I had plenty of fun this past week but I’m going to focus on the biggest concert of the year for JAZZ.FM91…Jazz Lives at Koerner Hall! Ross Porter and I started producing this really big shoe nine years ago and every year it keeps getting better! I’m not comparing the talent because every year has been top notch people like Kurt Elling, Alex Pangman, Bob Dorough, Holly Cole, Jimmy Webb, Michael Kaeshammer, Karrin Allyson and the late greats Kenny Rankin, Doug Riley and Jeff Healey…the list goes on and on…so when I say better I mean as an experience for the artist, musician and audience.
Much of this is because Koerner Hall is a marvel of architecture with phenomenal acoustics and an experienced, enthusiastic staff. It’s so nice when everybody loves their job. I still miss Bill Payne (my close friend who did our sound for the first eight years, until he passed away suddenly) and I will never forget hosting dinners and parties for some of our guests, but there is something about this past year that felt effortless. I loaded in the house band at 11am and rehearsed with our featured guests all day.
The house band was under the musical direction of Lou Pomanti, who I’ve been a fan of for way over a decade (Award Shows and his band The Dexters) but only in the past few years have I gotten to know what a level-headed and multi-talented guy he is. He’s been working with Michael Buble, arranging a song on the last CD and a bunch before. He was MD of Jazz Lives last year and is likely to return in 2014.
He was joined by Scott Alexander on double bass, Alex Dean on tenor sax and Larnell Lewis on drums. What a band! Barbra Lica was the first guest and did three songs including a brand new tune she wrote called “Fishies”.
Bill McBirnie got up next and proved yet again why every flute player I’ve ever spoken to says Bill is Canada’s greatest jazz flautist since Moe Koffman. He is a true entertainer and was just shy of doing the one-legged-Ian-Anderson-gnome-thing while playing his flute.
Bill Charlap ended the first set with solo piano. We were so spoiled at sound check. Terence Blanchard had a delay with his flight so Bill just played a forty minute set alone in the theatre with a spotlight on him.
The band, crew, Victoria Sanjana (CFO of JAZZ.FM91) and I sat on the sides and marvelled. I love that I can’t put my finger on why he’s one of my favourite pianists in the world. Like Robert Scott he defies description and the compliments I could bestow and adjectives I could use would fill a month of blogs. Suffice to say “Wow”, he was brilliant with and without a crowd. He loved the piano and acoustics of the room. He’s coming back for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival this summer, playing the new Jazz Bistro, so get your tickets now cuz they are sure to be snapped up!
At intermission, my BFF and volunteer wrangler Mary B. brought Terence Blanchard to me and said he’d love to see the mobile truck. We walked out the back into the huge mobile recording rig and Terence talked shop with Danny Greenspoon and his faithful assistant Billy. Time was flying, and after some great stories we were flying up the stairs to the backstage to kick off the second set.
One of the crowning achievements of JAZZ.FM91 is the Youth Big Band…kids from High Schools across the GTA audition and the best and brightest rehearse regularly at our station and perform at jazz festivals and various venues regularly. Jules Estrin is the conductor and Drill Sergeant and picked perfect charts to showcase just how good this young musicians are. The house band returned to the stage and played three unforgettable tunes with Terence Blanchard. The ballad moved many to tears and they finished by swinging everyone better…it was an effortless and wild set.
To wrap things up Pat Metheny and Larry Grenadier communicated brilliantly and brought Terence back for a trio jam as the encore. It clocked in at just over two hours (plus intermission) and it felt like perfect timing all around. We ended with a VIP reception party hosted by Robi Botos and Mike Downes, with wine from Churchill Cellars and scotch from Balvenie. Yum!
Other sweet treats this past week:
Sophia Perlman Tuesday and Barbra Lica Friday. Dinner and a movie is one of my favourite things to do. We get to catch up while dining and laugh later – I prefer timeless classics or comedies when my friends drop by.
On Friday with Sophia I made grilled jumbo shrimp and shitake mushrooms with red rice and wilted spinach with pine nuts, scallions, soya sauce, chili pepper and maple syrup. Sophia provided a big colourful salad. Add single malt and fine wine and you have one mellow Friday night. I showed Sophia an episode of JOHNNY STACCATO (see last week for info on tht show) and she said she is hooked. When I choose not to cook and order in…it’s almost always THAI ELEPHANT. Saturday I went up to The Danforth to drop off a birthday gift for an old friend who once put the whammy on me. Mike Mandel is a mentalist (among so many other things) and back in the early 80’s I was watching him put someone under hypnosis and I passed out and fell off my chair.
My date never let me forget it. Anyway, I knew I couldn’t make his party the following day so I dropped off a gift, and there he was at the bar! We had a quick chat and then I beelined across The Danforth to AKROPOLIS PASTRIES to buy big flats of home-made frozen spinach pie.
I ended up walking 10 KM home to Liberty Village with a few stops along the way including a stop to see Tom Parker and The American Pour at The Cameron House. They blew away a bunch of my friends at Hugh’s Room a couple weeks back and I was pleased to see a few of them at the show! Alex Pangman, who is also Alex Parker, sang buck ups with her stylish hubby. Roger Clown dropped by to watch and loved the show as much as I did. What a wonderful pitstop on my long stroll home! I also dropped by EYESORE CINEMA and picked up two DVD’s I ordered. The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. is a musical with words and set design by Dr. Suess. It’s like The Wizard of Oz on acid which is a bit redundant since The Wizard of Oz is already pretty darn trippy. The movie bombed back in the day but it’s one of my favourite films of all time! I bought an extra copy so the next time I lend it and it’s not returned, I’ll still have it!
Sunday I had adventures with Jessica and Hayden. I gave Hayden a lot of choices and while I kinda wish he picked the horse track I’m ultimately glad he opted for Go Kart racing. It was a total blast! Robert Powell came over for dinner and I went to sleep before midnight which didn’t work out very well. I woke up every twenty minutes with the same dream. I was trapped in Brampton and couldn’t get out. It’s a long story and a long dream that I won’t bore you with – but I’m scratching my head here cuz I’ve been to Brampton but never felt stuck. Why wasn’t it North Bay? Or Schlatt? Oh well, lesson learned. Jaymz Bee: do not go to sleep before midnight!
THIS WEEK: I will go on air to help with the JAZZ.FM91 Spring Fund Drive on Wednesday morning at 7am and also co-host our Open House tomorrow (Tuesday April 30) from 6-9. Come say hi and enjoy the live music! Info at http://www.jazz.fm