James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy, Pittsburg, PA

James St. Speakeasy

Plan on checking out the James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy next time you’re in Pittsburg, Pennsylvannia.  We discovered this cool place just a short walk from our hotel (The Priory – more about that later) on James Street, of course! Nice decor with lots of photo’s and paintings of jazz greats on the wall – the menu’s are inserted in old jazz record albums. Mine was Hubert Laws and Steve’s was The Best of Lester Young – neat idea. We both ordered the grilled chicken wings and a side of collard greens braised with pork – only in America. Generous servings and good to boot. They offer over 100 craft beers – we ordered a local beer, brewed in Pottsville, PA, called Yuengling – thumbs up. The Speakeasy is in the basement – very reminiscent of the prohibition days – they serve up live jazz & blues bands in the evenings. The restaurant is on the main floor which consists of a formal side and a casual lunch/bar side. The top floor has a banquet hall and on Friday nights they have swing dancing with a live swing band – does it get any better?? $5 cover includes a dance lesson from 7-8, then the band comes on from 8-11pm. We arrived promptly at 7,  our instructors, Lisa & Nick, taught the group a dance from the 30’s (?) called the Jitterbug – cool. Jitterbug is very similar to East Coast Swing (which is what we know). There were young people as well as people our age and beyond! We had a blast – the band, the James Street Swing Band, was outstanding and the dancers were great. We danced to almost every single song the entire night – whew! Nice time indeed. I look forward to coming back real soon to check out some local jazz and more swing dancing!

 

Humber College Sept 2013-April 2014

Wow, time sure flies – in case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been the last few months…well, I actually went back to school – Humber College, as a matter of fact. I have been playing with a number of big bands and concert bands over the years and wanted to get to that *next level* of playing & improv. I’ve always wanted to go to Humber and thought, well it’s now or never – after auditioning and actually being accepted, I began my new life as a student in the one year Jazz Performance Program.  I was so moved as I walked up to the school on Tues Sept 3rd, finally, finally, I was going to go to attend music school.  I bravely opened the door and breathed in the newest of the place where I would live and learn for the next 8 months.  I retired from my almost 35 year accounting gig to pursue my life long dream of attending Humber. Well, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come – you want me to do what by when?????  For example, in Song Materials class the expectation was to memorize a tune a week – naaaahhh, they can’t be serious – I’ve never memorized anything in my life…well, they were serious and yes, I actually did do it – we had to perform the weekly jazz tune, in front of the entire class, with rhythm section and we were marked on our performance!! Each and every week. OMG – REALLY!!!  I can’t believe I was actually able to do this, and sometimes even do it well!!  Keep in mind that this is just ONE CLASS, I also had Jazz Theory, Ear Training, Listening & Analysis, Ensemble, Improv, Keyboard, private lessons, Comm & Humanities courses to round out the year. Jazz bootcamp 101. Testing was constant and spent a ton of time in the “mod’s”. I was breaking new ground on most of the *jazz* courses – a lot of learning, challengeing on many levels but in the end most gratifying. I learned a lot of scales, chords, tunes, patterns, theory, how to hear intervals/chords/rhythms, play the piano, perform in a small group, transcribe a tune, and most of all….how to hear JAZZ! The young people were great and I enjoyed their enthusiam and dedication to the program. The professors and teachers are the real deal – they really know their stuff and most are great players themselves. Humber was a great experience and I plan to keep persuing my interest in jazz…and as I learned…this course is just the beginning of my jazz journey!!

Aug 18, 2013 Phil Dwyer & Laila Biali at Markham Jazz Festival

PHILA picture perfect day at Markham’s 16th annual Jazz Festival at the Millennium Bandstand in Unionville for an outstanding quartet performance of the great  Phil Dwyer on saxophone/piano, Laila Biali piano/vocals,  George Koller on bass and on the drums, Larnell Lewis.  The focus was on the Canadian Songbook eh!   Canadian’s honouring Canadian’s and having a lot of fun doing it!

They kicked off the show with a jazz inspired instrumental tribute to the legendary Ian Tyson.  Laila did an outstanding job on vocals and piano on Ron Sexsmith’s Secret Heart.  Jazz-infused treatments of Randy Bachman’s She’s Come Undone and Willie Nelson’s Crazy was stellar (Nelson had an aunt from Keswick!)Laila’s rendition of, Leslie Fiest’s,  Mushaboom was delightful and fresh.  A kickin drum solo by Larnell (a jazz drummer’s drummer!) to the opening of One Note Samba was outstanding.  One Note Samba was arranged by Biali for CBC some 10 years ago (was she 12?)  They also performed two tunes from the Joni Mitchell songbook – Woodstock featured Laila on vocals/piano – Laila really captures the heart of soul of  Joni’s lyric’s without sounding like Joni – Free man in Paris, arranged and played by Phil on piano & Laila on vocals was excellent.  Bruce Cockburn’s Stolen Land, a Jane Siberry tune and Ruth Lowe’s I’ll Never Smile Again rounded out the set.

George Koller, one of the best bassist’s around these parts, outdid himself today – great solo’s and whale sound work!!   Larnell Lewis, who is new to me, is one of the most sought after jazz drummers around – I can see why….absolutely wonderful.   Laila Biali is new to me too – I was blown away with not only her great vocals but great piano chops!  Wow – very impressive.

Phil Dwyer – what can I say except- he rocks!  To quote former Globe & Mail  journalist Mark Miller “startling jazz audiences with his unprecedented command of both tenor saxophone and piano…..extraordinarily authoritative playing since his late teens” – I couldn’t have said it better myself!

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August 17/13 The Bob Cary Orchestra

A picture perfect day at the Frenchmen’s Bay Yacht Club in Pickering, Ont this afternoon to honour a good friend of the band, Carlo Vanini, who is suffering from cancer.  The Bob Cary Orchestra graciously donated their time and talents to this worthy cause.  Carlo, one of the trumpet players in Bob’s orchestra, is currently in hospital, and could not be at his event.  We send out good healing thoughts to Carlo during this difficult time.

The band was outstanding – great charts – great players!  Vocal’s by Sharon Smith & Vincent Wolfe were awesome!  Most of the charts were written by Bob Cary himself.  Bob Cary, and a great trumpet soloist I might add, has been writing big band arrangements for over 40 years.  The band selections were fun, musical and danceable  – We danced all afternoon – it was great to see so many supporters of our friend Carlo.

We hope and pray that Carlo recovers completely!!

Aug 16/13 Maceo Parker – Markham Jazz Festival

A perfect summer evening outdoors at the Millennium Bandstand stage in Markham, Ont to see the legendary Maceo Parker & Company.   It’s not everyday a girl gets to dance on stage with one of the great funk alto sax players of all time!  A bit of a stray from my normal jazz type concerts but I love a good funk now and then and who better then the Mo’ Better Blues man himself Maceo Parker!  Great tunes – tight band!  I loved “the freeze” the band did at the end of the first tune-  a whack at the drum and the whole band just froze in place – just like the game we played as kids!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX1yDXQRdOg
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But child’s play this band is not – a well produced, energetic, a truly funky band  – they do what they do best (320 shows a year!) and they do it very well.  Maceo not only plays great sax – he sings, plays flute and has some great dance moves – he is very funny to watch.   They did pay homage to the “jazz” festival,  featuring piano and Maceo on sax, by playing a really up tempo version of Satin Doll.  The rest of the evening was pure funk….Pass the Peas, Make it Funky, Give me Some More were just some of the tunes performed last night – he also performed a soulful Charles-like rendition of You Don’t Know Me.  His daughter, Darlene Parker, who does great backup vocals also performed a powerful rendition of Stand by Me.  I was dancing the entire night as were so many others – Maceo really connects with his audience – when I got the eye to come on down to the stage, I didn’t hesitate – Wow!  A  Funkadelic night it was!!

Aug 15/13 Markham Jazz Festival Denzal Sinclaire & Elizabeth Shepherd

The city of Markham (Ontario) kicked off its 16th annual Jazz Festival with the great Canadian talents of Denzal Sinclaire & Elizabeth Shepherd at the Varley Art Gallery.  The Varley Art Gallery is a small but nice place to see a duet or trio – very cozy.

Denzal really showed off this talents at this concert, in addition to his cool vocal stylings he also played piano, drums and a melodica, also known as the blow-organ.  Denzal began the show with an acapella version of “Amazing Grace” that truly was amazing.  He followed up with the oldie but goodie You Treat Me So Good, great bass playing by Devin Henderson.  He then sang I’ve Got Rhythm &  I’ve Got the World on a String – Denzal played nice brushes on the drums for this tune.  The next tune was a great rendition of Mona Lisa -he played the intro on his melodica – nice touch – it’s tough to do such a well known Nat King Cole tune, but Denzal owns this tune.   You and the Night and the Music, one of my favourites tunes was next – great phrasing & delivery.  On the drums he did a tune that was new to me called The Ruby and the Pearl, written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who also wrote Mona Lisa), nice brush work, a haunting beautiful song.   He did a medley of I Can’t Stop Loving You, You Don’t Know Me, Be My Love and How Glad I Am; he ended off with just the bass and him snapping his fingers to a the Beatles tune, Eleanor Rigby. Nice, really nice –  I finally know what this tune is about!  Great show – well done!

Elizabeth Shepherd started the second half with a great rendition of Love for Sale – vocal & piano solo by Elizabeth, followed by a bass solo from the great Ross MacIntire, and finished off with a  vocal scat by Elizabeth. The bass play & drummer, Colin Kingsmore, also do great vocal harmonies and back ground singing with Elizabeth on a number of tunes – multi-talented!  The next tune was written by Shepherd, called Lonely House, haunting….  The next tune was in French – I didn’t catch the name – but it sounded beautiful – rich harmonies of the three – cool finger snapping from the drummer!  (Is this a new trend?)  She performed a couple more home grown tunes – one started with very primal beat with the bass – very cool – called People are Different in the Night & a solo piano vocal piece entitled Close Enough for Love.  The last tune was You Know How I Feel – nice transition from jazz to rock feel.  Her encore piece, Just for Now,  was what she felt was an appropriate benediction tune on which to end the night – no surprise here, she was raised by the ministers of the Salvation Army.   I quote from Do Right! Music column “As far as being a “jazz performer”, Elizabeth does not count herself as one to be defined by a particular genre; her music comes straight from the soul, and is more than just what she does, but what she loves and who she is.”  Well said.

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