Jazz & Blues
“Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.”
~ Martin Luther King
It all started with the blues. Born in the American Deep South in the 1870s, with roots in African-American musical traditions, the blues inspired jazz, along with later musical genres including R&B, folk, and rock and roll. Jazz originated in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but really came to prominence in the “Jazz Age” of the 1920s – an era of energy and experimentation after the First World War. Today, jazz is seen by many music aficionados as “America’s classical music,” while the blues could be called the grand-daddy of North American popular music.
Jazz and blues in their purer forms have ebbed and flowed in popularity since their respective heydays and are currently in the midst of a resurgence – nowhere moreso than in Southern Georgian Bay, where jazz and blues can be heard in parks, bars, theatres, churches and concert halls throughout the region.
Collingwood Jazz & Blues at the Station has been a summer tradition since 2007, performed in Station Park behind the Collingwood Museum at St. Paul and Huron streets. The concerts initially drew small audiences of around 65 people, but word soon spread, and these days the Wednesday evening performances from mid-June to late August can see 500 to 700 people seated on the grass and in lawn chairs enjoying the music of bands such as Memphis Jones, Bad Luck Woman & Her Misfortunes, the Lisa Hutchinson Band, and Sol de Cuba & Pablo Terry.
This year’s line-up will comprise 10 shows on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., starting June 19 and running until August 21. “We have a variety of music and several new acts,” says Charlie Gudaitis, who heads up the South Georgian Bay Music Foundation, a registered charity that runs the program. “We have fabulous musicians, there’s just no other way to describe it; both local acts and big-name bands from the U.S.”
The concerts are free, completely accessible and open to all ages (in case of rain, the show will move indoors to the Harbour Street Fish Bar). Donations and sponsorships are accepted; the money raised goes to cover costs, with additional funds going towards high school music programs in the area.
Thornbury Jazzworks is another non-profit community group that uses its net proceeds to fund musical education in the area while putting on eight to 10 jazz concerts each year at the Blue Mountains Public Library in Thornbury (Jazz at the Library) and the Marsh Street Centre in Clarksburg (Jazz at the Marsh).
“Our mantra is to enhance the awareness of jazz music and to encourage excellence in the musical performance of notable works,” says Anthony Bauer, one of the volunteers behind the organization. “We look at jazz as an art form, and we feature the composers of the first half of the 20th century. Those 40 or 50 years were a treasure trove of works being composed in North America – we call it classic jazz.”
Those “classic” jazz composers include George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, whose works were made popular by jazz greats from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan to Canadians Oscar Peterson, Paul Anka and more recently, Michael Bublé.
“We are concentrating on the best possible compositions and what we call notable works, because there is lots of jazz music around and it’s so far-reaching that you have to be careful – there are lots of different definitions of jazz – so we chose the segment of jazz that can be called art. Jazz started in New Orleans with African Americans, but then composers combined traditional jazz with the European music of the time. There’s a close relationship between classical music and this segment of jazz.”
Upcoming concerts include the Noodle Factory Jazz Project April 26 at the Marsh Street Centre and jazz violinist Drew Jurecka May 24 at the library. The concert to end the spring program was still in the planning stages as this issue of On The Bay went to press, but will likely be held June 28. Most concerts feature a big band or “little big band,” with concert band instrumentation.
“We are able to attract the top-notch jazz musicians in Ontario and maybe even in Canada,” says Bauer. “The artists who perform in our concerts, most of them are music educators as well. Almost every musician who performs for Thornbury Jazzworks has 20 or 30 years’ experience as a musician, educator, arranger/composer.” Past performers include Oscar Peterson’s favourite bassist, Dave Young, along with William Sperandei on trumpet, Andy Harasymczuk on guitar and Ethan Ardelli on drums. Southern Georgian Bay’s own Dean Hollin also performed a tribute to Nat King Cole on March 29.
If blues is more your style, head over to Stonebridge Wasaga Beach Blues, an international, award-winning fall music festival that welcomes thousands of blues fans each year. This year’s festival – the ninth annual – will run from September 13 to 15, with world-class performances on two main stages expected to draw about 5,000 people over the three days.