Art of Jazz Celebration in Toronto
2nd Annual Art of Jazz Celebration
Distillery Historic District, Toronto, Canada
May 30 - June 3, 2007
The second annual Art of Jazz Celebration was not the kind of festival where a musician's record sales, marketability, and high-powered publicity/management teams determine its lineup.
The fifty diverse and dynamic headliners were selected by its joint foundersLenny Binder, Bonnie Lester, Howard Rees, and the award winning duo of trumpeter Larry Cramer and soprano saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnettfor their creativity, not commerce; their artistry, instead of ad space; and their sincerity rather than sex appeal. The Festival committee's choices were enthusiastically received, as evidenced by the mostly standing-room-only audiences that attended the fest in Toronto's thirteen-acre, 175-year-old, SoHo-like Distillery Historic District.
Opening night at this diversely programmed extravaganza's main indoor venue, the Fermenting Cellar, was festive and furious, thanks to the south-of-the-border syncopations of Bunnett's Spirits of Havana ensemble, with special guest rumba dancer Felix "Pupy Insua, who appeared in the acclaimed music documentary Calle 54. The Kansas City-born vocalist Kevin Mahogany's towering tenor voice was a little weary from his long layover on the tarmac in the States, but that didn't stop him from delivering a no- nonsense lesson in bluesology with his trio, which included a Charlie Parker tune and Nat King Cole's "Route 66.
The next night featured Footprints: A Journey in Dance and Drums; a three-part show narrated by former National Ballet of Canada star Veronica Tennant and highlighting the relationship between jazz and dances from Africa, Cuba, and Harlem. Representing the Motherland was the bubbly vocalist/dancer Muna Mingole, the "Blue Flame of Cameroon. Her infectious call-and-response vocals, along with a spirited, booty shaking, dance-off with several members of the audience, compensated for what she may have lacked in specific references to any authentically indigenous tribal style.
Authenticity reigned supreme when the dreadlocked, muscular, Afro-Cuban dancer Insua delivered a powerful praise-performance offering to Oshun, Shango, Obaltala and other gods of the Santeria religion. Backed by four percussionists of the hourglass-shaped bata drums and led by Bata master Roman Oqduardo, the gold-and-red-clad Insua realized the Yoruba-born, Caribbean-bred choreography. He traversed the area extending from the audience to the stage, then expertly navigated through infinite variations of the rumba, complete with an intoxicating duet with his turbaned female partner. But it was irrepressible Jimmy Slyde who brought down the house with his decades-honed tap dances, augmented and mirrored by his protégé Rocky Mendez, and supported by Detroit drummer Leroy Williams. With his plaid hat, yellow blazer and brown slacks, the eighty-year-old Slyde, truly one of the "last of the hoofers, wowed the crowd with his so-advanced-it's-simple steps, mellowed and perfected by age to minimal elegance. He and Williams engaged in a "percussion discussion that took on bebop repercussions, extended and amplified when bebop pianist Barry Harrisarguably the greatest jazz teacher alivesat in and delivered sweet and succulent renditions of the Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol hits "Come Sunday and "Caravan.
Trumpeter/flugelhornist and Toronto homeboy Kenny Wheeler's tribute at the Cellar was supported by bassist Dave Holland's rock-steady basslines, with multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson on piano and vibes and former Bill Evans percussionist, Joe La Barbera, supplying in-the-pocket drumming. And that was merely the support for the frontline activity of alto saxophonist and Birth of the Cool alumnus Lee Konitz's angular saxlines and the amazing and underrated British vocalist Norma Winstone's agile and quasi-operatic vocals. Marred only by trombonist Bob Brookmeyer's no-show, due to chronic fatigue syndrome, Wheeler's buttery flugelhorn forays fronted a pleasing program of mostly his compositions, including the waltzy rendition of "Smiles Remembered and the Latinesque "Foxy Trot, laced with Winstone's sinewy wordless vocal, though Konitz's performance on the 2.0 upgrade of the standard "Invitation and a tune based on "What is This Thing Called Love were equally satisfying. But it was Wheeler's night, as he skillfully took his avant-oriented music from the sixties and seventies all the way to the change of the twenty-first century.