Tag Archives: 2016

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.

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.

2016 Smordin Law Artist-in-Residence: Mike Malone


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.