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2010 Markham Jazz Festival

The 13th annual Markham jazz festival featured the best in jazz. Some traditional, some contemporary and a mix of everything in between. The big draw for me at this summer’s festival had to be the opening night gala featuring Cameron Brown’s Hear & Now Quartet and John Pizzarelli with his regular working group. The two quartets represented a fine balance and a compliment to each others style. Cameron Brown’s sound, care of the Bebop goddess Sheila Jordan is immersed in the tradition of improvisation on chord changes. John Pizzarelli is a master performer, charm, talent and humour all complimenting a vast and varied array of the American songbook standards. Another compelling draw, the inclusion of Don Byron as Artist In Residence, a first for the festival. Byron was put to work in Cameron brown’s group, his own exciting New Gospel Quintet and a contemporary group, The Triodes.

The festival located in the historic town of Unionville, takes over Main street, or at least shares it with the traffic that for the most part took care to give way to the masses on foot. There were many free events at the festival, a constant flow of music took place at two main stage venues. The Millennium Bandstand and the Varley Art Gallery Patio, hosted many big name Canadian acts. The current crop of Juno winners and many past winners and nominees performed including Terry Clarke, Dominic Mancuso, Jack de Keyzer, Richard Underhill, Hilario Duran, Amanda Martinez and Yvette Tollar.

There is a lot to hear and see during the festival, many informed me that I should have seen the Brenda Earle Quartet. Earle a pianist, composer and vocalist performed Saturday afternoon and by all accounts put on a great show. I have made a note to catch her act as soon as possible. I did manage to hear and see Yvette Tollar, she had the Botos brothers playing drums (Frank) and piano (Robi), her husband, Rich Brown on bass and her brother Ernie playing wind instruments. Yvette Tollar and her group were playing songs from her album Ima a most deep and pleasurable listening experience. Unfortunately or not, at this same time Amanda Martinez was playing at the other bandstand across town, so I ventured along Main street to the site of Ms. Martinez’ engagement. Martinez and group play in a Latin jazz genre, the band was very supportive of their leader and vocalist. A style that is pleasant and easy to listen to. This was my Sunday stroll through the festival, my Saturday was all about church and gospel.

Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet put fire to the scriptures with a heavenly performance at a small local church, The Central United Church. Don Byron’s newest project grows out of his in-depth studies of gospel music. Gospel pioneer Thomas A. Dorsey is a major inspiration for the works Byron performed. The New Gospel Quintet revisited some of the master songwriter’s works alongside other classics. "It’s My Desire", "Precious Lord Take My Hand" and "He’s An On Time God" were all given fresh and vibrant arrangements that were inspirational.

Don Byron and his pianist, Xavier Davis came to the front of the church. The church is a small building, lots of wood for sound absorption, a pure sound from Byron’s clarinet, a piano that was buzzing in an annoying manner. A quick fix thanks to the removal of some ones stash in the string section of the piano. The gospel group had the folks clapping and praising Jesus, music and the gospel according to Don Byron. DK Dyson on vocal, her singing was of an extreme intensity. Xavier Davis playing piano, Brad Jones on electric bass and background vocal along with Tony Jefferson drumming up a storm.

The Friday night gala opened with Cameron Brown’s Hear and Now featuring Sheila Jordan, Don Byron and Tony Jefferson. Many in the audience were in attendance for the jazz of John Pizzarelli. Sheila Jordan is a singer’s singer. To appreciate Jordan you must have open ears, an understanding of what she is doing singing in her unique and improvisational manner and a love of bebop. The band performed "Baby Suite", "Dat Dere" "Sheila It’s You" "Lullaby For George, Don and Danny", "Oh Henry" and closing out with "Confirmation". There were many enjoyable moments, a duet with Cameron Brown and Sheila Jordan. The singing of Tony Jefferson combined with Jordan. The playing of the band on the whole as well as the solos of Don Byron and the interaction between Sheila and Don, especially when Sheila blew back some off kilter notes that seemed to shock Don and ended up with his music flying away.

John Pizzarelli, other than charming and talented, what can you say about Mr. Pizzarelli Jr. He has a jazz pedigree, he has guitar smarts coursing through his blood, thanks in part to his jazz legend papa John or Bucky, as he is commonly referred to. He grew up hanging with some of the greatest in jazz circles and the rub is plain. Upon storming the stage and waving his thanks to the appreciative audience he led his band through two hits, standards an impressive display of a tight knit band that works together regularly. "Satin Doll" and "Falling In Love" he traded banter with the audience and played some more "Tomorrow May Never Come" "Don’t Get Around Much Anymore" "Girl From Ipanima" "Can’t Take That Away From Me" A medley of five tunes, "Can’t Get Started", "The More I See You" "More Than You Know" "Squeeze Me" the show flowed with ease and grace. Pizzarelli is as smooth as silk, he lets humour roll off his tongue with ease and he jokes with the audience and his band mates. The consummate entertainer, a jazzed up superstar, but in a nice way.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
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