It's been a pleasure knowing Joy Thompson over the years. The nature of any business is that you don't always end up making friends with the people you work with, so it's nice when someone like Joy comes along and there is not only the musical side of things, but a genuine friendship as well. I can't recall the exact night we first met, but it was undoubtedly at an open mic event at The Labyrinth, a popular spot for singer/songwriters in the Annex (Toronto).
If you're familiar with the music scene in the city, then there's a good chance you've also met Joy. She's a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and open mic host that incorporates rock, blues, jazz and pop songs into her large musical repertoire. It's pretty obvious within seconds of hearing her sing that she's a gifted vocalist with natural talents, what you may not realize right away is that she's also gifted songwriter and she's about to let you know it. Joy is currently in the studio working on recording her upcoming EP and I have the honor of being involved with her project along with some other talented local musicians. The date of Joy's upcoming release is yet to be announced but it is likely that a CD release date will be given around spring 2013. Stay tuned for more news...
In the meantime, you can enjoy this live performance of My Funny Valentine, recorded at Gate 403 last year featuring: Joy Thompson (vocals), Jen Benton (bass), Steve Farrugia (drums) and me, Jorge Gavidia, on guitar. My band had a couple of regular gigs at Gate 403 last year and we had a lot of fun on nights like this when Joy stopped by to say hello and join us on stage for a few tunes.
I'm really happy to announce a night of live piano jazz and blues that I'll be playing every Thursday at Panini Trip. Panini Trip is a great spot on the Danforth located right across the street from Broadview subway station at 786 Broadview ave. in Toronto. I'll be performing some solo piano jazz and blues standards and I also hope to have a few friends drop by now and then to join me on stage for a few songs. Join me for drinks, live music and a great Italian menu, Thursdays starting at 7pm.
It wasn't long ago that I did my last gig at the Trane Studio, I was part of a blues tribute to the poet Langston Hughes and I had a lot of fun at the show. There was a good crowd at the gig and I'd been hearing of more and more musicians that I know who were performing at the Trane. I wouldn't have guessed that weeks later I would get the news that the Trane Studio was closing its doors at 964 Bathurst St. Many people will miss the Trane Studio for different reasons and we hope to see the Trane join Toronto's jazz scene again in the near future.
One of the things I liked most about the Trane was their dedication to being a jazz club. This may sound strange at first but there were small details that made the venue a great place for a musician to play and feel appreciated. One of the first things you might notice walking into the Trane Studio was the mural of John Coltrane painted on the wall behind the stage. Every gig had a sound man for the band and there was a green room for musicians to relax in. I can't speak for the clubs in cities around the world, but here in Toronto an inspiring mural of John Coltrane, a green room for musicians, a sound man and a cover charge aimed at treating musicians fairly can be hard perks to come by and that was part of the Trane Studio's dedication to being a proper jazz club.
Like the Montreal Bistro and the Top Of The Senator that are remembered and missed by Toronto's jazz fans, we are sad to see the Trane close its doors, but we hope that unlike those others, the Trane Studio bounces back quickly and stronger than before.
Enjoy this clip from a talk I did at a Toronto school. The presentation was about African history and I was happy to talk to the kids about jazz, popular music, the attitudes of colonial Europeans towards African drumming, and the importance of Congo Square in the development of North American culture.
I was delighted to give this presentation and I hope it helps others to make sense of our musical roots and heritage.
Here's an updated list of jazz and blues jams happening around Toronto. If anyone would like to help update any of this information please let me know in the comments below. I am trying to keep the list down strictly to jazz and blues jams with full rhythm sections (bass, drums, guitar and/or piano).
The Nationals Blues Jam 9.30pm to 2am
Grossman's Tavern - 379 Spadina Ave. Toronto
Open Jam Night at Harlem Restaurant 8pm to 12am
Genre: Jazz, Soul, R&B and Nu Funk that just don't stink!
Harlem Restaurant, 67 Richmond st. E, Toronto (between Jarvis and Church)
is a community event for musicians and spectators that provides an
excellent opportunity for full-time & part-time musicians to shed,
network, collaborate, promote gigs, promote websites and showoff their
talent! Many gigging/working bands have started because of the jam.
Corktown's Django Jam 8.30pm to 12am
Genre: Swing, Gypsy Jazz, Jazz Manouche. Dominion On Queen, 500 Queen st. E, Toronto (416)368-6893
Corktown's Django Jam hosted by Wayne Nakamura.
Classic Rex Jazz Jam 9.30pm to 1am
Genre: Jazz, Bebop.
The Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar, 194 Queen st. W, Toronto
classic Rex jazz jam, a night for all musicians. The host band plays
one set and all musicians are welcome to play the second set.
Taylor Cook Quintet Jazz Jam 8pm - 11pm
Last Tuesday of every month ($5 cover)
Trane Studio, 964 Bathurst st., Toronto (416)913-8197
The objective is to play with new people and collaborate on the bandstand. Have a couple of tunes in mind that you would like to play, and remember it is not a performance so keep solo's to a reasonable length as we want as many people playing as possible.
Girls Night Out 8pm to 12am
Genre: Jazz, Vocal, Jazz standards.
Chalkers Pub - Billiards - Bistro 247 Marlee Ave. Toronto. (2 minute walk from Glencairn Subway Station)
A weekly tradition and a meeting place for jazz vocalists of all levels in Toronto to perform, share, teach, learn and grow. We welcome and encourage performers comfortable in a jazz setting with the backing of top flight professional musicians. Founder and host Lisa Particelli is joined by Peter Hill on keys, Ross MacIntyre on bass, Norman Marshall Villeneuve on drums.
Yes, gentlemen are welcome to join.
Every Thursday 8pm to 12am, no cover charge, dress code smart casual.
Double A Jazz Jam 8pm to 12am
Genre: Jazz, Swing, Blues, Vocal, Classic Rock. DeSotos - 1079 St. Clair Ave W. Toronto
DeSotos Thursday night jam is hosted by Anthony Abbatangeli of Double A Jazz. The jam attracts mostly jazz artists but sometimes turns towards blues and classic rock near the end of the night. Don't arrive too late if you're a musician going there to swing.
At least that's the question that I get from side men if I ever call the tune on a gig. Autumn Leaves is one of those songs that many jazz musicians regard as a "tired old standard". It's a nice song and musicians genuinely like it but it is also a song that is common for beginning jazz students. It was one of the first songs I got from my guitar teacher when I started learning jazz and it's often one of the first songs I now give aspiring jazz students. A lot of musicians have played the tune enough for one lifetime and it's understandable that they may not want to go through the motions of playing a stock arrangement of the song (head in, solos, head out) at a gig out of fear that they might keel over and die of boredom.
There are a few songs like that out there that are so standard they get boring quick. What some musicians don't understand is that you can still play these songs, you just have to learn to do something with them and then let your creative juices flow. In other words, you need to make a hip arrangement of the tune if you really want to play it for the billionth time. You really have to do something with songs like that because they are so common. I've heard Autumn Leaves too many times but there are a couple of versions out there by Sarah Vaughan that are fantastic. If I'm going to listen to Autumn Leaves, I don't want to hear the same old song I've already heard, I want to hear something fresh. This is a great arrangement of the song that she seemed to enjoy doing. I first heard a recorded version of her doing it with Joe Pass and I was floored. Here she is playing a similar arrangement with Wynton Marsalis.
Below you'll find another version of Autumn Leaves. Hardcore Clapton fans may disagree but I think these two videos show the difference between "hip" and "square". Eric Clapton makes a decent attempt at Autumn Leaves and whether you like him or not there's no denying he's a rock and blues guitar legend. His version is definitely bluesy and he manages to put a bit of that Clapton soul on it but over all the performance seems pointless. The song is a tired old standard, are we supposed to listen to this just because it's Eric Clapton playing the song? Many of the comments for the video on YouTube are quick to point out that Clapton is weak as a jazz guitar player and that all the playing is the same old pentatonic playing we've been hearing since since his days with John Mayall. Perhaps the criticism on Clapton would have been less if he'd chosen a song that is still a popular standard but not one that is so elementary and common. Stella By Starlight, Out Of Nowhere, or Black Orpheus would have been better song choices while still being at a similar level of difficulty to learn.
So what's the moral of the story? As a musician and music student, you should be proud of your achievements. Learning to play songs like Autumn Leaves takes a lot of effort but you should also remember to change, grow, and challenge yourself. Once you are comfortable with a tune that everyone plays try taking it somewhere else, re-harmonize it, write your own intro to the song or change the time signature. Always look for ways to keep things fresh and your sidemen and audiences will be more excited and engaged.