Saturday, June 30, 2012


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. 




Thursday, June 28, 2012


On what would have been an off day for me, I decided this past Tuesday to check out some of the great local acts during the Toronto jazz festival, as well as attend an interview with an iconic guitar player.

The iconic guitar player that was interviewed was none other than Bill Frisell, noted for his risk taking albums, conceptualized projects, and highly original tone and approach to the guitar.

For the free show I was treated to the Latin jazz stylings of vocalist Eliana Cuevas backed by an amazing quartet of musicians such as pianist (and real-life husband) Jeremy Ledbetter, bassist George Koller, drummer Mark Kelso and percussionist Daniel Stone.   The rhythms were infectious and spicy from start to finish.  Eliana’s voice was melodic, beautiful, and soared to the heavens.    The backup band really accompanied her well and performed as a well-oiled, tight-knit unit.    Among the highlights were her original songwriting compositions (I can’t remember the titles since they are in Spanish) and her inventive take on a classic bossa nova standard, “The Girl From Ipanema”.  

(L:  Jeremy Ledbetter; C: Eliana Cuevas; R:  George Koller)

(Drummer Mark Kelso and Me)

(Jeremy Ledbetter and Myself)

Walking west I decided to catch the tail end of Ernesto Cervini’s quartet at the Rex Hotel, featuring saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff, pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Mark Cashion, and drummer/leader and composer Ernesto Cervini.   In the short set I knew what to expect from such a stellar band.   Great songwriting, well-pulsated grooves, and a great sense of modern swing feel from start to finish.

(From Left:  Adrean Farrugia, Quinsin Nachoff, Mark Cashion, and Ernesto Cervini)

To cap off the night I decided last minute to go to a new venue in the jazz festival this year called the Musideum.   In this new, intimate venue I get to hear a piano/bass duo coming from the likes of Mark Kieswetter on piano and Ross Macintyre on bass.   Coming off fresh off the heals of a great first recording, they primarily played brand new material for an upcoming CD comprising of obscure jazz, standards, and original compositions.   Mark’s piano playing swung, has great emotional feel, and is forward thinking throughout.   Ross’ bass playing had a rhythmic pulse that was invigorating and his tone is one of the richest to come out of the city of Toronto.   As a unit, they managed to gel well together and even have humourous moments in the music to keep it fresh and exciting.   Among the highlights of their repertoire was the Denny Zeitlin Opener “Repeat”, Ross’ dedication to his father’s birthday by playing the Beatles hit “When I’m Sixty Four”, and Mark’s original music such as “Sufferin’ on Dufferin” and “Totem Bar”.

(Mark Kieswetter and Ross Macintyre)

Again, it was another great day of great local talent and jazz music at the festival, so be sure to come out and support great local talent and music!!!!





Wednesday, June 27, 2012


After attending the opening day festivities of the jazz festival last Friday, the next day I decided to go off the beaten path and catch some good local jazz at the Distillery District.   The distillery had music acts for everyone’s taste, involving cool jazz, funk, samba, and vocal jazz.

At the Distillery District I managed to catch most of it, while having a nice Panini lunch at a cool café in the process.

The first act that I saw was the Mike Janzen Trio at the Pure Spirits Patio.   The band featured Mike Janzen on piano and vocals, George Koller on bass and Ben Riley on drums.   Throughout their set they played an eclectic program of swinging jazz, funky rhythms, and musical humor.  Mike Janzen is the consummate jazz performer, playing the piano with such great skill and dexterity, and even shows a great sense of humor by managing to play a section of “If I Only Had A Brain” with just oven mitts!  Also among the highlights were his inventive takes on “Mrs. Robinson”, “Chim Chim Cheree”, and funky original repertoire such as “Mombacho” and “Red Rocket”. 

(From left:  George Koller, myself, Mike Janzen w/daughter, and Ben Riley)

During the Mike Janzen set, I heard the pulsating samba rhythms coming from Rich Shadrach Lazar’s Samba Squad nearby at the Trinity Stage.   It’s grooves and rhythms are infectious, making you want to dance and shake your groove thing.

Next during my stint at the Pure Spirits Patio was a vocal/piano duo under the likes of husband and wife team Sophia Perlman and Adrean Farrugia.  Sophia’s voice is warm, soothing, clear as crystal and swings like mad, like a fine wine that gets better with age.   Adrean’s playing complemented Sophia’s vocals perfectly, providing the basis of rhythm, harmony and melody as a one-man band onto himself.  The repertoire was even eclectic, covering everything from Paul Simon (Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes), standards (Softly As in a Morning Sunrise), David Bowie (Life on Mars) and obscure jazz (Geri Allen’s “Feed The Fire”)

(Adrean Farrugia and Sophia Perlman)

The last act that I saw on Saturday was another duo performance, this time under the likes of Jake Wilkinson on trumpet and Andrew Scott on guitar.   It was another inventive creative take on cool jazz playing standards with such fine dexterity, soul, and swing.   Among the highlights of the set was an obscure piece called “Prince Albert”, a Kenny Dorham composition based on the changes to Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are”.   As well, Charlie Parker was covered; through the rhythm changes tune “Anthropology”.   The rest were tried, tested and true jazz standards, such as “Stella By Starlight”, “My Romance” and “I Concentrate On You” to name a few.  As a duo, it was a very cool, laid back vibe, and Andrew Scott did a great job being an educator of the history of the music through his introductions to the pieces played.  

(Jake Wilkinson, lady, and Andrew Scott)

If you are planning to catch the remainder of the jazz festival, check out some free shows at the Distillery District and show your support to the local artists.   It really shows the diverse and class act talents that abound in the city from North to South and East to West.






Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Last year, I used my Groupon to have a wonderful dinner at the Brownstone Bistro.    I did a review on my earlier blog and was kept up to date on the goings on by the owner of the restaurant, Mark Yacoub.

(Mark Yacoub and Myself)

(Mark Yacoub and Jonathan)

Since that review, Brownstone Bistro has gone through some major changes.   One of these changes was that they signed on as part of TV’s Restaurant Makeover to do a complete renovation of the restaurant from head to toe.   Another change was they got a new head chef and along with it a fresh new menu.

I decided to attend the new menu-unveiling event and I was really impressed by the quality of the food that was served, and the exotic tastes that come with such classy dishes.     Instead of the old Mediterranean menu that was their staple for many years, the cuisine was contemporary fusion at it’s finest.

Among the highlighted dishes I tried were the mini seared paprika beef served with a mushroom salsa.   It was well seasoned, the flavours were tantalizing and the meat was juicy and tender.    The Grilled Chicken tenders were a hit as well, drizzled with a butter chicken sauce, served with mango salsa, and topped on a piece of naan bread with coriander.   It was a great, original take on butter chicken, which is especially healthier since the chicken wasn’t drowned in high-fat butter chicken sauce but the sauce was used to give the dish some flavour.

The hits keep on coming when it came to the seafood dishes.    The cured salmon Caesar salad with topped potato crisps was an excellent remix on the typical Caesar salad dish.    Instead of usual croutons, bacon and the optional chicken, it is really inventive when salmon and potato crisps are used along with romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing.   Salmon also appeared in the menu with a miso maple glaze, topped with an apple and fennel slaw.   The dish was very fresh, invigorating and the flavours were bold and highlighted very well.   My favourite dish however, had to be hands down the mini Indian Fish and Chips.   I LOVE fish and chips, and this take on a classic pub staple is no exception.   It was one of the fun dishes that I tried, and I hope that this will be a menu staple for years to come.   It was so good I wanted another one but was told kindly by the waitress to let others have first and if they are leftovers, then I can have.   It was a great dish that signified celebration and good times throughout.

If you decide to go to Brownstone Bistro in the near future, give one of these dishes a try.   You will be glad you did, taking your culinary senses into new and exciting heights.

603 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario
M4Y 1Z5

Monday, June 25, 2012


It’s that time of year again.    A time of blazing horns, soulful grooves and heartfelt melodies throughout the city landscape.    When it is the beginning of summer, it means one thing in the city of Toronto:  the TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

I managed on opening day to catch three great acts in which involves big band, contemporary jazz, and R&B/hip-hop.    These acts sure did not disappoint when it comes into ringing another year of great jazz and fun in the summertime at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

The first act featured the Brian Barlow Big Band doing a tribute to the music and legacy of Duke Ellington.   Presented by the Duke Ellington Society, it was a great kickoff by an all-Canadian band to the real core roots of jazz, swing and the blues while honoring an iconic composer, pianist and arranger to kick off the festivities.  All the classics were performed, such as “Caravan”, “Mood Indigo”, “Take the A Train” and “In a Mellow Tone” to name a few.    The band was swinging, the solos were hot, and the groove was tight from start to finish.

After a trip to Ellingtonia, I went to my first of three ticketed concert events held at the Church of the Holy Trinity.   This concert featured the solo guitar stylings of Kurt Rosenwinkel.    An accomplished guitarist, Kurt has managed to create a sonic soundscape through effective uses of melody, chordal harmonies, bass lines, guitar effects, and harmonic vocals.    His was an exciting repertoire of original music and standards ranging from “Chelsea Bridge”, “Reflections”, “Pensativa” and “Ruby My Dear”.    It was an enlightening and intriguing concert that opened up the possibilities of what one can do with a guitar and a few effects, in essence being a one-man band.

I was originally going to go home after the Kurt Rosenwinkel concert but decided to linger a while and catch a few songs by the opening main act of the festival, Janelle Monae.   Boy, did I ever make a great decision to stay.  Not only it was one of the highlights of the festival, but also it really showed how dynamic a performer Janelle Monae is from start to finish.     Along with her R&B/hip-hop repertoire, she sang everything from standards (“Smile), James Bond tunes (“Goldfinger), retro pop (“I Want You Back) all the way to her number one smash tune, “Tightrope”.    In terms of performer, she also displayed her inventive and creative uses of tap dance, and she even did live abstract painting during a performance.    I was really impressed from the get go of the performance abilities of this chameleon of a performer and I cannot wait as to what she can come up with next in the near future.

It was overall a wonderful day to kick off a wonderful festival, showing that at 26 years, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival is alive, here to stay, and off to a great start.