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Live Reviews

TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Days 4-10: June 27-July 3, 2011

By Published: July 9, 2011
A large crowd later gathered at the Mainstage concert for an evening of singing and big band swinging. Canadian singer/songwriter Molly Johnson led the way with pianist Robi Botos), saxophonist/flautist Colleen Allen, bassist Mike Downes
Mike Downes
Mike Downes
b.1964
bass
and drummer Ben Riley
Ben Riley
Ben Riley
b.1933
drums
. With the fan-favorite "My Oh My," from her self-titled 2000 debut on EMI, Johnson brought some of her own compositions, as well as other jazz and blues classics like "Killer Joe," and "Lush Life"---even bringing a bit of Charlie Pride country into the mix. Wearing a bright red dress, with a flower adorning her hair, she looked cheerful and relaxed with her musicians, for whom she clearly had great affection. Johnson also pretended that she was intimidated by the presence of the big band that was to follow. Her connection to this city was obvious when she talked about how lucky we are to live here. Performing across the street from the Royal Alexander Theatre was extra-special for her as it brought back lots of memories of her youth growing up to be the performer that she was today. She was, after all, the first Canadian female performer to sell out a concert, a few years ago, for the festival.

When it comes to big bands today, continuing the style and tradition of its founder, the Count Basie Orchestra is a natural choice. The legendary ensemble has existed for over 75 years, and many great musicians have sat on the piano chair to this day. Dennis Mackrel, the orchestra's conductor, spoke highly of Toronto and of the caliber of the local musicians that he has met on previous visits. In fact, the Canadian connection was such that Derrick Gardner
Derrick Gardner
Derrick Gardner

trumpet
, on fourth trumpet, recently accepted a position at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba.

Starting off with Ernie Wilkins
Ernie Wilkins
Ernie Wilkins
1922 - 1999
arranger
's arrangement of "Sixteen Men Swinging," the band played a series of pieces representing that Kansas City sound that will always be associated with the "Chairman of the Board." Both baritone saxophonist John Williams
John Williams
John Williams
b.1928
and bassist James Leary
James Leary
James Leary
b.1946
bass, acoustic
were hired by Basie himself. Williams played beautiful low notes for a piece simply called "Carney," in tribute to Harry Carney, who was a member of Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
's band. Moving towards higher notes, first trumpet Michael P. Williams and first alto saxophonist Marshall McDonald led the way on "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." Johnson came back to join the band for "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You," popularized by Nat "King" Cole
Nat
Nat "King" Cole
1919 - 1965
piano
. Of course no Basie show would be complete without the all-time favorites such as "Lil' Darlin,'" "Shiny Stockings," "One O'Clock Jump," and the finale, "April In Paris."

It was nice to see a packed tent for a band that played to tight perfection. This was also a night when Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
b.1960
saxophone
and Joey Calderazzo
Joey Calderazzo
Joey Calderazzo
b.1965
piano
teamed up for the premiere of Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music, 2011).


Thursday, June 30, 2011

A large and predominantly young crowd gathered in and around the Mainstage to see opening act 5 After 4, followed by headliners Bela Fleck
Bela Fleck
Bela Fleck
b.1958
banjo
, as Toronto shifted gears towards the end of the work week before a long weekend.

Banjoist Béla Fleck has gathered the original Flecktones together for the first time in 18 years, in the hopes of reconnecting with what worked in the past and forged new ground. A few years ago, the group played a memorable concert to a capacity crowd when the exceptional saxophonist Jeff Coffin
Jeff Coffin
Jeff Coffin

saxophone
was touring with them. In anticipation of a sizable audience, the chairs inside the tent were removed to more comfortably accommodate a larger crowd.

In this band, each musician brought his own unique style and sound to his instrument, helping define the whole. Everyone is on equal footing, despite Fleck being the leader. Over the years, the master of the 5-string banjo has drawn on a rich variety of influences and styles including bluegrass, jazz, folk, African, Indian and more.

A harmonica can be a harmonica, yet when Howard Levy
Howard Levy
Howard Levy

harmonica
plays it in conjunction with the other instruments on a tune such as "Gravity Lane," the result is a melodic sound that defines this group. Roy "Future Man" Wooten—brother of bassist Victor Wooten
Victor Wooten
Victor Wooten
b.1964
bass
and also known on stage as "Futureman" —rings his drumitar, a unique drum instrument that he invented and looks like a guitar. He is also the only one who adds limited vocals on some of the Flecktones' compositions.


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