2016 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence: Mike Malone

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Mike Malone. Photo by Tony Huang.

When the planning for the very first Steel City Jazz Festival began in 2012, I was very fortunate to have the help of Jazz Connection Big Band leader Simon Wheeldon in navigating the local jazz scene, to which I was still a new-comer. One of the first people Simon recommended I talk to was Mike Malone. Am I ever glad that he did! Mike was immediately supportive of the festival when I met him at a Jazz Connection rehearsal the winter of our first year. He ended up playing in two groups at the festival that August; the first played to a room of about ten people (aka a very special, intimate performance). Mike has since played at every iteration of the Steel City Jazz Festival, most recently as the analogue to Freddie Hubbard in last year’s tribute to the Wayne Shorter album ‘Speak No Evil’. And whenever he plays, I can tell that the other musicians are excited to have him there.

I can understand why. Mike Malone’s career as a performer stretches back decades (while taking the photo above, Mike told us a story about a photo-shoot for a luggage company ad in Esquire magazine that he did before playing at Carnegie Hall with Lighthouse, that featured them all jumping over a pile of suitcases. I am still scouring the internet for this photo), but I think at least part of the admiration from his fellow musicians comes from his work as an educator. Mike has years of experience teaching as a faculty member for the music program at Mohawk College, so his positive impact on jazz in Hamilton extends far far beyond his own playing. We’re thrilled to welcome him to this year’s festival as the 2016 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence!

Mike’s first show at the 2016 festival will be at Artword Artbar on October 30th alongside Adrean Farrugia on piano and Bob Shields on guitar. Beyond the nice connection to last year’s festival (Adrean was the 2015 Artist-in-Residence), I’m excited for this concert because I love hearing all three of these players in small group settings. They are all highly skilled and highly sensitive musicians who thrive in setting with plenty of space for close listening and interaction.

Mike’s second performance will take place November 3rd at the Pearl Company with an all-star sextet made up of Michael Stuart and Darcy Hepner on saxophones, Pat Collins on bass, Kevin Dempsey on drums and Adrean Farrugia once again on piano, performing music from Miles Davis’ seminal 1959 album ‘Kind of Blue’. ‘Kind of Blue’ is regarded as one of the greatest albums (jazz or otherwise) of all-time, and not just because of the quality of the players. Miles’ (and Bill Evans’) compositions have all proven themselves to be worthy standards; each responding capably to multiple interpretations and recordings. The band Mike has assembled to delve into this material is certainly up the the task, featuring a line-up of Canadian jazz veterans who over the years have played with jazz luminaries like Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Lee Konitz, Elvin Jones and more.

To end off, I asked our 2015 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence, pianist Adrean Farrugia, for a few words about Mike Malone. If you need any more confirmation of the level of respect and admiration that other musicians have for Mike, look no further:

I first met Mike Malone in 1990 while still in high school. In the more than 25 years I’ve known him he has been a continual source of musical inspiration to me as a performer, composer, arranger and educator. His integrity and unyielding vision as an artist has set a standard for an entire generation of Canadian musicians. Through his example I’ve learned the importance of searching for an honest expression of myself through music.

Mike Malone is an important link in the long chain of Canadian musicians who have helped shape the cultural fabric of Canada by perpetuating the ongoing development and continuity of the Canadian arts and music scenes.

Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats November 2nd: Co-Presented with the Hammer Hoppers

I can remember how good it felt the first time I played music that actually made people get up and dance. I was in playing in a big band at the Beaches International Jazz Festival; normally we played at farmer’s markets or retirement centres, so we were already excited to be performing for a much bigger crowd than we were used to. I don’t remember exactly what song we were playing, maybe Begin the Beguine, but I definitely remember the thrill of looking up and noticing that just beyond the line of parents cheering us on there were people (who didn’t even know us!) dancing along to the music.

While at times I’m happy to sit back and listen, I think there’s undeniably something special about enjoying a performance on your feet, moving along with the music. That’s why I am so happy to announce that at this year’s Steel City Jazz Festival we will be partnering with Hamilton swing-dance aficionados the Hammer Hoppers to bring you our very first dance, featuring Alex Pangman and Her Alleycats on November 2nd at the Pearl Company.

Alex Pangman specializes in jazz music from a time when a lot more people danced to jazz! Her interpretations of the Great American (and Canadian!) songbook have earned her the title of ‘Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing’, as well as National Jazz Award nominations and a Vocal Jazz Album of the Year nomination at the 2016 Juno Awards for her most recent album, ‘New’. Take a listen to the track ‘It’s Never Enough’ off of ‘New’ below, written by Pangman herself and recorded in New Orleans:

Are your toes tapping? Then this show is for you. But even if you don’t feel like dancing that’s okay; this event is for dancers and listeners alike, everyone is welcome. If you do feel like dancing but want to give your moves a little polish before getting down, there will be a swing dancing lesson hosted by the Hammer Hoppers prior to the performance. If you want even more practice time (and I count myself in this category), the Hammer Hoppers start a series of lessons next week. It’s time to dust off those dancing shoes, we promise you won’t regret it! See you at the Pearl Company November 2nd!

2016 SCJF Opening Night: Andrew Downing’s Otterville October 26

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Otterville at the Rex.

School starts tomorrow, so even though summer technically has a few weeks left to go I know I’m not alone in thinking that fall is more or less here.  I love the heat, but fall has its own charms to look forward to. I hope that for some of you the 4th Annual Steel City Jazz Festival, running October 26th to November 5th, will be one of those charms!

The jazz community in Hamilton continues to grow and produce fabulous musicians playing vital music.  Zyla’s on James St N has become a welcome addition to the scene alongside Hamilton jazz stalwarts like the Cat n’ Fiddle, Artword Artbar and the Corktown Pub. Jazz at the Gasworks have continued bringing world-class talent to Hamilton on a regular basis, and last December we were even treated to a holiday performance by arguably one of the best jazz bands on the planet, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis. It’s been a good year!

With three festivals on the books and the fourth coming up quick, I’m grateful to find so much inspiration and motivation from the rest of the community. In particular though, I am consistently amazed by concerts put on by Zula Presents and their Something Else! Festival of Creative Music (which took place earlier this summer) and Creative Music Series (last fall). Zula Presents focus on music that’s often part of the jazz tradition but falls farther on the avant-garde or ‘outside’ part of the spectrum. They have brought musicians to Hamilton from all over the world (San Francisco, Oslo, Amsterdam, just to name a few from this year’s festival), including some of the biggest names on the scene. So I’m thrilled to say that to open this year’s festival we will be co-presenting a concert with Zula Presents at Artword Artbar: Andrew Downing’s Otterville, on October 26th!

I’m really excited for this show, not least of all because we get to feature another vibraphonist (Michael Davidson). The name ‘Otterville’ is inspired by a small Ontario town and so is the music: it’s sweet, quiet, nostalgic and joyful. Take a listen for yourself to the video above, taken last year at a show at Waterloo’s Jazz Room. The band features Tara Davidson on saxophone, Michael Davidson on vibraphone, Paul Mathew on bass, Nick Fraser on drums and Andrew Downing on cello. It’s music that’s within a straight-ahead jazz tradition, but with enough of a twist to appeal to the more adventurous-minded listener. Kind of like taking road trip through Ontario, you’re bound to find both the familiar and the unexpected in this music. It’s a perfect pairing for the Steel City Jazz Festival and Zula Presents, and I’m thrilled to be working with them!

There’s so much more to tell you about this year’s festival: our artist-in-residence, this year’s poster design, a second exciting partnership, a jazz education series and of course all kinds of talented musicians. To make it easier for you to stay in touch, we’re starting a mailing list, which you can sign up for by clicking here. We’ll be sending out show announcements and other festival details (sparingly) leading up to the festival, and an occasional update throughout the year to let you know how festival planning is progressing or about other great jazz events in Hamilton. If you’re interested, please sign up!

See you next year!

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Posters by Rachel Zavarella, Lester Coloma and Gord Bond.

The 2015 Steel City Jazz Festival wrapped up yesterday; what an amazing two weeks! Thank you to all the musicians and listeners for making this little festival feel big and bold and special. Thank you everyone for celebrating jazz with us and for knowing and proving that live music is important. I am full to the top with excitement and inspiration for next year!

A couple specific thank-yous to:

Sandee Smordin, Jeff Laskey and Smordin Law
Linda Ferguson and NLP Canada Training
Robert Ferguson and the 2015 Black Raspberry Festival
The Ontario Arts Council
Merriam Music

Judith, Ron, Barbara and Gary
Adrean Farrugia and Sophia Perlman
Brian Bibby
Emily Milko
Gord Bond
Simon Wheeldon
Steve Wilson
Jacques Hypolite
Jamie Tennant
Ric Taylor
Karim Mosna
Tourism Hamilton

And thank you again to all the other musicians, audience members, retweeters, word-of-mouth spreaders and jazz lovers who made this whole thing a success. See you next year!

Chris Ferguson

‘Speak No Evil’ Live with the Chris Bruder Quintet October 29th

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Wayne Shorter’s 1964 (recorded) Blue Note classic.

Halloween hasn’t even come yet, so I know it’s offside to start talking about Christmas, but indulge me here for a second. On Christmas Eve, 1964 Wayne Shorter headed to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey along with a couple of his new band mates from the Miles Davis Quintet (which he had just joined earlier that year) Coltran’es drummer Elvin Jones and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard to record an album for Blue Note Records. But when they got there the music they recorded was a lot closer to Halloween than Christmas. “Legends, folklore and black magic – the arts of mystery and darkness – have long been a special source of inspiration for artists,” the liner notes begin. “I was thinking of misty landscapes with wildflowers and strange, dimly-seen shapes – the kind of places where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of things like witch burnings, too” says Wayne. Well, alright then. Merry Christmas!

Of course, the resulting album, Speak No Evil, is widely considered not just one of Shorter’s best but one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Speak No Evil came at an important time for jazz. In 1965 Coltrane would release A Love Supreme (actually recorded just a couple weeks before Speak No Evil) and later fully embrace Free Jazz; in a few short years Wayne himself would be playing Fusion with Miles Davis. Speak No Evil stands as a defining work of the hard-bop era.

All of this is not just to say how great Wayne Shorter is, but to get you excited for the opening show of the second week of the 2015 Steel City Jazz Festival, appropriately timed just before Halloween! We are very pleased to welcome the Chris Bruder Quintet to the Pearl Company, where they will be playing Speak No Evil from top to bottom, plus a whole second set of their favourite Wayne Shorter tunes. If that doesn’t already have you excited, the band should. Chris is one of the best, most versatile pianists around, and he’s playing with an all-star lineup: Mike Malone (as Freddie Hubbard) on trumpet, Adam Fielding (as Elvin Jones) on drums, Clark Johnston (as Ron Carter) on bass and Scott Neilson (as Wayne!) on saxophone. This is a great band playing some of the best repertoire in jazz; don’t miss out.

The Chris Bruder Quintet play October 29th at 8pm at the Pearl Company. Tickets are $15/$10 for students and can be purchased in advance here. See you there!

The Jazz Connection Big Band Devil’s Night Bonanza October 30th

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Don’t mess with Steve. Photo courtesy Bob Hatcher.

I’d say that Halloween is the holiday most associated with getting up to no good (although St Patrick’s day might give it a run for its money), so I think it makes sense to throw a Jazz Connection Big Band show on Devil’s Night. The Jazz Connection could come out on the right side of a little bit of trouble. I’m not accusing them of any shady business here, I’m just saying that the Jazz Connection are not a band to be messed with. This is music with some punch to it, it’s powerful stuff; you’ve gotta hold on tight once they get going full swing. But trust me, hearing the Jazz Connection Big Band up close and personal is a whole lot better than a bag of candy!

This is the third year the Jazz Connection have played at the Steel City Jazz Festival and I couldn’t be happier to welcome them back again. They were one of the first acts on board for the inaugural year of the festival and they haven’t stopped impressing me since. Their performance at the Pearl Company last year was one of the highlights of the festival. You can check out a clip from that show below and get a taste of what’s in store this Friday:

In the year since they’ve continued to expand their repertoire (which now includes some Janelle Monae, fingers crossed Tightrope makes an appearance on Friday) and bring their brand of serious Hamilton big-band grit all over Ontario. If you’ve seen them before, you know you’re in for something special. If you haven’t experienced the Jazz Connection Big Band yet, now is the perfect time to start. Don’t be scared, just bring a costume and come get to know the baddest Big Band around.

Where to Eat Before (and After) the Show: 2015 Edition

The Cat N' Fiddle, a Hamilton jazz institution

The Cat N’ Fiddle, a Hamilton jazz institution

Nobody wants to listen to jazz music on an empty stomach. There’s at least two or three stories (myths?) about Charles Mingus eating steak for a reason. Those who know me have probably heard me rant at least once about ‘dinner jazz’ and ‘cocktail music’ but there’s no denying that we all gotta eat and the better we eat, well, the better.  Last year I made a few recommendations of good spots to grab a bite before attending shows at Artword Artbar (all of which still apply), but the culinary landscape of James North (and area) has continued to expand and develop. And so on the eve of the 2015 Steel City Jazz Festival I present to you three more picks for good grub before the show (and one for after):

Saltlick Smoke House 282 James N:

A recent favourite of mine, Saltlick Smokehouse serves up the best meat on the street. They offer modern spins on classic barbeque fare, with a good mix of menu items to satisfy both the adventurous and the BBQ purists. Their fried chicken was the best I’ve had in Hamilton (or elsewhere, to be hoenst), and their Banh Mi  Pork Belly Sandwich (available at lunch) has me wishing I’d ordered two. Go with a group for dinner and order a few dishes to share.

The Butcher and the Vegan 61 Barton E:

If you’re grabbing food with a vegetarian friend Saltlick is probably not their top choice, but the Butcher and the Vegan might be. New to the area, the Butcher and the Vegan are off the main James N strip, just a few blocks east on Barton. Offering a wide-ranging menu including (as you might guess) plenty of vegan options and with a focus on farm-to-table, sustainable eating, the Butcher and the Vegan are a perfect choice for those looking to discover something new.

Knead Pizza 274 James N:

Okay so maybe you don’t have time for one of these fancy ‘sit down’ meals; you want something fast on your way over to the jazz fest. Well luckily Knead Pizza have got you covered. Located directly across James St from Colbourne (where Artword Artbar is located) in the spot that Euro Pizza used to occupy, Knead Pizza is one of the newest eateries on the block but they’ve started off very strong. I tried a slice of their mango/jalapeno/pork belly and was instantly impressed. Perfect for a quick bite on you way to the show!

The Cat N’ Fiddle 174 John St S:

The Cat N’ Fiddle is a Hamilton music community institution; I’m not exaggerating when I say that their dedication to jazz music in Hamilton is what makes the Steel City Jazz Festival possible. We do jazz two weeks a year; they do it fifty-two. I first heard many of the artists who have played at the festival at the Cat’s regular Wednesday night jazz jam. Seeing as tomorrow night is Wednesday, I strongly recommend that anyone coming out to see the Scott Taplay Group and the Tom Altobelli Group join us at the Cat N’ Fiddle after the show to celebrate the opening of the 2015 festival! Oh, but this post is about food. Well, the Cat N’ Fiddle has the best deep fried pickles in the city. If that isn’t enough for you (really it should be), the rest of their menu is also great! Whether you come for the music or the food, the Cat N’ Fiddle never disappoints.

The Steel City Jazz Festival starts tomorrow (Wednesday, October 21). We hope you will come eat some good food, hear some good music, and enjoy everything this fine city has to offer.