See you next year!


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


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


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.

The Koopa Troop: FREE Matinee Performance October 24 at the Pearl Company!

Link, Mario, Daisy, Luigi and Toad play at ConBravo!

Link, Mario, Daisy, Luigi and Toad play at ConBravo!

It might seem like a bold claim, but videogame music is some of the most influential music of the past 30 years. For millions of kids, myself included, the music I heard most often at home wasn’t coming from a radio or a record player, it was coming from the videogame console. How many times did I hear that ten-second loop from Star Road in Super Mario World? How many times did I play the Song of Storms in Ocarina of Time for no other reason than to hear the Song of Storms? The menu-screen music from The Secret of Mana is lodged deeper in my brain than the answers to any test I ever studied for, that’s for sure. We can all collectively be thankful then that the music accompanying our on-screen adventures wasn’t just filler: it could be catchy and funky, whimsical and weird, lyrical and heart-wrenching. Videogame music got into the ears of people all over the world, and in particular into the ears of five of Hamilton and Toronto’s finest young jazz musicians: The Koopa Troop.

You might recognize a few familiar faces (even if they’re in costume) in the band from Steel City Jazz Festivals past: Tom Altobelli on bass, Chris Bruder on keyboard, Chelsea McBride on saxophone and flute, Wilson McLeish on guitar and Tyler Goertzen on drums. The Koopa Troop bring serious jazz chops to the world of videogame music, playing their own arrangements of classic videogame tunes. The music is accessible, high-energy and funky, but there’s enough jazz flair thrown in to satisfy even the more traditionalist jazz concert attendees. For anyone out there who is curious about jazz music but has found it hard to get started listening, the Koopa Troop are the band for you. And in this spirit of discovery and accessibility, we decided to open the show up to the widest possible audience by making it absolutely free!

In our first year we were able to offer a free concert at the Hamilton Waterfront and it was one of my favourite performances of the festival. I have wanted to incorporate free events into the Steel City Jazz Festival ever since. But to be honest, it’s not easy! The Steel City Jazz Festival also feels strongly that artists should be paid a fair wage for their work, and that can be very hard to do without any ticket revenues. So our sponsors Smordin Law, the Ontario Arts Council, NLP Canada Training and Merriam Music deserve an extra special thanks for helping us to achieve both of these goals at the year’s festival! They are our Tanooki Suit, our triple red shells, our Master Sword.

The Koopa Troop play for FREE Ocotber 24th at 2pm at the Pearl Company, don’t miss it! Email or call 905-524-0606 to reserve a spot.

Tjaderama: The Music of Cal Tjader October 25th

Drummer Carlos Rodriguez is back again this year with Tjaderama!

Drummer Carlos Rodriguez is back again this year with Tjaderama!

One of the most popular performances at the 2014 Steel City Jazz Festival was undoubtedly our Latin Jazz night, featuring vocalist Ashley St-Pierre and a band led by the fantastic drummer Carlos Rodriguez. It’s no surprise to me that so many people were interested in that show; the combination of jazz and Latin music is a time-tested, sure-fire hit! How could it not be? What’s there not to like about combining the improvisation and interplay of jazz with the complex rhythms of music from the Caribbean and Latin America? So when Carlos approached us again this year with the idea to feature a tribute to Cal Tjader, the legendary Latin jazz vibraphonist, we knew we had to make it happen!

If you’re not familiar with Cal Tjader that’s okay, Tjaderama has you covered. The group’s leader, vibraphonist Randy Stirtzinger, has a deep knowledge of the history behind the music and will be sharing it throughout the night. As a big-time jazz history fan myself, this is one of my favourite kinds of performances. I’m a sucker for classic jazz stories, like Charlie Parker playing a plastic saxophone at his famous Massey Hall performance, or Charles Mingus getting fired from Ellington’s band after chasing the trombonist onstage with an axe. Although I’d hardly say knowing the history is necessary to enjoy the music, I think a little background helps connect the listener to the long line of performers and musicians who have played these songs before, and that’s a special thing. It gives each performance a little edge, and I’m thrilled that Randy will be helping us all connect with the music of Cal Tjader!

To get us prepped for the show, I asked Randy to recommend a few of his favourite Cal Tjader tracks. “My favourite albums are Mambo with Tjader, latin Concert, Sona Libre, Soul Sauce, Soul Burst, Guarabe, Cuban Fantasy and Here,” he explained, “As to why I like them, these are the criteria : good chemistry among musicians, good recording quality, good solos. Now not all the records have these factors in equal proportion, but in some cases like Latin Concert for example where the sound quality is not as high as Soul Sauce but the playing and repertoire are outstanding, so it’s a favourite.”

Tjaderama are Randy Stirtzinger on vibraphone, Carlos Rodriguez on drums, Rob McBride on bass, Antonio Perez on congas and John Sherwood on piano. Join them Sunday, October 25h at 7pm to close out our first week of shows at Artword Artbar! Tickets are available now on the Artword Artbar website.

Intercurrents: Roy Patterson and Brian Dickinson Play the Music of Bill Evans and Jim Hall

Roy Patterson, slightly younger.

Roy Patterson, slightly younger.

There is a definite tribute streak through this year’s Steel City Jazz Festival. I think the jazz impulse towards ‘tributes’ is an acknowledgment that your musical history matters; just like how chops are verified by who you played with (Coltrane played with Miles who played with Bird), exploring and incorporating the music of the greats gives you a solid foundation for moving forward. At this year’s festival, Tjaderama are going to dig deep into the repertoire of Latin jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader; the Chris Bruder Quintet will pay homage to Wayne Shorter by playing one of his most famous albums, Speak No Evil, in its entirety (more on both those shows coming up soon). And to close out the festival on November 1st,  Intercurrents, an exploration of the music of Jim Hall and Bill Evans by two veterans of the Canadian jazz scene, Roy Patterson and Brian Dickinson.

Bill Evans and Jim Hall might not be household names like Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong but if you haven’t heard them before now is a great time to learn about two true jazz masters. In fact, Bill Evans was pianist in Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet, the unit that recorded Kind of Blue, and Bill’s fingerprints are all over the album. Jim Hall, who passed away about two years ago, was a hugely influential jazz guitarist, and played with a who’s who of the jazz world including Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond and more (including Terry Clarke, who is the final guest in our Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence Series this year!) Together, Bill and Jim recorded two albums: Undercurrent, and Intermodulation (combined, Intercurrents!) Check Intermodulation below:

Roy Patterson and Brian Dickinson are a perfect fit to explore and interpret this music. Roy has been a professional guitarist for decades: he has released seven records as a leader, and he has toured all over the world playing music, from Italy to Turkey to Taiwan. He has taught at McGill, the University of Toronto and is currently a faculty member in the department of music at York University. Roy recently made the move to Hamilton and we’re lucky to have him! Brian Dickinson is a highly sought-after pianist, having recorded on over 60 albums, including ten as leader, two of which won the Juno Award for Best Jazz Album. Brian has played with some of the absolute best musicians in the world, including Lee Konitz, Jerry Bergonzi, John Abercrombie, Maria Schneider and many, many more (there’s that whole history thing again).

It’s a real honour to have both Roy and Brian at this year’s Steel City Jazz Festival, and I hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the end of the festival’s third year with this very special performance! Check out Roy’s website for more info on his musical projects, including a recording of Roy and Brian playing together. See you November 1st at the Pearl Company!