Well, it’s June in Toronto … which means it’s time for the city to get taken over by several phenomenally talented musicians from the world over, all here to create a fantastic vibe as we celebrate the TD Toronto Jazz Festival!!
This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Jazz Festival, which means folks are in an even more celebratory mood (and that the festival’s graphic designers have to work a little more!) Each year, the programmers, promoters, and producers do their best to create a stand-out line up that will satisfy the die-hard Jazz-lovin’ folks, while enticing new Jazz fans to dip their proverbial feet in these musical waters for the first time. (Don’t worry: we’re always gentle!)
A few years ago, we began doing something I now refer to as the “And Friends” series. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Newfoundlander and am naturally hospitable, or if I just know how to throw a kick-arse party, but for the past 3 years, I’ve been acting as a sort of Jazzy Carol Burnett, performing with a killer band and inviting a stellar line-up of all-star guests to join me in the most entertaining of shows. In the past, we’ve featured guests such as Jackie Richardson, June Garber, Amy McConnell, Amy Cervini and more. Well, this year, we’re at it again. We are marking the 30th Anniversary of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, with another edition of Heather Bambrick and Friends!
As in previous years, our musical director is none other than one of the finest musicians, bandleaders, composers, arrangers, and directors … “Mr Belt and Suspenders”, himself: Russ Little!! Russ is one of the funnest and funniest guys I know with a sound that’s as big and beautiful as his personality. This year, he’s bringing with him a quartet that has literally worked with pretty-well every major artist ever known to mankind. (Sure, I may be prone to exaggeration at times, but NOT this time!)
On piano, we have a musician, composer, arranger, producer, and fantastic curry-maker (or so I’ve been told … he keeps saying he’ll make one for me, but I still haven’t had the honour) who’s worked with Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, k.d.lang, Marvin Hamlisch, Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, Bobby McFerrin, and many others … a man whose name is harder to spell than many Eastern European countries: Tom Szczesniak.
Playing bass is a gentleman who’s quite possibly performed in every pit orchestra of every major theatrical show that’s hit a Toronto stage … and he’s got the war-wounds to prove it. He’s worked with artists that have ranged from Jazz great Rob McConnell to angst-ridden pop songstress Alanis Morissette (little known fact: Alanis modeled her band-leading career after that of Rob) … it’s Scott Alexander!
And finally, on drums, we have someone who is as quick with his wit as he is with his paradiddles! He’s another multi-talented artist who’s worked in every musical style imaginable, from Ellington-inspired big bands (under his own leadership), to classical bassoon quartets with Georgian polyphonic folks singers (I kid you NOT). It’s the tap-dancing drummer: Brian Barlow!
It’s always an interesting experience choosing the musical “Friends” who will join us as guests each night. Like Carol Burnett, combining her talents with those of Julie Andrews, Phillis Diller, Sid Ceaesar, Peggy Lee, Rock Hudson, Cher, Carol Channing, Carl Reiner, Ruth Buzzi, Charo, (wait! who are we kidding? there’s NO ONE like Charo!) we wanted to invite folks who were not only very musically talented, but who also brought with them tremendous entertainment skills, and the ability to do slap-stick gags at a moment’s notice. Well, this year, I think we hit the mother load!!
We are starting out the series – and the festival – on our opening night, with one of the country’s most talented musicians, singers, songwriters, and a recent Juno-nominee. Her latest CD is appropriate called “New” and features her signature style of nostalgia-based swing music. She wins the hearts of each and every audience member, it’s Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing: Alex Pangman. (Friday, June 24)
The second night of the series features the brilliant combination of Jazz, Musical Theatre, Comedy, and Cabaret. We are welcoming Broadsway, featuring Yours Truly, along with Theatre veteran Diane Leah, and Jazz-Blues songstress Julie Michels. This promises to be the widest variety of styles, bringing together everything from Sonny Rollins to Burt Bacharach (and, yes, maybe some Charo!) (Saturday, June 25)
We skip ahead a week for a Canada Day celebration that sees us welcoming home one of our own who, since her move to New York, has charmed music fans and critics alike with her clever songwriting, and sultry delivery. Her sound is sophisticated and cool and we can’t wait celebrate with a great Canadian Jazz talent Melissa Stylianou! (Friday, July 1)
And finally, we are closing the series with one of this country’s smoothest, sexiest, and sweetest vocalists. He’s a sort of a mix of Sinatra, Tom Waits, and James Dean. He’s an incredible composer, arranger, music director, pianist, and producer in his own right, and is a definite fan favourite. We’re thrilled to close the Heather Bambrick and Friends series with the fabulous John Alcorn! (Saturday, July 2)
You can find out more information about each show – and all of the amazing music featured as a part of the Jazz Festival – by visiting the Toronto Jazz Festival website.
In the meantime, we hope to see you for one – or all – of our Heather Bambrick and Friends series:
Aaannnnnnd, if you’re wanting to know more about other shows throughout the summer and into the (shhhhh … don’t say it!) Fall (aurgh! you said it!) simply visit the SHOWS page on my website. (Oh! And you can also sign up for very occasional e-mails to find out what’s going on with my music, my dogs, my gardening, my hair care products – or maybe just my music – by clicking here.)
Thanks for reading this. Hope to see you at the Home Smith Bar.
Until next time, take good care!!