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Second Annual Art of Jazz Celebration Distillery Historic District Toronto, Canada May 30-June 3, 2007
In the midst of a busy multidisciplinary arts and creativity festival, Toronto welcomed the second annual installment of a spring jazz celebration known as Art of Jazz for 5 days ending in June. Art of Jazz is a non- profit organization dedicated to promoting jazz education and showcasing key performances throughout the year. The "Celebration, as it is called, represents a focal point of activity in the spring. Without trying to compete head to head with a large festival concept, organizers have benefited from using a smaller scale environment while not sacrificing talent and community involvement. Rather than play one gig and pack up for the next city, artists were able to be seen and heard on more than one occasion as well as sit in the audience in appreciation of their contemporaries. Visitors had a choice between paid and free events under generally ideal weather conditions. Key concerts this year showcased Art of Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, Kenny Wheeler and Jon Hendricks. Last year the focus was on Barry Harris and Don Thompson, both of whom were very involved in the 2007 lineup. Toronto-based soprano saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett, one of the key founders of the Art of Jazz (AOJ) organization, helped kick off the celeberation with the Cuban rhythms of her Spirits of Havana group. Jon Hendricks, Kevin Mahogany and Barry Harris were also part of the opener.
80-year old Jimmy Slyde, the "King of Slides, proved that dancing will never leave him as he joined Muna Mingole, the "Blue Flame of Cameroon, and others in a journey in dance and drums for a show called simply: Footprints. A packed Friday night house in the Fermenting Cellar in Toronto's Distillery District welcomed the Canadian- born flugelhorn and trumpet great Kenny Wheeler, who has enjoyed a rich international career. Lee Konitz, Don Thompson, Dave Holland, Joe Labarbera, and Norma Winstone joined Wheeler. Regrettably, Bob Brookmeyer was not able to make the trip.
Key free Saturday afternoon concerts saw alto saxophonist Lee Konitz on stage followed by the relaxing showcase bringing pianist Carla Bley, electric bassist Steve Swallow and the resident AOJ orchestra with Howard Johnson.
On a night when patios and numerous other Luminato shows were attracting Torontonians and tourists, the Afro-Cuban Jazz & Dance party attracted a smaller crowd of salsa fans compared to last year when Ray Vega was blasting his trumpet in full force.
The celebration also included a series of clinics that bring aspiring artists and fans closer to the legends in a more intimate setting such as a small art gallery. For example, on the vocal front, Jon Hendricks provided a singing history on improvisation. The highlight was the fast rendition of the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross classic "Everybody's boppin', during which singers in the audience were invited to scat over a few choruses. Kevin Mahogany focused more on the performance aspect of singing by talking in part about how a singer must approach a show as if he/she owns the venue and how you are there to give your best rendition of the selected songs.
Pianist Barry Harris, a fixture with the AOJ, saved his energy mainly for the weekend offerings. Very active in community involvement with music, he oversaw local community singers who were mainly youngsters and shared his wisdom on harmony during one of the clinics.
Sunday was reserved for a trio performance followed by the AOJ orchestra featuring Leroy Williams on drums, Don Thompson on bass and vibes, and Howard Johnson on tuba.
The climactic finale to the 5-day celebration was Jon Hendricks in a show titled "Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Redux in homage to his famous group of yesteryear that epitomized the art of vocalese. His main trio for the show featured Slovenian born Peter Mihelich on piano, Neal Miner on bass, and Andy Watson on drums. Joining Hendricks were his daughter Aria Hendricks and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, who were both featured on the CD Freddie Freeloader (Denon Records, 1990). Clark Terry made a surprise guest appearance with his famous rendition of "Mumbles to the great delight of the appreciative audience. Organizers were pleased with the results of the second celebration and hope to keep building on the experience while staying true to their goals for the community and beyond.