The Art of Jazz Community Voices are nearly seasoned pros now, as this is their second big show staged in Toronto. The first show featured Barry Harris and took place at the more intimate and packed Music Hall Theatre. These shows are put on by the Art of Jazz, a not-for-profit organization, dedicated to jazz education and performance. The organization was founded in 2005, by Jane Bunnett, Larry Cramer, Bonnie Lester, Howard Rees and Lenny Binder. Art of Jazz is dedicated to the cultivation of jazz education and performance.
The theatre was set up with balcony seating at the rear of the stage, the Community Voices took their places, row upon row of children, high above the stage. The children dressed in white, with voices that rang out pure, strong and beautiful, took on an angelic image. The children are students from ten public schools in the west end of Toronto, commonly referred to as the Jane - Finch corridor. An area of Toronto with a reputation for being crime ridden, drug invested and without much hope.
During the introductions, there were a lot of thanks given to all of the people who contributed to the event. The hostess for the evening, Veronica Tennant made mention of how touched she was by the event. Special guest, Mayor of Toronto, David Miller also made a small speech that praised the children and all the participants who were giving the kids hope and so much more, "Performing with a living legend, what an experience, an experience they will cherish forever." said the jazz loving Mayor. When one of the school administrators started reading notes from some of the children, grade one and two students, Tennant said "These must be published as this is truly inspirational." The following are some examples; When asked what they get from their arts program in the schools that they attend, some of the children had written letters of explanation, the letters go something like this: "Music is important to learn in school. Music has changed my life forever from before I started in this music group. Before the arts program my life was nothing and now I have a reason to live."
The band took to the stage, Jane Bunnett, Larry Cramer, Don Thompson, Archie Alleyne and David Virelles, they were joined by Jon Hendricks and the first song began, "Get Me To The Church On Time" an up tempo swinging tune with a festive Latin flavour that highlighted Jon Hendricks scatting in response to a very pretty, extended solo by Jane Bunnett on flute. The band would perform a blues tune with Jon Hendricks singing, scatting and playing off of guest tap dancer, Edward "Rocky" Mendes, they proceeded to duel with no musical accompaniment and this continued on for a time until Don Thompson kicks out some bass lines that settle things down. Piano, drums and trumpet join in to build to a grand finale with everyone singing "Bye Bye Baby." A highlight tune and one made famous by Jon Hendricks, "Centerpiece" was performed next, it featured Jon with Bonnie Lester providing vocal support and the Community Voices digging in, adding finger snaps in sync with Hendricks.
A fun tune "Poppity Pop" by Slim Gaillard set the mood for the scat sisters to take front and centre, or at least stand next to the master who gave these four young scat singers every opportunity to shine and so they did. The Community Voices backed up their soloists and the band played the gracious accompanists, solos followed by Virelles, Thompson and Alleyne however they played as second fiddle to the stars who were high on a pedestal.
The Toronto Mass Choir were introduced next, thirty five voices of one, marched out on stage and sang their collective hearts out, holding nothing back. The director of the choir, Karen Burke made mention of the close relationship between gospel and jazz. The songs were high energy spirituals that raised the roof; every person in the theatre was captivated by this extraordinary group. The power of their voices lifted every heart, the honesty in their message gave hope and the fire that burned was all about courage and strength. The soloists were outstanding, Nicole Sinclair-Anderson sang with intense passion, as well as Martha Williams, the soloist who performed the duet with Jon Hendricks, for "He’s An On Time God" one of the most touching performances I have ever heard, a very special moment.
An it just doesn’t get much better than that, I was looking forward to hearing Aria Hendricks with her father, she was on the bill but she didn’t perform, perhaps it’s too early. She has recently suffered the loss of a loved one, the great bassist Dennis Irwin, her companion passed on March 10, 2008.
The main focus of the performance was the Community Voices, they were involved in every aspect of the performance. The Community Voices provided a small group of drummers who played a traditional African song. The children also formed a group of dancers that were involved for the big finish, the group displayed diversity, they came off with a high degree of professionalism and they all, 240 voices, performed with a jazz style of passion.
The master, Jon Hendricks put it well, "The children will inherit the earth." The concert ended with a heart felt Barry Harris composition written specifically for the parents, teachers and mentors, "These Are The Things We Need."