On the road again…

I guess we don't officially kick off the festival until this evening, but with Willie Nelson at Massey Hall last night - and some other great jazz happening around town - it certainly felt as though things were underway. Here's where I was:

  • 12:15 pm - interview at Nathan Phillips Square with CITY
  • 6:00 pm - Bloomsday at The Rex
  • 8:00 pm - Willie Nelson
  • 10:30 pm - The Brothas Concert at Lula Lounge

I'll let my tweets do most of the talking, but wanted to touch on a couple of things.

Willie Nelson
Alright, let's be clear. The Willie Nelson concert last night at Massey Hall - the festival's official preview concert - was not a jazz concert. Not close. But it was a great concert. Willie sounded fantastic - his voice was in great form - and the energy from the crowd was amazing. The full house was hooting, hollering and singing along with almost every tune. And in my mind, it's what should be happening at a concert during the jazz festival: a great performance with a great audience, and great interaction between the performer and the audience. Plus, the revenues from the sold-out Willie Nelson concert will help support shows like Jason Moran, and Gregory Porter, and Fred Hersch, and John McLaughlin, and Dr. Lonnie Smith, and so on. Now - if we can find the jazz acts that can sell out Massey Hall (and who haven't already been to Toronto in the past six months), I'd be even happier…

The Brothas Concert
There was a lot of talent on stage last night at Lula Lounge for The Brothas Concert. In fact, 14 of Toronto's most talented black pianists (plus one very talented drummer) were on the stage, all under the direction of Andrew Craig. (And, actually, there was a lot of talent in the audience, too - I saw Shakura S'Aida, Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell, Rick Lazar, Lady Son, Luis Orbegoso, Karen Burke from Toronto Mass Choir…) The set I caught included ensemble pieces, solo features and duets, and the repertoire ranged from spirituals to jazz to Caribbean, both covers and originals. In a word, the night was fun. Partly because of the energy and quality of the music coming from the stage, and partly because of the energy being given back by the audience. At times it felt like a concert, at times it felt like a dance party, at times it felt like a church service. But the thing that stuck out most for me was the respect the musicians showed for each other. Whenever one pianist or another was featured, all of the musicians on stage looked on in what seemed like awe. Everyone looked so happy to be there, to be sharing the stage with his colleague - it made the experience even more enjoyable for me as an audience member.

Now, I do my best to not single out particular musicians. But I need to talk about the drummer last night - Larnell Lewis. That Larnell is talented I hope will come as no surprise - he's been tearing things up on a drum kit in this city for several years. Last night, in the middle of a calypso-ish tune, he played one of the most exciting drum solos I've heard for a while. That he was having fun playing it was clear; but what amazed me beyond the solo itself was the rapt attention everyone else in the room was paying. I can't remember the last time I've seen so many people leaning in during a solo, as if they couldn't wait to hear the next note. A highlight for sure, and the festival is hardly even a day old…

So in a few minutes I'm heading down to Nathan Phillips Square for our big kickoff concert with Smokey Robinson. It's going to be a blast, and it's all free - you should come! Here's what's up for tonight:

  • The Sondheim Jazz Project - 6 pm on the Pure Spirits Patio in the Distillery
  • The Michael Dunston/Dave Youth Tribute to Donny Hathaway - 8 pm at Shops at Don Mills
  • Molly Johnson - 8 pm and 10:30 pm at the Jazz Bistro
  • Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, followed by Smokey Robinson - 8 pm on the Toronto Star Mainstage at Nathan Phillips Square

For complete details go to torontojazz.com.

My tweets from yesterday are below…I hope to see you on the square!


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