Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

As I'm writing up my recollections of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, I'm spinning Laura Hubert's new CD, called "One Night in Kensington" which captures the free spirit of that village and the unfettered abandon of Laura's singing.  Recorded with gusto, live and in-your-face with top TO  jazz musos. The perfect soundtrack for my blogging.

I took in all 3 days of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, a baby festival now three years old and run like no other festival I've heard of. But, as they say, it's all about the music, and KMJF is doing it "their way".  And they've found a formula that works for them, though it is a bit awkward.  Each venue has to clear the room after every performance and the artist gets whatever was collected while s/he was paying.  It's all cash.  And it won't surprise you to know that this festival was founded by a bunch of musicians so this was their solution to artists making a few bucks even though the festival has no corporate sponsorship and little grant money (if any). Most performances were $20, so you can see how a jazz fan could drop a couple of hundred bucks if they were trying to see lots of shows.  There was "curated busking" on the streets but I didn't run into much of that. I was sitting next to one one lady who was quite livid that she was going to have to pay again for the next band.  "I paid to get in and I'm not paying again!" 

As I checked in to the artist "lounge" - where you could store your instruments, grab a beer and some fried chicken & biscuits (deelicious!) and hang out - I noticed a nice bouquet of flowers for Molly and the crew and I was reminded of the time in my early days working at the Toronto Jazz Festival when I came back to the office the day after the festival ended and there was a beautiful flower arrangement on the board room table with a lovely thank-you note and it was guessed it, Molly Johnson.  That sort of thing did not happen very often.  What goes around comes around.  There's a reason Molly is so beloved in this town and it's a beautiful thing she has done with KMJF.   

Got to the Kensington Market Jazz Festival just in time to enjoy a little hospitality at their media launch which led to Turbo Street Funk doing a New-Orleans style march to their gig up the street. I saw bits of Tony Quarrington & Zoey, John McLeod Orchestra with Alistair Kay demonstrating unique tri-tone bone technique. Kevin Breit channeling the Beach Boys and rapper Branco free-styling on the theme of “Free Willy” suggested by an audience member. Great backup from George Koller, Eric St-Laurent & friends. 

Lou Pomanti kicked off Saturday with some "soul jazz" in the tradition of Les McCann and Ramsey Lewis. Start my day! Then over to the outdoor stage to catch the end of Jaymz Bee's extravaganza. At the Poetry Cafe it was a group hug of musicians playing a lot of the tunes that dearly departed Kiki Misumi used to play and showing support for her husband local guitarmeister Reg Schwager . Bill McBirnie was swinging in a beautiful garden setting. Then I swung by the Hot Box where I will be emcee on Sunday, and heard Jozsef Botos, then caught Tania Gill at the Lola, and later her hubby Victor Bateman who surprised me by pulling out a tune I wrote a long time ago - back when I made my first CD in the early 90s, a CD that would never have happened if Victor had not arranged for me to record a demo at one of his buddies' (before the days when everybody had a recording studio in their basement). My day at Kensington Jazz ended with two fabulous singers at the Handlebar - Lori Cullen and Suzie Vinnick. Perfect weather and great vibe.

On Day 3 I didn't get to see a lot of pals who were playing in the market because I volunteered to be an emcee at the guitar series that was happening in the "Hot Box" Café.  Brian Katz, Margaret Stowe, Rita di Ghent & Brian LeGere, Nathan Hiltz, Daniel Greaves, Sabrina Soares (from Australia) and guitar legend Lorne Lofsky played. It was part inspiring and part discouraging watching these folks playing at such a high level. What a scene in that joint (pardon the expression) with folks slipping by the stage area to get to the outside "potio" where they could load up their humungous bongs (see video below)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Crowdfunding Launch

Here's a slightly edited version of the Facebook Live webcast we did on my birthday.  I took out the long rambling monologue about my Epiphone guitar but kept the special effects (hat & shades) that Joel added.  This is where I'm asking for support with my upcoming CD recording:

I perform a few of the tunes I intend to record: "You Are Also His Son", "The American Dream", "Arrested for Stealing a Kiss" and "Cape Cod Blues"

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Out and About

I'll have to keep it short on all the great music I heard in the last couple of months.  The festival stuff is all covered elewhere but I did make my way to some great shows - Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang (with Buddy, it's startin g to feel like you better see him because this might be the last time - but infact, he was full of energy and great seeing Jonny Lang again. The first time I saw him he was a "wunderkind" putting on a showcase for the local music press at the Horseshoe and he seemed more intent on conquering the video game than the audience who came out to see him.  But he has matured into a solid player and I couldn't help but notice that the drummer had his own name on the bass drum (you would have expected it to say "JL", then Jonny acknowledges the whole band by name as well as his whole team right down to the merch lady - and then he even leaves the stage so his second guitarist can showcase his skills (and they were formidable).  Buddy still plays a lot of tunes that are not very "P.C.", talking about how "the little girls understand", etc bud he did try to brush it off with a "Don't blame me. I didn't write the song, I just sing it!".  And yes, he did a "walkabout" with his wireless guitar right out to the lawn on the Budweiser Stage.

Other musical highlights in the last couple of months were Hat Fitz & Clara, from Australia, playing Lula Lounge and Tri-Continental (with my Buddy Madagascar Slim, Bill Bourne and Lester Quitzau), David Bromberg, Robert Gordon with Chris Spedding and Johnny Burgin with Sugar Brown (I played bass for Johnny last time he was in town),  all at Hugh's Room where despite all of these great shows, the club is barely holding on to get through the summer doldrums and hopefully the fall will bring many packed houses and some cash flow.  Support this worthy live music venue and get over there to a show. I know, the new menu is kinda weird, but they keep trying...

Blainletter #104

Well I don't know if anybody noticed, but there hasn't been a Blainletter since June so there's lots to cover.  We'll start with the return of the Campfire Jam at the Old Mill.  We had the summer off but we're back on September 8 with the inimitable Mr. Rick, harmonica virtuoso Howard Willett and the talented Jesse Whiteley at the Yamaha grand.

And then the next big news is the launch of the Crowdfunding Campaign for my new CD on September 11th (my birthday!)  I will be doing a Facebook Live webcast from my back yard and play a few of the new tunes.  Please tune in at 6:30pm on Tuesday, September 11 and/or go to my Indiegogo page and select your "perk"

The Campfire Jam is Back at the Old Mill the "Second Saturday" of every month

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Afrobeat of Toronto

What a great summer for lovers of African Music in Toronto.  On the last week-end of the Toronto Jazz Festival, I saw the Okavango African Orchestra, an all-star assembly of great African-Canadian musicians. Donne Robert was playing some great guitar and I was happy to meet a young percussionist/kora player called Sadio Sissokho who lives in Montreal.  Always happy to meet a kora player.

Then right after jazzfest, it was Afrofest, just down the street from me. Great that it was simulcast on CIUT because I could listen to the radio and if it sounded interesting just walk down to Woodbine Park and see it live.  I had no expectations Afrofest would be sticking to the schedule and in fact they were running consistently a half-hour behind.  At one point they were asking "Pierre, the piano player" to come to the stage so they could start.  Then there was a big intro from the band, vamping on an afro-groove and with great fanfare they announced "and here she is....." except she does not appear.  The band continues vamping until it disintegrates.  The bandleader makes some excuse and they start another instrumental, and eventually the star of the show appears from the sidelines wearing an elaborate feather headdress (I can see why I took a while to set up...) 

I missed the Saturday night because I had a gig and was underwhelmed with most of the acts I saw but just watching the drum circle was amazing (earlier in the day they attempted to break a world record for the largest drum circle ever. I don't think they quite achieved it.)  Later that night, when I expressed how happy I was to see stacks of folding chairs on site I was informed it was only because they had to rent 1000 chairs for the djembe players (they only got 740 or so). Anyway, it was never so easy to get a seat at Afrofest.  The park was packed, and I don't think it was ever packed like that for the rest of the summer - at least not any of Beaches Jazz (more on festivals in my post "on Festivals".

Then it was down to Harbourfront (via TTC because parking down there has become ridiculous - it would have been nearly $50 to park for the afternoon and evening). I was knocked out by Sona Jobareth, a fabulous kora player who was making her first appearance in Canada as part of Nadine McNulty's Habari festival.  A couple of weeks later, on the same stage, I saw the wonderful Vieux Farka Toure as part of Small World Festival and later made a run to the Kitchener Blues Festival to hear the "desert blues" of Tinariwen.

I remember back in the 90s when Vieux's father, the legendary Ali Farka Toure, cancelled his North American tour (with Ry Cooder) so that he could stay home and defend his home town (where he was mayor) from the Tuareg rebels, including members of Tinariwen (who look as comfortable holding an AK-47 as a Fender Stratocaster).

I was mesmerized by all these afro-grooves and you might even hear a bit of that influence in some of the new tunes I'm working on.