This past Wednesday it was everything Canadian at the jazz festival, ranging from the origin of performers to the repertoire performed at the highest level possible.
The first show I caught was an all-Canadian band lead by Doug Thompson paying tribute to one of the great jazz icons of our time, George Shearing. It employed the classic George Shearing quintet sound, consisting of vibraphone (Doug Thompson), guitar (Reg Schwager), piano (Bernie Senensky), bass (Neil Swainson) and drums (Terry Clarke). The arrangements were cool and laid back, with a sense of classical chamber-like quality in the mix. The band performed to the highest level such great standards and classics such as “Drop Me Off In Harlem”, “Pick Yourself Up”, “September in the Rain”, George Shearing’s “Conception” and his all-time hit, “Lullaby of Birdland”. What is to be noted of this performance is that three of the members (Thompson, Schwager, and Swainson) have served as alumni of George’s bands at one point in their careers. Bernie Senensky did a terrific job playing the arrangements and captured the easy swing that George Shearing achieved, and Terry Clarke proved that less is more by providing light drum accompaniment to achieve the light Shearing sound of the tribute group. Overall, the band was great, paying honour to a great jazz legend.
(FROM LEFT: Reg Schwager, Terry Clarke, Neil Swainson, Bernie Senensky and Don Thompson)
After the free show, I decided to catch the second of my three ticketed shows at the Church of the Holy Trinity, this time featuring all Canadian talent performing all-Canadian material. The band was anchored by Juno award-winning saxophonist, pianist and composer Phil Dwyer along with special guest artist (and a good friend of mine), Juno-nominated pianist, composer and vocalist Laila Biali. To complete the band it featured trumpet and flugelhorn player Vince Mai, guitarist Rob Piltch, bassist Jodi Proznick and drummer Davide DiRenzo. This was a stellar band making new music from a songbook that I myself have not gotten into that much, but after their interpretations I might as well investigate the songs coming from such iconic Canadian musicians, artists and composers. Among the highlights of the concert was the hard-bop blues take on Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”, the reggae inspired take on Ron Sexsmith’s “Secret Heart”, the New Orleans’ shuffle groove on Feist’s “Mushaboom”, and Laila’s heavenly vocal amid a spaced out backdrop on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Beautiful”. I hope a CD comes out of this group very soon, since this was a fresh swinging take on Canadian music rather than the tried, tested and true chestnuts of the Great American songbook.
(Myself and Phil Dwyer)
(Laila Biali and Me)
Overall, a great Wednesday featuring Canadian talent and Canadian music all the way around. Shows how far Canada has come producing great jazz talent known throughout the world.
OFFICIAL TD TORONTO JAZZ WEB SITE
OFFICIAL PHIL DWYER WEB SITE
OFFICIAL LAILA BIALI WEB SITE