more videos on my Facebook musician page at (Beware, they'll probably try to get you signed up to Facebook) Stern has played the festival many times but I either missed it or got there just in time for the encore – this time I heard the whole set and loved it.  Here's a link to a blues standard that he pulled out as an encore – most people in the audience didn't even realize that he sang (though he would sometimes do some vocal scatting along with his guitar solos).  This time he sang "Red House".  Official. 

I've got another link, also on my Facebook, of the last song of the Christian McBride Big Band last night. I couldn't figure out why he had this old school MC guy bringing him on stage but was told afterwards by Don, the volunteer who drove him from the airport, that he was none other than Danny Ray, James Brown's valet and "cape man" for all those years. Now he's introducing Christian who idolized James Brown and now carries a little bit of JB history with him on the road. It seems Danny had fallen on hard times after JB passed away and Christian sure lived up to his name by taking him on and giving him a new lease on life.

Another big band that played was none other than the legendary "Count Basie Orchestra" – on the road for 80 years, if you can believe it.  And trombonist Clarence Banks (a fellow Buddhist who I've known for a few years) is the last remaining member of the band who was there when the Count was still at the helm.  We had a nice visit after the show and, as always, despite lots of challenges, he was the most positive and encouraging.  That's right, even musicians who are at the pinnacle of the music world are scuffling.  I was quite surprised when Phil Dwyer, a first-call sax player for many years in this town, told me that he has just completed his first year of law school and is looking forward to a more stable career.  When I mentioned this to David Basskin, a well-known music industry lawyer, he rolled his eyes a bit and said "I wish him luck" like even a new lawyer can't be assured an easy ride nowadays. 

Quote of the day Music (courtesy of Larry Leblanc) is from from Randy Lennox, the boss at Universal Music: He says "6 is the new 10" – meaning if a respectable hit used to sell 100,000 in Canada, now they would be happy with 60,000.

I would be remiss not to mention that this month three (count 'em, 3) of my old friends from Quebec were in town doing CD launches.  Russ Kelley has made his second CD since retiring from being the boss of the Music Section at Canada Council and even though he hasn't played very much in Toronto he's made some life-long fans with his sincere, heartfelt tunes and mellow delivery (  

Chris Rawlings is someone I always thought of as a "national treasure" of Canadian folk music ever since he put "The Rhyme of the Ancient Marriner" to music - he writes songs about great historical events like Halifax harbour explosion or the Estevan miner's strike in Saskatchewan in the early 1930s.  Great stories, great songs (in English and French!).

Then there's my old buddy Allan Fraser, who I worked with in Fraser & DeBolt and even before. He's now teamed up with Marianne Girard and they made a great album which was released with a big bash at Hugh's Room.  It's not Fraser & DeBolt redux, but they've found their own collective voice and between them have a vast reservoir of great tunes.

On the subject of Fraser & DeBolt, the double vinyl release on Roaratorio Records is due at the end of July and Christmas will be coming early for F&DeB fans because there's some amazing songs on there that you've never heard. (I think if you're still a fan after 40 years of no product and no personal appearances, you must be a fan-atic).

Anyway, I better stop here before I launch into more doom and gloom.  Hope to see you out there and check my blog for a final instalment of my festival diary

To see more of these videos you'll have to got to Facebook and search for me (if we're not already friends – and we should be!)Speaking of which, if you're already on Facebook, please visit my Facebook musician page and give me a "like".  I've been stuck at 149 likes for too long J

The new website is coming along. Still haven't launched it, but I keep adding pictures and I have created a video playlist of my YouTube favourites. You can even see what blues bands are playing tonight. Go to