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Prince Edward County Jazz Festival

Prince Edward County Jazz festival is a different and very special jazz festival. The board of directors and especially Brian Barlow have done an outstanding job of putting together one of the best festivals of straight ahead jazz. They have found a common thread in bringing together Canadian artists with international recognition and bridging young artists with seasoned pros. They have the community involved in a big way - from boutique estate wineries, book stores, restaurants, bars and even a church. The whole county is involved. And what a county, surrounded by Lake Ontario, with wind swept, sand dune beaches, this is one of the most scenic areas in Ontario.

The county has an abundance of activities to keep everyone busy. I took in one educational workshop, entitled: What Makes a Jazz Singer a Jazz Singer, led by Rita diGhent. This was an enjoyable and eye opening experience from the perspective of the local jazz fans. I sampled the beaches, the barbecues, the restaurants, the clubs and the wineries. The beaches are spectacular. The wineries and especially the wine tasting, delicious and what could be better then being serenaded by The Canadian Jazz Quartet while sampling award winning wines. The CJQ held court at Huff Estate Winery with guest bassist Scott Alexander. The quartet ran through a few sets and played songs from their new CD Just Friends (Cornerstone Records 2009).

The restaurants and night clubs great dining and lots of fun. The late night jams at Currah’s Restaurant featured exciting music from the Mark Eisenman Trio Brian Barlow, drums and Steve Wallace, bass. You never knew who might show up at these late night jam sessions. Some of the folks I saw during three late nights included the Doxas brothers, Roberto Occhipinti, Lorraine Desmarais, Charlie and Lucian Gray, Don Vickery, Mark Kelso and the Wright brothers, Andrew and Matt.

And to wash your sins away and give thanks for a spectacular jazz offering Sunday Jazz Mass at St. Mary Magdalene Church featuring The Brian Barlow Quartet. With help from the heavens above a torrential downpour made arriving at church dry a challenging affair. The message delivered to the faithful Glory - and how fitting to have guest artist Chet Doxas playing saxophone. Doxas in Greek means glory. The quartet played jazz to the parishioners, bringing together spirit, peace, melody and harmony in a glorious manner.

Concert No.1:

Arriving in Picton, the hub of jazz festival activities, on Thursday the 20th, my first show was Carol Welsman with special guest Guido Basso. The main stage shows were all held at the Regent theatre. The Regent theatre is a four hundred seat theatre, most of the shows were sold out. The theme, Canadian jazz and specifically piano jazz. Mark Eisenman, Loraine Desmarais and Robi Botos capped off the festival with three pianos, six hands. Most of the piano playing headliners have International recognition, Hilario Duran, Oliver Jones, Lorraine Desmarais and Carol Welsman.

Ms. Welsman is a Canadian; she is currently based in the U.S, a skilled pianist and an excellent vocalist. A multi-linguist, singing fluently in English, French, and Portugese. Welsman treated the audience to songs in all three languages, singing mostly in English. She performed "Hey Good Lookin’", "Just One Of Those Things" performed in a bossa nova groove. "On A Slow Boat To China" a perfect tune to high-light her smooth as honey vocal style. She performed the Jimmy Webb country tune "By The Time I Get To Phoenix". Ms. Welsman turned it into a superior jazz ballad. She had good accompaniment in Geoff Young on guitar, Marc Rogers playing bass and Davide DiRenzo swinging on the drums.

Guido Basso was the guest artist and he played on a few of the songs in each set. When playing flugel horn this man has a sound that could best be described as one of the richest tones around pure gold. Songs that were played included, "Why Don’t You Do Right", "Gloryville", "Café", "Moon Glow" and "I Feel Lucky". They played a French song, where Guido Basso played chromatic harmonica, adding a Parisian café style accordion ambiance to the tune.

Canadian multi-instrumentalist Phil Dwyer made a guest appearance, he played piano while Carol Welsman sang.

A high light moment came during the encore performance, a Welsman solo on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" very nicely done.

Main stage concert No. 2 featured the Hilario Duran trio with special guest Phil Dwyer playing tenor saxophone. The trio is comprised of bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Mark Kelso. The first set was a fiery Latin jazz affair that highlighted the virtuosic capabilities of one of the best Latin jazz trios in the world. Duran played in his style, a combination of classical magnificence and jazz elegance, powerful and spiritual playing that lifts the soul.

The addition of Phil Dwyer in the first set put a different spin on the music. In accompaniment Mr. Dwyer added to the Latin feel making for a grand full sound. Dwyer’s first solo was an extended affair that started out Latin flavoured and smoothly transitioned to pure hard bop. Maintaining the swing feel he passes the song over to Mr. Duran who lets fly with a very inspired piano break.

A special treat in the second set was the introduction of the rising young star award recipient Lucian Gray. He came out confident and proceeded to blaze a trail of glory on his opening guitar solo. Phil Dwyer matched him in melodic phrasing and Hilario Duran took another break of pure excitement and majestic improvisation. The young Mr. Gray was eager to engage the maestro and started to solo once more before being reminded of his place by the overpowering solo of Roberto Occhipinti. Not to be outdone Mark Kelso put on a drum clinic for his sixteen bar solo that had every heart beating in syncopated harmony.

Concert No. 3: The Oliver Jones Trio, with bassist Eric Legace and drummer Jim Doxas and special guest Chet Doxas, saxophone. Mr. Jones draws an audience in, he can do no wrong. He is admired and respected as a Canadian jazz icon. He is a wonderfully capable pianist with a minimalist style, beautiful phrasing with a swing feel that’s never far away. He has an elegant and sophisticated style with a repertoire that is beyond belief. In the second set Mr. Jones asked the audience of four hundred for requests and received about two hundred. Picking some beauties, the trio played, "Tenderly", "Satin Doll", "Take The A Train", "Body and Soul", "Chicago", "Lady is a Tramp" and closing with "Hymn To Freedom".

Concert No. 4: "3 Pianos, 6 Hands", Lorraine Desmarais, Mark Eisenman and Robi Botos with Steve Wallace and Brian Barlow. What a tremendous show to close out an equally tremendous festival.

The first set had the three pianists playing individual selections. Mark Eisenman took to the piano on stage right to start the show. In jazz swing mode he played "Around Midnight", "Just In Time" and one other tune before making way for Robi Botos who launched into "My One and Only Love" and two other tunes before making way for Lorraine Desmarais, she announced her song selections "Sous Les Etoiles" a gorgeously crafted song of classical proportions, "Fifth Avenue", "Bill", "Ava Maria" and closing with "Games Of Shades".

The young rising star award recipient, Lucian Gray made one more appearance playing his arch top guitar and getting traditional in a Grant Green style of play that found Robi Botos trading off and comping in fine form.

The second set featured the three pianists on stage together and playing off of each other. The intensity of Ms. Desmarais came on so powerfully that the other two pianists were mere support players - providing stepping off points for the spectacular free flowing piano improvisations that swirled around Desmarais as a whirlwind of glorious sound.

A truly traditional jazz festival with some contemporary jazz, spiritual jazz, Latin jazz, a little blues and a whole lot of bebop. What could be better?

Reviewed by Paul J. Youngman

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
  • Concert Date: August 18 August 23, 2009
  • Subtitle: Best Festival in Southern Ontario
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