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Muskoka Magic Meets The Big Easy

The Huntsville Jazz Festival now in its second year and with the backing of a major sponsor, TD Canada Trust, is booking international acts and big name Canadian talent. I am very happy that I came across this festival, it takes place in one of my favorite places and it features my kind of entertainment.

The lineup for the festival, Hilario Duran Trio, Marcus Belgrave Septet, Michael Kaeshammer, Dionne Taylor and Manteca. Hilario Duran trio started the festival Wednesday evening. I didn’t witness the performance but by all accounts Duran proved why his small group is considered one of the best trios on the planet. I spoke to a few people who saw the performance and they were all impressed by the energy, and the talent. "This is one of the most exciting jazz trios I’ve ever seen," said one festival attendee. I arrived in town Thursday, Marcus Belgrave performed that evening and Michael Kaeshammer the following night.

Marcus Belgrave And His New Orleans Celebration took to the stage Thursday, July 31. In Ontario this is the start of a holiday weekend, Monday is the official civic holiday, Simcoe Day. The band performed to a packed house. The Algonquin Theatre is a five hundred seat theatre in the heart of Muskoka district, northern Ontario. This is cottage country, picturesque lakes, quaint villages with charming stores and restaurants. Laid back folks, who are in holiday mode, some permanently. Many of the audience members were retirees.

Marcus Belgrave, trumpeter and vocalist, Charlie Gabriel, tenor saxophonist, clarinetist and vocalist looked to be dressed for leading a Dixieland parade. The theme was New Orleans. Beads, bangles and sun parasols decorated the stage. A smoky haze cast eerie shadows and a "big easy" mood defined the ambiance. "Come along and take a trip down the Bayou with us," says Belgrave to the audience. He taps his foot to lead the band in and the swinging begins. The band would swing through two sets of Mardi Gras celebrations.

Charlie Gabriel swings hard on clarinet; he adds the finishing touches to Belgrave’s trumpet statements. The two have been working together for over thirty years, they are communicating with each other through their instruments and they compliment each other perfectly. With a brief pause, Charlie Gabriel introduces the next song, "Let The Good Times Roll." He has a voice that is softly growling, a similar tone to his tenor saxophone, growling, purring, pure and sweet he sings the song through his sax. The rhythm section is playing in solid support, made up of pianist Bill Myers, bassist Marion Hayden and drummer Gayelynn McKinney.

The third song introduces Joan Bow Belgrave, she comes on strong with a dynamite voice that resonates pure and powerfully. She is singing a great song, "You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart" passion, power and a lovely sound. Ms. Belgrave is looking spectacular and sounding just as good.

The first set was an entertaining affair that featured some great playing from Mr. Belgrave, Mr. Gabriel and Chris Smith on trombone. As well as the songs mentioned above, the band performed "My Sweet Substitute" "Life Is So Peculiar" and "You Don’t Know Me" many of the songs from the CD, Marcus Belgrave’s Tribute to New Orleans, Ray Charles and The Great Ladies Of Song (2006 Marcus Belgrave & DJMC Inc.)

The second set carried on in the New Orleans tradition, with a lot of partying and a good time feel. The set introduced some of the songs that will be on the bands upcoming project, due for release in the fall. Mr. Belgrave introduces the song "Bill For Bennie" in tribute to his days playing with Ray Charles, a song composed by Hank ‘Bennie’ Crawford. A great trumpet introduction - a beautiful tone, a melancholy feel, Charlie Gabriel and Chris Smith join in. A call and response between the leaders ensues and all members of the band take a whirl at providing sumptuous improvisations on a catchy melody.

They played an original song co-written by Mr. and Mrs. Belgrave, "Excitable," a ballad, a love song, a great opportunity to hear Marcus Belgrave on flugelhorn. The song builds to an excitable, swinging rhythm in a rapid tempo with an upbeat groove. They played "East of the Sun" as arranged by Chris Smith. A couple of Louis Armstrong songs were played that featured the singing of Mr. Belgrave, "A Kiss To Build A Dream On" and "What A Wonderful Life". They finished the show with a march through the isles of the theatre, a second line to "Tailgate Ramble." The audience was on their feet and applauding through out, a great show featuring a lot of entertainment. A fun time seemed to be had by all, musicians and audience members alike.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Marcus Belgrave
  • Concert Date: July 30 to August 3, 2008
  • Subtitle: The Huntsville Jazz Festival
  • Venue: Algonquin Theatre
  • City State Country: Huntsville, Ontario, Canada
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