Toronto Jazz Festival 2007
The Pilot Tavern proved to be another key hot-spot for the festival as legendary artists and major Canadian artists took to the stage of the quaint second-floor that was transformed into a jazz club for a week. On one night, David "Fathead Newman played three wonderful sets, joined by Mark Eisenman on piano, Archie Alleyne on drums, and Steve Wallace on bass. The group played a number of jazz standards from "Oleo and "Naima to a very moving rendition of "Georgia," several of them recorded on Newman's latest CD called Life. He can switch from a fast bebop to an elegant and melodic song such as Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk. In the third set, the group played a modal tune in D minor called "Cousin Esau with Newman going to his flute. The evening ended with Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia and Benny Golson's "Killer Joe to add the finishing touches in front of a standing ovation. So popular was his visit that some fans were not able to get in.
On two other nights, veteran trumpeter, Marcus Belgrave, was joined by Robi Botos on piano, Neil Swainson on bass, and Terry Clarke on drums. The group selected short enjoyable standards such as Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere, Ellington-Tizol's "Caravan, Horace Silver's "Strollin', and Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore.
Gone are the days when Toronto had a choice between "Top O' The Senator and "Montreal Bistro. Live @ Courthouse, trying to fill that void, was one of the new club additions to the festival with a busy lineup of performers as well as a few late-night jam sessions. For the first two nights, Freddy Cole graced the stage for songs that reminded us of his brother Nat yet their own distinct qualities. Live @ Courthouse offered the intimate setting to hear ballads such as Mercer's "I Remember You, Arlen's "Paper Moon, and "Because Of You. Popular in Brazil, Cole has often added brazilian songs into his repertoire that fit his vocal smoothness, an example being a composition from the works of Marcos Vidal.
Mike Stern packed the club for two sets and featured Alain Caron and Lionel Cordew. After the opening tune Kern's "Yesterday, the trio played a selection borrowed mainly from Stern's latest CD Who Let The Cats Out? that varied from rockish sounds to quiet sequences such as one imitating the cry of humpback whales. Whatever the style or idiom, the musicians played with solid intensity. They were all very comfortable with each other and clearly enjoyed the experience, Stern during one brief moment singing the notes while gazing towards the far reaches of the Courthouse. Rhythmic and melodic complexities were the next order of the evening when Vijay Iyer played with his talented quartet.
A year and a half ago, clarinetist Don Byron launched a new group dedicated to the music of soul legend, saxophonist and singer Junior Walker, and it was that theme that characterized his playing on this occasion. The leader exchanged his clarinet for tenor saxophone, Dean Bowman was on vocals, David Gilmore on guitar, George Colligan on the Hammond B-3 organ, Brad Jones on bass, and Rodney Holmes on drums. The opening number was a variation on Walker's instrumental song "Cleo's Mood. Byron then played selections from the Walker project, Do the Boomerang. After waking up the lead singer who was discreetly attempting to catch some ZZZs in the green room, Byron came back to perform Walker's "Shotgun as his encore, which finally got the audience out of their seats and dancing.
Late-night jazz revelers could check out the Rex or the Courthouse for more music in the wee hours of the night. Robi Botos led three sessions at the Courthouse and offered stage time to nice surprises such as Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, and Ernest Dawkins, who was in town with his Ethnic Heritage Band. Steve Turre and Marcus Belgrave also made it to the house on the night that they were in town.
The busy 10-day festivities came and went in a flash with a few sleepless nights and many cherished memories along the way. Fans will have gigs and shows to choose from before the next festival. A major highlight in just a few months will be Toronto hosting the 2008 edition of the IAJE.