York musicians are jazzing it up in July

As summer heats up, York jazz artists are playing smoking-hot gigs at clubs and festivals in Toronto and across Canada. Here are just some of the places you can find them during the month of July:

Former music student Richard Underhill, winner of a 2008 Mayor’s Arts Award (see YFile, Oct. 30, 2008), and his legendary sax band the Shuffle Demons are marking the group’s 25th anniversary.

Right: Richard Underhill

The silver celebrations include a 12-concert cross-Canada tour, a DVD release featuring Demon exploits from 1984 to 2006 and one upcoming performance in particular that promises to be of record-shattering historical significance.

Dedicated “streetniks” (as their fans are called) will already be aware that the Shuffle Demons took the Guinness World Record for the largest saxophone ensemble in 2004, when they assembled 900 players for one gigantic performance. They held the record until October of last year, when 918 saxophonists in Taiwan took the title. This anniversary is the perfect opportunity to take it back.

Capitalizing on another special event – Canada Day, July 1 – Underhill and his band have invited 1,000 sax players to join them at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square to honk their way back into the record books. Befitting the holiday, their repertoire will include a five-minute rendition of O Canada. Players of all abilities are welcome to sign up, with advance registration and sheet music available. This 4pm mass performance will be followed by a free Shuffle Demons concert at the square, one of the highlights of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival.

The Demons’ tour continues in July with performances at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Hillebrand Jazz at the winery Festival (July 11), the Atlantic Jazz Festival (July 17), the Wreckhouse International Jazz & Blues Festival in St John’s, Nfld. (July 18) and the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival (July 19).

Former Shuffle Demon Mike Murley (BFA Spec. Hons. ’86), who currently heads the jazz studies program in the Department of Music in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, will also be onstage at Nathan Phillips Square July 1, playing a noon concert as part of Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass ensemble. An acclaimed saxophonist, Murley would have joined the Demons in their attempt to reclaim the Guinness World Record, but he’s got to get on the road right after his midday performance. The next two nights take him to Montreal for a gig with Emilie-Claire Barlow’s group at Club Soda and then to the Ottawa International Jazz Festival where he’s performing with Joe Coughlin and the Mark Eisenman Quintet led by York instructor, alumnus and jazz pianist Mark Eisenman (BFA Spec. Hons. ’80).

Right: Mike Murley

Murley returns to Toronto to play with the Davidson/Murley/Braid Quintet July 4 at The Rex. His York colleague, bassist Jim Vivian, will be joining him for that show. The Juno Award-winning Mike Murley Trio appears July 14 at the Atlantic Jazz Festival in Halifax, NS, with special guest Guido Basso. The trio is working on a CD to be released this fall.

Murley is also featured on the recent Bravo! DVD release Solos – The Jazz Sessions, a 39-episode music performance/profile series that spotlights unaccompanied performances by some of the legends and young stars of the jazz world.

York jazz instructor Barry Romberg is a drummer who has been hailed by JazzTimes magazine for his “quick hands, keen instincts and coloristic tendencies.” He performs in Toronto July 4 at Chalkers Pub, Billiards & Bistro with the Kirk MacDonald Quartet and has two gigs with the Sicilian Jazz Project, July 7 at the Montreal Jazz Festival and July 12 at Sunfest in London, Ont.

Left: Barry Romberg

Founded in 2004 by York alumnus, guitarist Michael Occhipinti (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘92), the Sicilian Jazz Project offers an intriguing mix of traditional Sicilian folk source material and modern jazz. Their debut album received a Juno nomination for Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year earlier this year.

The Steve Koven Trio has deep roots at York, featuring faculty member Koven (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘87) on piano and two PhD students, Anthony Michelli (MA ’08) on drums and Rob Clutton (MA ’08) on bass. They perform at Ten Feet Tall on the Danforth as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on July 3 and grace the main stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 9.

Original repertoire from the trio’s latest CD, The Sound of Songs, is sure to be on their set list. Wholenote magazine’s review of the album included a hearty endorsement for their energetic live performances and called the swinging new songs “accessible…animated and intense.”

Music faculty member and doctoral candidate, cellist Matt Brubeck makes a guest appearance with the renowned Dave Brubeck Quartet in their July 1 concert as headliners at the Toronto Jazz Festival. Matt Brubeck’s trio Ugly Beauties recently released an eponymous CD that they are supporting with a number of gigs this month, including jazz festivals in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa and more. Tallboys, Matt Brubeck’s other trio, plays at the Hillside Festival in Guelph July 24 to 26.

Right: Matt Brubeck

Yet another Toronto Jazz Festival event features York alumnus and instructor, guitarist Andrew Scott (PhD ’06), performing with the Grant Stewart Quartet at the Pilot Tavern on July 4. His own Andrew Scott Quintet appears July 10 at Toronto’s Trane Studio. Scott received a Toronto Independent Music Award in 2007 for best jazz, the same year as his most recent CD release Blue Mercer, which was “highly recommended” by Wholenote.

York faculty member Roy Patterson (BFA Spec. Hons. ’84) can be found in Toronto’s Yorkville area on weekends throughout the summer, playing guitar at the Jazz Brunch at Sassafraz every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3:30pm. He’ll be on hiatus from this regular gig July 18 to Aug. 1 when he flies to Poland for the Chodziez International Jazz Workshop to give concerts and teach master classes.

All that jazz and more, including detailed band info, gig schedules and venues, can be found by following the links to the musicians’ Web sites and on the festival sites.