May Columns

There must have been a record number of Toronto area jazz musicians attending the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans this April. There were three of us Canadians in the KBR band, several from the Happy Pals; five members of the Don Valley Stompers, and the Toronto-based Magnolia Brass Band members who marched down Bourbon Street yet again. There also were many individual Canadian musicians who sat in with us here and there.

When most of us left for our home countries on the Monday or Tuesday after the French Quarter weekend, many were feeling rather sad, as we considered the possibility that we had played in Fritzel's Bourbon Street pub for the last time. We had repeatedly heard that Fritzel's, the meeting point Mecca for visiting International jazz musicians for as long as I can remember, might be making major changes musically. Those of us who went to New Orleans this year will be even more pleased that they made the trip if that's true. We'll hope for the best, however -- that the old traditions will be maintained.

On the brighter side, we were all very pleased to see a new venue open with the intention of catering to visiting international musicians and providing them with a place to perform. The back patio of the Mississippi River Bottom pub, located at St. Phillip and Decatur, had been converted into a band concert area, with a decent-sized covered stage, reasonably priced beers, friendly service and an efficient kitchen, serving tasty and quick meals at reasonable prices.

All this was the brain child of Ralf Black and his wife. Ralf is a hardworking jazz fan and a "go-getter" with the faith and energy to succeed in his ventures. Most of the visiting bands played at this new venue (it is abbreviated to MRB on the outside sign, if you go looking for it), and it was popular. We do hope it continues to be successful. Ralf was the manager of Fritzel's for a few years in happier days before the death of the founder/owner "Dutch" Seutter.

Back in Toronto, the buzz is all about the concert set for May 4th and held in the name of the late Jeff Healey. Numerous bands and individuals offered their services, and, at press time, it looked to be a sell-out. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to the Healey family trust and a cancer fund. The concert was held at Healey's Roadhouse, 56 Blue Jays Way, Toronto.

Bands performing: Climax; Happy Pals; Hot Five Jazzmakers; Silverleaf; Rainbow Gardens Orchestra; Grande Bouche Swingtette; the Jazz Wizards with Terra Hazleton. Other individual musicians and singers: Vince Giordano; Marty Grosz; Brad Kay; Mose Scarlett with the Whiteley Brothers and Shakura S'Aida. That's a lot of action, even for a five-hour show!

In London Ontario, the London Jazz Society will celebrate its 25th anniversary on June 1, and the Hot Five Jazzmakers (augmented to their concert seven piece) will be the visiting band for this occasion. The concert starts at 2 p.m. and will be held at the Mocha Shrine Centre, 468 Colborne Street , London, Ontario, Canada. Ticket information can be obtained from President Al Burton at (519) 433-4789.

On April 26 Kitcheners Lancaster Jazz Club featured New Orleans Express from Pembroke, Ontario. This was their second appearance here. May 3 will see the Figleaf Jazz Band from Barrie on stage, and the club closes its season May 10 with Dinny & the All Stars.

If you have any news of Canadian interest, please contact me at briantowers@msn.com.

THIS JUST IN: British trumpeter/radio host Humphrey Lyttelton died on Friday, April 25, 2008, at 7 p.m. This is a great loss to British jazz and to all of us with a love for traditional jazz.

He was a tremendous influence on my generation of musicians and a great inspiration to those who grew up with jazz in the 1950s and 1960s.  I would rate him one of the top two or three jazz musicians and bandleaders in importance from the post-second war period.

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May 2008 issue | © 2008 The Mississippi Rag

P.O. Box 19068, Minneapolis, MN 55419.