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Highly Opinionated

Toronto Jazz Festival 2008

By Published: July 29, 2008
Day 8 was perhaps the biggest of the festival, with the guitar trios of John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Mike 'Fat Time' Stern. Abercrombie brought organist, Dan Wall and drummer, Adam Nussbaum, the trio that has brightened the ECM catalogue with some fine music. Scofield had his own power trio, featuring the master, Steve Swallow on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. And Stern was the big draw for the fact that he sits astride jazz blues and rock and made that eloquent statement when he played with Miles Davis as well. Days 9 and 10 heated things up with the virtuoso playing of Arturo Sandoval, the trumpeter who gained phenomenal fame when he toured with Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra. Sandoval is one of the few trumpeters who can inhabit the upper registers of the instrument and once famously wowed even Dizzy at a concert that they played at the Royal Albert Hall in the nineties. Hilario Duran on piano, Roberto Occhipinti on bass and Mark Kelso on drums joined Sandoval. The flamboyance was, at times, almost delightfully terrifying... to hear so much technical brilliance poured out into four instruments, and so much 'duende' as well. Then there was Salif Keita, the master griot from Mali, who wove stories and sent the night into overdrive with the Orchestra Africa and Toby Toyeh, himself an exciting musician in the Yoruban tradition.

Much has been made of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival. Now in its fifth year after it was recast, following the various advertising and marketing bans on the tobacco industry. The buzz in the jazz community here in Toronto may always be, "We could have done this," or "So-and so should have been included on the bill..." No matter what you may think of artistic direction and content of featured artists, there is no denying that no one corporate entity is doing more for jazz in Canada than TD Canada Trust. The mere fact that they support eight major jazz festivals in Canada, from Victoria to Halifax is proof indeed. In his annual message, Tim Hockey, Group Head, Personal Banking and Co-Chair TD Canada Trust, describes the certain something that jazz brings to a city as a "community spirit that comes with a shared celebration, a spirit that makes you feel connected, comfortable and part of something good." Hockey describes what most jazz-loving Torontonians know to be true and yet wonder what happened to the city that once proffered jazz at virtually every important intersection in the Downtown core.





It felt as if Toronto was 'choking with gold.' In the 22 years of Toronto Jazz, the organizers have perfected the art of the jazz spectacle. Artistic Direction has been flawless year after year—this year, thanks to saxophonist and Artistic Director, Jim Galloway (who also performed with his Wee Big Band) and Producer Patrick Taylor, the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival was the biggest and most memorable ever. And to think that this was only the second big event after the Art of Jazz Celebration 2008 at the Distillery Historic District only a few weeks prior to the this festival...

As summer wears down the Torontonian, the fan of fine music can look forward too much more. Coda magazine's "Quintessential Canadian Jazz Festival Guide (4th Edition, 2008) lists multi-artist jazz music events across Canada. Ontario will have jazz music 22 events by the time the summer of 2008 blows by, nine of these will be in the Greater Toronto Area.

So why is jazz unable to sustain the artists who make it possible? Why are the clubs closing down and the good, paying gigs drying up? Has jazz become a mere 'jazz festival' tourist spectacle even for Torontonians? The answers are far from easy to come by.

To begin with there is a worldwide recession in the music industry. After the sixties, the 'industry'—record labels, to be precise—has never given jazz major recognition on its roster. Mergers and acquisitions have buried many labels that came to be known as 'jazz' labels. Alfred Lion's Blue Note has not been run with the same evangelical fever that Lion ran it with. How many artists like Thelonious Monk has the label signed up? How many producers like the late Bob Thiele, Creed Taylor and Michael Cuscuna are in control of the so-called jazz labels, which have all but been reduced to boutiques? Sony Music, Warner-Atlantic-Electra, Universal, which houses the Verve Group and Concord, that other giant are slowly resurrecting some fine historic music, how much is new is a moot point for discussion elsewhere.


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