Fine arts talent gets jazzed at Toronto festival

It’s no surprise that York University jazz talent will again grace the stages of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival this summer: York’s jazz program and Toronto’s premier jazz fest are both leaders in Canada, with a reputation for excellence that continues to build every year.

More than 500,000 fans are expected over the 10 days of the fest, which runs June 25 to July 4. Attractions include more than 350 performances with over 1,500 musicians performing at some 40 locations in the city.

For third-year York music student, saxophonist Chris Chekan, the June 30 concert at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Mavis Staples and Allen Toussaint Band will be a special highlight. During the show, Bernie Webber, chairman of the board of Jazz.FM91, will present Chekan with the second annual Mary Alice Stuart/JAZZ.FM91 Scholarship Award.

Right: Chris Chekan

The award, named for the radio station’s founding chair, is given to a student with a promising future in the field of jazz. Supported by JAZZ.FM, the Stuart family and other contributors, the award was valued at over $2000 in its inaugural year. 

The jazz programs of York, the University of Toronto, Humber College and Mohawk College were each invited to submit a candidate for the award. The selection committee included Webber; JAZZ.FM91’s music director Brad Barker; and Mary Alice Stuart’s son Al Stuart, proprietor of The Pilot, a well-known home for live jazz in Toronto. 

“It was a tough assignment among excellent candidates,” said Webber. “According to his instructors, Chris is a self-starter who is highly motivated and rapidly developing a distinctive style and tone. He was featured in April on our program Jazzology, but I’m sure that won’t be the last time he’ll be heard on JAZZ.FM91.” 

Chekan has been invited to join the JAZZ.FM team in their box for the Staples/Toussaint concert, and will receive the award on stage at intermission. 

“I was extremely happy and surprised when I found out I’d won the award,” said Chekan. “There are so many amazing young players around, it can be very competitive.” 

“I’d like to thank [York University jazz area coordinator] Mike Murley for originally nominating me for the award and for teaching me so much about music and the saxophone,” Chekan said. “I’d also like to say a big thank-you to [contract faculty member] Kelly Jefferson who, along with Mike, has always been a fantastic teacher and a strong influence on me.” 

There are many other opportunities to catch York musicians on stage throughout the festival.

Tonight, faculty member and jazz guitarist extraordinaire Lorne Lofsky performs with Kieran Overs at 9pm and 10:15pm at Mezzetta Restaurant & Tapas Bar.  

Juno Award-winning saxophonist Murley (BFA Spec. Hons. ’86) has three gigs at the festival. On Saturday, June 26 at 2pm he will be put to the “blindfold test” at the HMV Store at Nathan Phillips Square. Moderator Ted O’Reilly, one of Canada’s best-known jazz broadcasters and producers, will play jazz tracks and Murley must name the artists. In this free session, Murley will also talk about what he is listening to these days and which recordings he thinks are particularly important. 

Right: Mike Murley

Later that day at 8pm, Murley steps into the spotlight at The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar with his band, the Mike Murley Septet, which includes his York faculty colleagues Kevin Turcotte (trumpet) and Jim Vivian (bass).The group will perform repertoire drawn from Murley’s recordings as well as new compositions written especially for them. 

Murley’s final appearance at the fest will be with his trio at Mezzetta on Wednesday, June 30, at 9pm and 10:15pm. The trio, which includes Murley’s faculty colleague Steve Wallace on bass, will perform a mix of standards and Murley originals.

On Sunday, June 27, alumnus Ori Dagan (BFA Spec. Hons. ’07) also has a double turn on stage. At 12pm the Ori Dagan Jazz & Swing Band plays at Gate 403, and at 3:30pm this critically acclaimed young vocalist performs with his trio at Ten Feet Tall.  

Later on Sunday, Mezzetta Restaurant hosts music Professor Sundar Viswanathan (saxophone) and faculty member Roy Patterson (guitar) at 9pm and 10:15pm. 

Alumna Suba Sankaran  (BFA Spec. Hons. ’97, MA ’02) presents a free workshop titled Jazz Across the Atlantic at the HMV Store at Nathan Phillips Square June 29 at 2pm. Her band Autorickshaw fuses jazz with classical East Indian musical traditions, and Sankaran will discuss how and why musicians are fusing these two styles; detail some of the most important practitioners of the combined style; and examine where the fusion might take jazz next. 

Left: Suba Sankaran

Renowned jazz drummer and composer Professor Barry Elmes, chair of York’s Department of Music, brings his sextet to the Primus Stage at Nathan Phillips Square for a free Afterwork concert on Tuesday, June 29 at 5pm. The band includes trombonist, Professor Ron Westray, York’s Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, and faculty member Kelly Jefferson on saxophone and flute. 

Right: Barry Elmes

Later that evening, as part of the festival’s popular Club Series, Jefferson takes the stage at The Rex with his own band, the Kelly Jefferson Quartet, while former York music student, saxist Richard Underhill, performs at the Reservoir Lounge.

The Mike Cado Tentet, led by York alumnus and faculty member Mike Cado (MFA ’05), which includes Jefferson, Westray and saxophonist Professor David Mott, headlines the Primus Stage at Nathan Phillips Square in a free Afterwork concert on June 30. The group has built a name for itself playing compositions by Phil Nimmons, many of which haven’t been heard for over 40 years and have never been commercially available on recordings. The tentet will interpret original Nimmons arrangements as well as new compositions by various group members.

Right: Ron Westray

Faculty member, pianist Richard Whiteman performs with Rob McBride at Commensal on Saturday, July 3 at 6:30pm, and Mott  appears in a duo with guitarist Rob Clutton on the final day of the fest, Sunday, July 4 at Mezzetta, with sets at 9pm and 10:15pm.

For detailed program, ticket and venue information, visit the TD Toronto Jazz Festival Web site . Selected festival performances will be broadcast live by JAZZ.FM91.