Where To Eat Before the Show: 2016 Edition


The food at Mesa is top-notch.

The 4th annual Steel City Jazz Festival starts later today, so naturally now is a good time to take a momentary break from talking jazz to talk food instead. In case you missed out on NOSH last week, let me fill you in: there’s a lot of good food in Hamilton. I’ve got my go-to spots: Hamilton classics like Ola alongside newer favourites like Knead Pizza and Small’s. Since just last year all kinds of new restaurants have opened up around downtown Hamilton, bringing even more quality choices to a fantastic food scene. Each year we like to include a couple of shout-outs to our faves in the form of recommendations on where to eat before catching a show. This list is by no means exhaustive, just a few of the many options worth checking out!


A lot of people, myself included, were sad to see Mex-I-Can close down a little while back. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before Mesa opened at 255 James St North, offering up Mexican cuisine that’s as delicious as ever. If you’ve got a craving for something cheesy and saucy that will fill you right up, Mesa has you covered. Honestly I’d go just for the bean dip. The second best part (after the food)? It’s right around the corner from Artword Artbar, so no need to worry about being late for the show!


Located just down the street from Mesa is Zyla’s, which has quickly established itself as a jazz hotspot in the city. I love the vibe inside Zyla’s, it has a perfect jazz-club atmosphere. With a new menu and some killer drink-deals, it’s easy to see why so many people have fallen for Zyla’s as a great new spot to hang out, have a drink and listen to great music. On any given night you’re likely to hear some Steel City Jazz Festival performers playing, and like Artbar, Zyla’s have been doing a fantastic job of supporting young, local and up-and-coming musicians. If you’re just grabbing a drink or looking for a meal, Zyla’s is always a solid choice.

The Brew

As a member of the Hamilton Audio Visual Node, I’m down on Barton Street pretty often, and I’ve seen a few changes to the strip of Barton between James North and Hughson since HAVN opened up a few years ago. Unfortunately those changes are sometimes short-lived (we miss you, Golden Brown). So I’m extra excited that not only did the Brew open up just a few doors down, but that it has flourished as a welcome addition to the street. Serving up delicious pub fare, you can get a solid meal at a good price at the Brew for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff make the Brew the kind of place that you want to make ‘your place’. To top it all off, the Brew regularly present all different kinds of live music, including lots of jazz!

Wherever you decide to grab a bite tonight, we hope we’ll see you at Artword Artbar at 8pm for two-time Juno Award-winner Andrew Downing and his band Otterville as the kick-off the 4th Annual Steel City Jazz Festival!

Closing Weekend: The Jazz Connection Big Band & Scenic November 4th & 5th


The Jazz Connection Big Band performing at the 2015 Steel City Jazz Festival

Those of you who have followed the development of the festival over the past few years may have noticed two threads connecting each iteration to the other. The first might be the Jazz Connection Big Band, who opened the very fist Steel City Jazz Festival with an amazing performance at the Hamilton waterfront back-dropped by a gorgeous August sunset. They have played every festival since then, and this year is no different: they perform at the Pearl Company on Friday, November 4th. Their performances are always a festival highlight and always pack a punch; no matter how many times I see them they never fail to have a few surprises in store. As an extra incentive to join us on the fourth (as if that’s necessary), they’re joined this year by vocalist Aubrey Wilson.

Another thread would be the inclusion of musicians from Mohawk College. Honestly the connections between Steel City Jazz Festival performers and Mohawk are are so numerous that I don’t have a chance of going through them all here, but for starters our 2016 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence, Mike Malone, taught at Mohawk College for 25 years; last year’s Artist-in-Residence, Adrean Farrugia, was a student of Mike’s at Mohawk! It’s always a pleasure for me to present not only graduates or faculty members from the Mohawk music program but current students, and so I’m very pleased that to close out this year’s festival on November 5th we’ll be featuring The Scenics, a group of graduating Mohawk students playing music from the Great American Songbook. The Scenics are Stephanie Sloss, Aoife Doyle, Summer Mortimer, Chanille Blair, Leah Korkowski, Chris Power and Alyssa Giammaria singing, backed up by  Ian Brown, Keegan Larose, Nigel Stewart, Zakk Benn in the band.


The Scenics

I’m happy these two performances ended up falling on the closing weekend of the festival, since I think they represent two goals that we try to hold closely to: just like in jazz music, we always want to be looking forward while remembering where we came from. The 2016 Steel City Jazz Festival is just a few days away now, and I hope you will join us for another year of celebrating the Hamilton jazz community!

The Jazz Connection Big Band perform November 4th and The Scenics perform November 5th, both shows at the Pearl Company starting at 8pm (16 Steven St). Online tickets are available now.

Artists Talks: Mike Malone and Brownman Ali


2016 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence Mike Malone

I love listening to jazz, but I also love reading about jazz. I’ll read just about any jazz biography I can get my hands on, and I can’t get enough of Do The Math. One type of jazz writing I like the best is the ‘Blindfold Test’, where musicians are asked to listen to a piece of music and guess who is playing. The challenge aspect of the test is fun, but mostly I just enjoy hearing musicians talk about music and finding out which parts of a piece of music grab their attention. I especially love it when they comment on a piece of music I know, but which I’ve overlooked, and it gets me to go back and listen again from a new perspective.

For the first time, at this year’s Steel City Jazz Festival we are offering two opportunities to engage with jazz music outside of a concert setting, in the form of a series of artist talks. The first, on October 28th, features trumpeter Brownman Ali talking about the music of Miles Davis. On November 5th, our 2015 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence will be giving a talk entitled ‘What Do You Hear? Improvisation, Composition and the Importance of Listening.’ Both talks are a great chance to get to know jazz music in a new way, to learn something new or to hear it from a new perspective!

Here’s festival performer, organizer, and Brownman Ali bandmate Brad Cheeseman on Brownman Ali:

The spirit of Miles Davis runs deep in the music of Brownman Ali. When he’s not busy performing his original music with his many ensembles, the Trinidad-born, New York-schooled trumpeter frequently takes time to honour the music of one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz. Here are just a few examples: for a number of years, Brownman produced, arranged and performed the Five Weeks for Miles concert series which explored five different eras of the legendary musician (a single concert version titled Miles Davis: Eras was held in Burlington last year); the Brownman Electryc Trio’s Gravitation album featured several pieces previously recorded by Miles Davis; that same ensemble has performed several special Miles Davis tributes (including live performances of the Bill Laswell-constructed Panthalassa record); and each Halloween sees Brownman adopt Miles’ career-long penchant for reimagining contemporary pop tunes with an exciting tribute to the music of Michael Jackson

Brownman’s talk is at 6:30pm at the Hamilton Audio Visual Node (HAVN, 26 Barton St E). Brownman and Brad perform later that night at the Corktown Pub, so there’s plenty of time to attend the talk before heading out to a show later that night!

Mike Malone’s talk, on November 5th at 3pm, is one of the events at this year’s festival that I am most looking forward to. In it, he’ll be talking about the similarities and differences between improvisation and composition, and how the ability to follow the promptings of your inner ear is key to both. I know from the reaction we’ve received about featuring Mike as Artist-in-Residence that he is very highly respected not just for his playing but his composition, arranging and work as an educator. This talk is an opportunity to experience those sides of Mike in addition to seeing him perform. If you are a musician or music student then this talk is perfect for you, but I also strongly encourage our non-musician listeners to attend. The talk offers a unique opportunity to get inside the head of a jazz musician and maybe even to broaden your own outlook on how you listen to jazz!

Brownman Ali gives a talk on the Music of Miles Davis October 28th at 6:30pm and Mike Malone delivers ‘What Do You Hear? Improvisation, Composition and the Importance of Listening’ November 5th at 3pm. Admission to both talks is on a Pay-What-You-Can basis, with a suggested donation to the speakers of $10. The talks take place at the Hamilton Audio Visual Node at 26 Barton St E, in between James N and Hughson.


SCJF Halloween Special: The Koopa Troop & The Orechin/Rosselli/Castelli Trio


The Koopa Troop performing at the 2015 Steel City Jazz Festival

Once I passed trick-or-treating age (the acceptable upper limit for trick-or-treating is twelve) I think that Thanksgiving slowly started to overtake Halloween in my heart. Maybe it’s because I began to realize that it’s much harder to stuff a turkey than it is to buy a box of individually wrapped mini chocolate bars. But this year, from the second year in a row, the Steel City Jazz Festival will be hosting a concert on Halloween, and I think it’s enough to rekindle my love for the holiday. I am sure once you check out what we have in store this year you will agree!

The Koopa Troop are quite simply one of the best live bands in Hamilton. Leaving aside the costumes and the repertoire, these fives musicians are some of the best, hardest-working musicians around, and I love hearing them play in any of the (many) groups that they’re a part of. So once you throw in the fact that they play the music I listened to most often growing up (ie videogame soundtracks), and that they do it with all the style of a Tanooki-Suit Mario or a Goron Tunic Link (aka, the most style), you’ve got a serious party on your hands. I give them 100/100 skulltulas (that will be the end of my videogame references for this post, probably).

The Orechin/Rosselli/Castelli Trio, with Alexei Orechin on guitar, Sal Rosselli on tenor saxophone and Lorenzo Castelli on drums, offer a counterpoint to the Koopa Troop without losing any of the excitement. The group plays adventurous, lyrical modern jazz. You can listen to a previous iteration of the band featuring Michael Pratt on contrabass on the album ‘Poetry Quartet’ below, which earned them a Hamilton Music Award nomination in 2011:

I’ve heard various members of this group a number of times, including at the very first Steel City Jazz Festival in 2013 where they played as COP Trio, and I’m consistently impressed. This performance is something of a reunion for the group and I can’t wait to hear them back in action this Halloween!

The Koopa Troop and the Orechin/Rosselli/Castelli Trio play October 31st at the Hamilton Audio Visual Node, also known as HAVN. If you’ve never been to HAVN before (located at 26 Barton St E, between James N and Hughson), it’s a studio, performance and gallery space run by a collective of Hamilton-based artists. They host art shows every Art Crawl as well as a couple concerts a month. Tickets to shows at HAVN are usually Pay What You Can and we’ll do the same, with a suggested donation of $10 towards the artists. If you have any questions about the venue or how to get there feel free to leave us a message in the comments below!

Jazz Vocalists: The Aubrey Wilson Quartet & The Ault Sisters October 29th at Artword Artbar


The Aubrey Wilson Quartet performing at HAVN

Is year four too early to start reminiscing about earlier iterations of the festival? I’m going to risk it. Long long ago in 2013, when the Steel City Jazz Festival was a mere day or so old, the Aubrey Wilson Quartet played our first show at Homegrown Hamilton. I only got to see a small part of their set; we had multiple shows running at the same time that year and I had to jet off to a concert somewhere else. Luckily for me though that wasn’t the last time I would hear the Aubrey Wilson Quartet, and every time I’ve seen them since they remind me why they’re one of the best groups in town. The band, featuring Aubrey Wilson on vocals, Chris Bruder on piano, Tom Altobelli on bass and Sean Bruce Parker on drums, makes music that’s playful, sensitive and always groovy. Listening to them you get the impression that every song they play is their favourite song, and that they might just convince you it’s your favourite song too.

Joining the Aubrey Wilson Quartet is a group that’s brand new to the Steel City Jazz Festival, and I couldn’t be more excited to hear them play: The Ault Sisters. Featuring Amanda, Alicia and Alanna Ault on vocals, the Ault Sisters have steadily been winning over listeners for the last few years with both their original compositions and material drawing from jazz, R&B and Latin music, all enriched with the sublime sounds of their three-part vocal harmonies. As someone whose early jazz education involved playing a whole lot of Andrew Sisters I definitely feel there’s a lack of jazz vocal harmonies in my life, so I can’t wait to hear the Ault Sisters live (I promise not to shout out my requests for Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen mid-show).

The Aubrey Wilson Quartet and the Ault Sisters perform Saturday, October 29th at Artword Artbar at 8pm. Don’t miss it!

Lewis.Brown: An Evening with Rich Brown and Larnell Lewis October 28th


Bassist Rich Brown performs October 28th at Artword Artbar.

We’ve asked bassist, composer and Steel City Jazz Festival-organizer Brad Cheeseman to share his thoughts on this very exciting show. Here’s Brad!

In 2008, I went to the old Pepper Jack Cafe on King William (now Absinthe) to see some friends open for a band called rinsethealgorithm. I didn’t really know anything about the band, but this performance had a profound effect on me and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this one concert shaped the trajectory of my own musical development. This band—led by bassist Rich Brown and featuring drummer Larnell Lewis, saxophonist Luis Deniz and pianist Robi Botos—was so in sync with each other (especially Rich and Larnell) and offered so much energy yet always remained musical.

I’ve seen Rich and Larnell perform many times since that Pepper Jack gig in ’08, yet I still never tire of hearing these two make music together. When you look at their combined experience, it’s no wonder; as of 2016, Rich Brown has released three stellar albums as leader and has toured the world with artists as diverse as Rudresh Mahanthappa, Donny McCaslin, Dapp Theory, and Steve Coleman & 5 Elements (among many others). Larnell Lewis has performed with artists like Fred Hammond, Lalah Hathaway and Lisa Fischer, and has been touring/recording with Snarky Puppy since 2014 (yes, that’s him laying it down on tunes like “Lingus,” “What About Me?” and “Big Ugly”).

In 2012, I was lucky to attend one of Rich’s first solo concerts at Toronto’s 80 Gladstone where, rather than giving a straight concert (i.e. two sets of tunes with an intermission), there were performances mixed with Q&A and a general musical hang. To call it a clinic or workshop would be a disservice to the atmosphere at these events. Rich would play a couple of beautiful pieces, and the audience would get a chance to talk about what just happened. It wasn’t just a bass thing, or even necessarily a jazz thing (although these topics certainly came up)… it was predominately a music thing. When it came time to plan some events for the 2016 Steel City Jazz Festival, I knew that I needed to share that experience with Hamilton.

Very recently, Rich and Larnell gave a special duo performance as Lewis.Brown. When the possibility came up of having both Rich Brown and Larnell Lewis perform at this year’s Steel City Jazz Festival, festival director Chris Ferguson and I jumped at the opportunity. What started out as an opportunity to bring my favourite bassist to Hamilton turned into something bigger and, on Friday October 28, we’re inviting you to come see two of the best musicians in the country perform in a rare duo setting for an unforgettable concert experience at Artword Artbar.

Kite Trio & The Brad Cheeseman Trio October 27th


Montreal’s Kite Trio

One of the highlights for me each year of the Steel City Jazz Festival is hearing music that the artists have composed themselves. Of course like any jazz fan I have my favourite standards that I’m excited to hear played, but I also relish hearing the stories of how a certain composition came to be, who it was inspired by or what it is trying to convey. When artists perform their own music they show a different side of themselves, and the experience becomes just a little bit richer for it. At the 2016 Steel City Jazz Festival I’m excited to welcome two groups of musicians whom I respect greatly as performers and composers: Kite Trio and the Brad Cheeseman Trio, playing at Artword Artbar on October 27th.

Kite Trio, hailing from Montreal, are Eric Couture on guitar, Eric Dew on drums and Paul Van Dyk on upright bass. The band is one of the tightest groups of improvisers I’ve ever heard. I remember the last time I saw them play in Hamilton, they were asked how much of the music was arranged in advance. Based on how in-sync they were throughout their performance, I assumed they must have planned out most of the feel-changes, pauses, and interlocking lines in advance. No, they said, very little of it was mapped out before they began; they have just developed such a strong rapport with one another that they can make even the most exciting and challenging improvisations sound effortless. A musical comparison they hear regularly is with The Bad Plus, a connection that may feel even stronger as they record their new album with Bad Plus drummer Dave King!

Since we have invited a fantastic Montreal group to Hamilton, it somehow seems appropriate to round out the evening with a band led by Brad Cheeseman, one of Hamilton’s best bass players and recent recipient of the prestigious TD Grand Prix de Jazz Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. His recent album of original compositions inspired by the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest, Figurants, ranks among the best modern jazz you’ll hear anywhere, and garnered a nomination for a Toronto Independent Music Award. His previous album won this year’s Hamilton Music Award for Best Instrumental Album. Amid all the accolades, Brad has been helping the Steel City Jazz Festival develop a (soon to be announced!) series of talks and clinics. We’re lucky to have him at the festival and we’re lucky to have him as a part of the Hamilton music community. He’ll be joined by Adrean Farrugia on piano and Adam Fielding on drums; don’t miss it!