Saturday, August 25, 2018

On Festivals

Summer is almost done and I can't say I did much festival hopping, but I did get to enjoy the one I work for ( and the one that's just down the street ( TOjazz feels like it's been downsized a bit but it's a nice fit in its new home in Yorkville.  Both festivals had their challenges this year. TOJazz had rain on the first week-end and a heat wave on the last week-end but the show(s) went on. TOjazz has become a real "discovery" festival with Josh Grossman at the helm - I missed a lot of great sets, but I saw plenty of musicians playing at a very high level.

No, I didn't play at either of them though I did a gig in Yorkville during the festival - it was a benefit for cancer research at a fancy Italian restaurant in the heart of yorkville. I was backing up a talented 16-year old called Lauren Marron and she is going places. I also got to MC the Toronto Blues Society Talent Search (and it was really HOT – nobody was sitting on that big rock beside the Cumberland stage, I'll tell you.  You could fry an egg on it!) The Talent Search winners were a group called Bywater Blues – if you like Tedeschi-Trucks (like I do), you'll love this band.

I didn’t expect to see Herbie Hancock because it was totally sold out but I guess some VIP couldn't make it because a single ticket trickled down to me and I was glad I got a chance to see him this time.  I got literally the last seat in the house.

Wednesday night at the Danforth Music Hall, I saw Bela Fleck with his original band. I can't stand all night anymore so I slipped up to the balcony to find a seat, even though I knew I would have to vacate it and it wasn't long before that happened. I watched the show from the main floor but I cut out before the end. I was remembering the last time he played the Jazz Festival and the band was very strict about "no photography" and one eager photographer was ignoring warnings until Bela's roadie leaped at this guy and grabbed the camera out of hands.  Not sure if he ever got it back…That was then.  Good luck trying to enforce those rules nowadays.

Thursday was the premiere screening of the Jim Galloway documentary that I helped with, and there was my name - first in the Thank You's (I guess they were doing it alphabetical). The film is a beautiful tribute to Jim and will be shown on Bravo.  It's called "Jim Galloway - A journey in Jazz".  Right after the film, there was a live musical "outro" with Mike Murley chanelling Jim Galloway, playing on a small curved soprano (maybe it was one of Jim's) with Mark Eisenman at the piano.  I wish I could have stayed longer but I was set on hearing "Rockin Johnny" Burgin at Hugh's Room.  I played bass for Johnny last time he was in town.  This time he was playing with Russ Boswell (no slouch) and brought his own drummer.  Not a packed house at Hugh's but to be expected as they enter the summer downturn. 

I didn't try to be on site all the time. Stayed home and did all the jazz web updating from there and made some time to work on my MIDI looper and jam with Joel on his new drum machine. I guess I don't feel so bad about missing so much great music if I'm home making some great music of my own, eh? But it never ceases to amaze me watching these musicians playing at such a high level.

This must be jazzfest #25 or #26 for me.  What an amazing quarter-century being around the best musicians in the country and having the opportunity to hear world class musicians when they come through town.  My Day 1 discovery was gospel singer CeCe Winans - I had never heard of her and wondered how she got to be a headliner on the opening day but now I've heard her and will never forget.  This was like hearing Aretha or Mavis for the first time.  Absolutely blown away and not even troubled with the "testifying" between songs. This old Buddhist was feeling the spirit. Same day I saw young Nefe, who only a year earlier was sitting in the audience when I was playing at a bar on Bloor street.  There were only a few people and I started the set saying I would be playing just songs I wrote about being in the music business and asked if there were any musicians in the house.  This youn gal with dreads lifted her hand and later I asked her to come up and do a couple of tunes.  Nothing polished about her but she had "something" and within a year she was signed to Universal and playing the Jazz Festival.  She's on the fast track now.

I missed some great shows (Reg Schwager among others) and if I ever thought my staff pass could get me in anywhere, I'm told the Royal Ontario Museum event was not something I could just walk into - Lots of security, bag checks, those crazy wands, and a guest list at the back door. Never mind.

Other highlights: Monday night was Alison Krauss (at Sony Centre) and Betty Lavette (at Koerner Hall) and I somehow managed to catch most of both sets.  I did however miss the first half of Bettye - the "blues revue" with lots of pals.  Both Alison and Bettye were more low-key than I expected.  Lots of ballads.  But when you've got the audience in the palm of your hand you can do anything you want – play ballads all night long…)

Lots of great shows, more than I can mention, but great to hear the legendary Norman Marshall Villeneuve – still going strong (though he did leave the stage in the middle of his set), and Bad Plus was amazing with the new piano guy…but the surprise highlight of the whole festival for me was a band of buskers from the NYC subway and damned if I can find their name. Sounded like "mooch" or something.