A Look Back at

Ori Dagan
Top Five Live Jazz Experiences of 2007

1. Seeing Jon Hendricks (June 2) in very fine form at the Art of Jazz Celebration, was almost as exciting as meeting him in person at the scat-singing clinic that took place a day prior. Easily one of the best scat singers living, Jon Hendricks is best-known for his writing of vocalese (lyrics to instrumental jazz solos). The Lambert Hendricks & Ross Redux concert put on by father Jon Hendricks, daughter Aria Hendricks and frequent collaborator Kevin Fitzgerald-Burke was like a top-of-the-line meal cooked by the world’s greatest chef — tasteful, consistent and intoxicatingly good. Kudos to Art of Jazz!!! www.artofjazz.org and www.jonhendricks.com.

2. Experiencing Mark Murphy (July 4) at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal was like being under the spell of a crazy magician. Jazz singer he definitely is, but crooner he is not. In many ways parallel to fellow veteran vocalist Sheila Jordan, the 75-year-old stylist invented his own way of singing jazz so artful that he is a treasure in the jazz world and little known outside of it. A fearless improviser who is playful with rhythm, tone and diction, Murphy was amazing to behold at Club Soda. He hasn’t played Toronto since years ago at the Top O’ the Senator. Let’s hope 2008 will change that. www.markmurphy.com. To read the full review: en.epochtimes.com.

3. For the second year in a row, the TD Canada Trust Downtown Toronto Jazz Festival presented a Cabaret Series. Opening the series, Carmen Unzipped (June 25) lived up to the buzz. The collaborative effort between famed Canadian mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell and writer/pianist Patti Loach, was a moving smash delivered show. Written by Loach and based on Stilwell's life, Carmen Unzipped reveals the inner voice of an opera diva extraordinaire. Songs included the well-known "La Vie en Rose" and "Falling in Love Again" and more current novelties like "Taylor the Latte Boy" with its priceless Rex Harrington cameo. Generating genuine laughter and tears, Stilwell was flawless. Carmen Unzipped is a very well-written cabaret which is also available on CD. To find out more, www.carmenunzipped.com.

4. It happens every Thursday night, but a few weeks ago Lisa Particelli’s Girls Night Out (December 20) turned 150 weeks old. The local vocal jazz jam also welcomes gentlemen, for which this writer is very thankful. Since January 5, 2005, Girls Night Out has become a weekly tradition and a meeting place for jazz vocalists of all levels in Toronto to perform, share, teach, learn and grow. Since settling at Chalkers Pub Billiards & Bistro in midtown, there have been lots of great GNO sessions this year, but I picked this one because I remember both Holly Clark’s tender rendition of “Save Your Love for Me” and Sophia Perlman’s spectacular blowing on “Oh Lady Be Good”. Further information about this free weekly event can be found at www.girlsnightoutjazz.com.

5. The Humber Fall Showcase (November 12) put the spotlight on the program’s top students, as coached by two of the most renowned faculty members. Trish Colter’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble is particularly strong this year, performing tough arrangements effortlessly. Most refreshing was the absence of choral jazz cheese that sometimes plagues this genre. The singing was sincere, swinging and smoothly delivered. All the vocalists displayed stellar musicianship, with particularly outstanding solos by Ghislain Aucoin, Jihye Kim and François Mulder.

Pat LaBarbera’s ensemble boasted one of the youngest and most exciting jazz voices on campus, saxophonist Eli Bennett, originally from Vancouver. Despite being below the drinking age in this province, the virtuoso’s liquid tone and exquisite phrasing make him the talk of the town. Pianist Carl Bray boasted many fine ideas and a contagious energy. Another standout was vocalist Ida Maidstone, whose whispery wine-like voice was uniquely textured and tastefully served, leaving me intoxicated.

Honourable mentions

Brenda Carol Renaissance Jazz Festival @ The Renaissance Room (February 3 – 4)

Firefly Cabaret @ Hugh’s Room (August 22)

Sophia Perlman Trio @ Ten Feet Tall (October 28)

Norman Marshall Villeneuve Quartet @ The Pilot (December 30)

Steve Koven @ Opal Jazz Lounge (January 27)
www.stevekoven.com and www.opaljazzlounge.com

We welcome your comments and feedback
Ori Dagan
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