All That Jazz

By John Swartz

The weekend’s Orillia Jazz Festival was fantastic, at least the part I saw. The opening show Thursday night with the Danny McErlain Trio (piano, Chris Robinson – saxophone and Peter Telford – bass) was great. Danny lives in town and Chris in Brechin. To think we have this kind of talent right here is a wonder (we also have Will Davis and Lance Anderson as well, that would be a keyboard trio).

To say that Danny and Chris’s playing was great is understatement. Chris was especially good all by himself on the middle movement from Concierto de Aranjuez and singing Georgia.

Saturday night Brassworks had the stage upstairs in Gord’s Room at the Opera House. Well, Part of it.  The brass tooters brought in 5 saxes for the gig (Mark Hathaway, Kirsten Smith, John Johnson, Chris Robinson and Shirantha Beddage).

They opened with Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues, then featured the saxes on Sax Shooter, which amply showed why playing jazz is the higher level of attainment for a musician. The idea there’s room for off-the-cuff improvisation involved teaches you to listen to the other musicians very closely, which pays off when you have a 5 person section playing rhythmically unison parts. It could have been a mess, especially since the 5 saxes are soloists of high regard, but they played as one.

Mark Hathaway just killed on A Long Time Ago. John Johnson, McErlainand the bass and drums replicated theDave Brubeck Quartet lineup and did a great job with Take Five. The Christina Bosco came out for a couple tunes.

She was part of last year’s version of this concert and I thought she was pretty good, but Saturday night she outdid herself. The arrangement of the first tune, It’s Only a Paper Moon, had the lyrics being delivered in a long string of word salad and what I loved about it was how Christina got the phrasing within the long strings just right. Georgia and God Bless the Child (2nd half) came off as very original interpretations by Christina, even though I was excited to see God Bless on the dance card and was hoping for the Blood, Sweat and Tears version considering the size of the band on stage.

The 2nd half began with the Orillia All-Star Jazz Band. These are kids chosen from each of the high schools. Robin Watson told the audience they’d only had 5 rehearsals. They played without a conductor and did a fantastic job with Thelonious Monk’s I Mean You.

The Orillia All-Star Jazz Band

Saturday afternoon there was a competition in which 5 students participated. The idea was to be the lead on one of two tunes, the winner (2nd and 3rd too) getting a cash prize and a slot in the evening show. Greyson Martyn won. He has the spotlight on Bob James’s Angela. The song is from Taxi.

At the end of the show Brassworks did Sing, Sing, Sing. Johnson and Beddage had a duet at the end where Benny Goodman’s clarinet solo would normally be and what a way to send the tune to it’ ending.

All musicians were back on stage for In The Mood and Suicide Is Painless to close out the show. There were about 300 in the audience and I’ll bet everyone would sit through the show a second time.

Over at Lake Country Grill Lisa Hutchinson’s band was hosting a jam. When I arrived, Joe Huron was taking a break to make room for a couple of guitarists to sit in, so I missed his excellent playing, but Tim Moore was still on the drums, so my night featured listening to one of the best drummers around. Kene Hyatt was along on bass and I love his playing too. I couldn’t stay, much as I wanted to, especially since about the time my pumpkin was warmed up the musicians started filtering in from the Opera House gig.

Sunday the place to be was at St. Paul’s Centre for Maiden Voyage:  A Tribute to Herbie Hancock.. Lance Anderson put together the program of Hancock’s music and assembled the band of John Johnson – sax, William Sperendei – trumpet, Russ Boswell – bass and Charlie Cooley on drums.

The first half was all about Hancock’s early years, the acoustic late 50’s and 60s, and the 2nd half was the electric years. It’s rare for a band to do a song twice, but Watermelon Mann showed in both halves because Hancock updated it 11 years after it became a hit. If you were in the audience and didn’t make that connection – Lance told the audience he’d name the tune after the band played it and he told me he just forgot to tell you after the second version was done. The whole concert was outrageously great, but I think Sperendei’s trumpet playing was superb.

The fourth in Anderson’s Jazz Fest series, he also gave us back story and biography about Hancock just as he did with his Ellington/Basie, Nat King Cole and Miles Davis shows in previous years. Lance does a great job digging up interesting stories and tells them well. So well, the stories compete with the music for being the favourite part.

Greyson Martyn won the Orillia Jazz Festival Rising Stars Solo Competition

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The Maiden Voyage: A Tribute to Herbie Hancock band.

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(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main, Brassworks.

CORRECTION: Chris Robinson was misidentified as Bruce.


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