I learned a new definition for breathless on August 5th. Breathless, at least in my vocabulary can now be defined as twenty-three year old Vancouver jazz pianist Amanda Tosoff who performed at The Cellar Restaurant and Jazz Club on West Broadway in Vancouver, Canada. Tosoff played to a standing room only crowd, who responded throughout the evening with spontaneous demonstrations of appreciation. A more seasoned and perhaps less humble musician would have realized that as her final set came to a close the sustained audience’s applause was sending out a message that they wanted an encore.
Tosoff and fellow musicians, Evan Arntzen (tenor sax/clarinet), drummer Morgan Childs and acoustic bassist Sean Cronin were performing as one of the featured bands for this year’s Festival Vancouver, a two-week expose of some of the most talented homegrown and international classical, jazz and world music musicians. The concerts are presented in numerous venues across the city.
Tosoff has the incredible ability to play with the same amount of passion, whether she is immersed in an intense piece of music, or a gentler, sensitive piano ballad. The members of her band are equally expressive and possess sensibilities still not realized by musicians many years their senior.
Sitting at the baby grand piano, dressed in a teal colored blouse, black slacks and with her brown shoulder length hair swinging from side to side, Tosoff grooved to the lively swing number "The Look." The intensity showed on her face as the pianist set a torrid pace for the rest of her ensemble.
Just as easily, Tosoff transitioned into the more contemplative piano ballad, "Let Me Know." Deep, pondering notes emerged from the bell of Arntzen’s saxophone, while Tosoff’s piano chops were more whimsical. As the piece progressed the saxophone grew quiet, and a dialogue evolved between the piano and bass. "Let Me Know" ends with sprightly playing suggesting a happy ending, or at least better times.
The boogie-woogie rhythm of "Julia’s Blues" featured unbelievable sax and drum solos that came close to bringing the audience to their feet.
Tosoff opened her second set with two original compositions "Hour Changes" and "The Sad Clown." During "The Sad Clown" Tosoff soloed magnificently, but not because of her intensity, on this occasion it was due to her gentle persuasive approach to her playing.
Many of Tosoff’s original compositions are written with open sections that allow her musicians more freedom in their interpretation of the music.
With the night winding down, it was still difficult to spot an empty chair in the venue. For their farewell song, the band went into full blues mode with the head noddin’ Billy Strayhorn tune, "The Intimacy Of The Blues." Tosoff acknowledged that Strayhorn is one of her favorite composers, and she obviously had fun with this tune, one of the last to be penned by Strayhorn.
Other songs during the evening included the Bill Evans post bebop song "Song For Bill," and "Sorry," which highlighted Sean Cronin’s abilities as a bass player during an extended solo.