Keeping up with Miss Jones

Ever since my first year as a student in the University of Toronto's Jazz Performance Program I've understood that New York City is a hotbed of jazz activity. I've not spent a lot of time there, though, so last weekend I made the first of what I hope to be semi-regular jaunts south of the border. I think it will be helpful to keep track of certain emerging trends, meet new musicians, venue owners and presenters, and help to keep Toronto on everyone's jazz radar.

While I was down there I caught two great acts - the Bad Plus at the Blue Note, and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at the Galapagos Art Space. They were both excellent shows and well worth the price of admission (and airfare and transit fare and bar tab). I also met up with a few movers and shakers on the scene and was able to pick their brains a bit about jazz venues, where jazz is headed and what makes the New York scene so important.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to invigourate Toronto's jazz scene. I know comparing it to New York is hardly fair, but what exactly is the difference between the two scenes? They have world-class musicians; we have world-class musicians. They have excellent post-secondary jazz programs; we have excellent post-secondary jazz programs. They have a vibrant cultural scene overall; we have a vibrant cultural scene overall.

And so, in what could be one of the most hyperbolic oversimplifications in history, I'd like to suggest two main reasons why we're different: population and tourism. New York City has a population of over 8 million and in 2008 they had an estimated 47 million tourists visit; Toronto has a population of 2.5 million and in 2007 we had 10.5 million tourists visit. With four times the population and tourist visits, New York City is dealing with much higher demands for culture, transit (i.e. a way to get to culture), restaurants, etc. (According to everyone I spoke with in New York, for example, the Blue Note depends almost entirely on tourists - that's two shows a night, 200 people per show, every day of the year...)

However, these statistics don't tell the whole story. If we were really operating on a 1:4 ratio, we'd have at least 6 full-time jazz clubs in Toronto. And, as I talk to more and more people on the local jazz community, it's the number of jazz venues that seems to be the major challenge to this city's jazz scene.

The question is, can Toronto sustain more full-time jazz clubs? Two spaces that I saw in New York particularly intrigued me: the Galapagos Art Space and Le Poisson Rouge. Neither space is dedicated to any one art form. The Galapagos presents music, film, theatre, dance, acrobatics and more, and concentrates on presenting emerging and mid-career artists. Le Poisson Rouge primarily presents music, but that includes classical, contemporary, jazz, folk, electronica...and on Friday and Saturday nights the space is converted into happening dance parties. These models allow the space to be booked every day of the week, every week of the year, often times for two shows each day (especially at Le Poisson Rouge), without sacrificing the overall artistic integrity of the acts they present.

It's not clear to me if these models would work in Toronto, though the more I speak to people in a variety of arts organizations the more I think this is exactly the model that this city needs. What is clear is that we need more places for our outstanding jazz musicians to play. And, if that means creating a shared space, where great art of all kinds can be presented, then I think we should give it some thought.

What do you think - how can we give the local community the year-round support it needs?


P.S. - I had the pleasure of taking in Caitlin Smith's Tiny Alligator Large Band at the Music Gallery last night. It was an excellent night of creative writing and outstanding performing, featuring a great mix of established and emerging local musicians. Keep your eyes and ears open for this band...

P.P.S. - The Rex Hotel continues to program a great mix of the best in local and international jazz talent. Next week is their Power Jazz Guitar Trio Festival featuring Wayne Krantz with Tim Lefebvre & Keith Carlock (April 21 & 22) then Oz Noy with Will Lee & Anton Fig (April 23 & 24). Then, on Monday night April 26, catch John MacLeod's Rex Hotel Orchestra, which features twenty of this city's best jazz musicians.

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