June 2007

Tony Monaco and Friends
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 23, 2007Primus StageNathan Phillips SquareToronto
The Monster That Ate Toronto
by Joyce Corbett with photo by Roger Humbert
B3 madman Tony Monaco created lots of buzz at this year’s jazz festival. At the Friday afternoon Workshop Series, he could barely restrain himself from playing while host Hal Hill hurried through a brief introduction. Before the start of the workshop, Monaco had removed the back panel of the B3, revealing its innards. The sound is too bright he said, as he made a few adjustments in the belly of the beast. He further explained that he couldn’t get the sound entirely to his liking because it had been modified to suit rock-style playing. Most die-hard B3 fans had never seen the exposed wiring and tubes of their beloved instrument up close so this alone was fascinating and the subject of much conversation at the jazz festival.
Monaco gave a very instructive and entertaining talk about the B3 organ, its humble beginnings as a substitute for the pipe organ in churches that could not afford the 'real thing' and its evolution into a secular instrument. He demonstrated the styles of Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff with ease. Prompted by someone in the audience to play like Joey DiFrancesco he made a start, then quickly said, nobody can play like Joey. Monaco so impressed everyone at the Workshop with his knowledge, his easy communication and his enormous enthusiasm for playing that even those who had never heard of him before were eager to hear him do a show. Luckily, he had a three-night trio engagement at The Orbit Room (which has a house B3) and a show in quintet format on the Festival’s Primus Stage Saturday afternoon. A virtuoso entirely consumed by the passion of playing the B3 could only be a thrill to hear and to watch in performance.

I made sure I was at the Festival on Saturday afternoon. Before the show I was back in the Workshop tent for another informative talk and demonstration, this one by drummer Ted Warren. Near the end of the workshop, the Tony Monaco Quintet was doing a sound check on the nearby Primus stage. After the tsunami of sound waves hit the tent, somebody made a crack about “it’s the organ that ate Toronto” and well, that was pretty much the case.

Tony Monaco
Tony Monaco had an audience that filled the square in front of the stage and looked down from the walkways above it. The monster B3 player had the powerful drummer Vito Rezza behind him, the inimitable Ted Quinlan on guitar, the lively Alex Dean on tenor saxophone and the veteran Jim Galloway on soprano saxophone. It turned out to be a good match all around. The first tune and the first circle of solos ended with Tony Monaco burning up the keyboard, his body writhing with music, his face contorted with passion. Blues, gospel and spiralling riffs of Bumblebee Boogie spilled into the air.

Before the start of the second tune, Monaco turned to Vito Rezza and said “brushes”. “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” progressed from a quiet introduction as Rezza gradually added high-hat, bass drum and cymbals while Monaco’s volume grew, driving Jim Galloway to ever-greater heights as he drew on an extensive vocabulary of wide-ranging sound to build a fiery solo on soprano saxophone, creating quite a buzz himself at the festival for his inspired playing that afternoon. In fact, superb musicianship was exhibited by all throughout the show as they moved through wicked “take your time now” blues, speedy “Donna Lee” bebop, syncopated “St.Thomas” lilt, an uptempo “I’ll Remember Jimmy” and a lovely “My Nancy with the Laughing Face”, the latter sung by Tony Monaco and played by the guitar, drums and organ trio alone. Audience and musicians had a blast. The organ bubbled and swirled, erupting into harmonic wailings and surging power. We were awash in sound.

It was an all-consuming show. The monster that ate Toronto was neither the organ nor the player for they were one and the same.

The musicians
Tony Monaco – B3 organ and vocals
Vito Rezza – drums
Ted Quinlan – guitar
Jim Galloway – soprano saxophone
Alex Dean – tenor saxophone
We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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