Starting a New Adventure: Kensington Market Jazz Festival, Toronto

Steve Koven

Wanting to enjoy yet another later summer weekend in southern Ontario, we had the good fortune of spending some quality time on Saturday afternoon/evening in the heart of Kensington Market to experience our first true taste of the Toronto jazz scene.  Having learned of this event just a few days beforehand courtesy of a popular jazz FM station, L quickly looked at the Saturday schedule of events and selected a few artists that we ought to see for ourselves.  Arriving and parking in the district with minutes to spare before the first artist was set to perform, we had no clue just how amazing these artists (and this event) would prove to be.

Our first stop was at “Tom’s Place” on Baldwin Street, where we took seats very close to the grand piano adjacent to the store entrance, and marveled at the on-site piano technician tuning every key by ear.  Shortly afterwards, we greeted Toronto pianist Jim Clayton to the stage, and became entranced with his unbelievable skills and mastery of the piano for the duration of his performance.  Accompanied by his friend and fellow musician Steve Lucas (equally amazing with the upright bass), these gentlemen demonstrated just how versatile and ‘outside the box’ jazz musicians can be.  With both his original material, and some covers of classics (including a Miles Davis tune that changed direction and closed as a Beatles cover), Jim Clayton gave us a wonderful introduction to live jazz piano.

Giving a nod to his “Songs My Daughter Knows” album, Jim performed “Autumn Leaves” and eventually closed with his popular rendition of the well-known “The Rainbow Connection.”  Stories and jokes were interweaved with each piece, notably how this was actually his birthday (Happy Birthday was performed by the audience to celebrate), and that he was wearing a brand new jacket that caught his eye in the back of Tom’s Place.  We were able to chat briefly with Jim after the show, and are grateful for his time and interest in our blog.  We definitely hope to see more of Jim Clayton again soon.

A short walk later and we arrived at Lola on Kensington Avenue, where Shannon Butcher and Ross MacIntyre were setting up for their performance.  Scoring seats directly opposite the artists, we would have a taste of a terrific vocal jazz duo, with Shannon on lead vocals and Ross playing the upright bass (plus providing backing vocals).  And both artists displayed amazing chemistry from the opening track (a cover of the Patsy Cline classic “Walking After Midnight”), with Shannon’s vocal range blending perfectly with Ross’s impeccable bass tones.  Having known each other since high school, and playing together since their college days, this chemistry had strong roots.  Emphasizing their “How Sweet It Is” album, the duo performed great renditions of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Here Comes The Sun” to a packed Lola (both indoors and outside on the patio).

With Shannon adding ukulele on one track, both she and Ross would offer up a duet and belted out a ‘jazz’ version of the Bryan Adams hit “When You’re Gone.”  Shannon would even reminisce, and state that we all needed some “more Mel C in our lives.”  Returning one final time to the “How Sweet It Is” album, the duo closed their 10-track set with the opening song from the album; a cover of the James Taylor classic “Fire And Rain.”  So now we had a taste of vocal jazz, and enjoyed this too.  We struck up a short conversation with Shannon and Ross immediately after their set, and found them to be both charming and friendly, and once again, yet more Canadian musicians had become part of our full time listening pleasures.

After taking time to explore Kensington Market, we made our way to The Supermarket on Augusta Avenue.  We had anticipated this opportunity to experience the music of the Steve Koven Trio, and took our place early in what would become a long line of music lovers.  Once settled in the dedicated music room at the rear of The Supermarket, composer and pianist Steve Koven was welcomed to the stage, along with Henry Heillig (upright bass) and Anthony Michelli (drums).  With an extensive list of material at his disposal, Steve joked that all of the songs played tonight would be his own compositions.

The trio would open with “Lola Land,” a piece that Steve dubbed “a fun little funky tune” that he wrote about his cat.  This was followed by the Mexican festival influenced “Cervantino,” and “Like A Little Bird,” a new track dedicated to his late mother.  The Steve Koven Trio would perform eight piano based tracks in total (with both bass and drums receiving their share of the spotlight at times too), before closing with two tracks in succession from their recent “Beyond The C” album – “Waterfall” and “Lily Love,” which Steve dedicated to his wife, who was present in the audience.  All three musicians displayed their amazing talents for everybody in the room to fully enjoy, and it was a shame that the show had to come to an end – at least for this audience, as the trio were ready to pack up, and do it all over again at another venue later that evening.

The Kensington Market Jazz Festival was a fantastic experience for Team GDW, and allowed us to gain some familiarity with this genre.  Each of the three acts that we witnessed proved to be incredibly gifted artists, and we are definitely keen to add this annual weekend of jazz music to our calendar for 2018.  With so many new artists available to us from within the Toronto jazz scene, we strongly welcome any recommendations as to who we should definitely try to see live.

~ M

Visit Jim Clayton’s website.

Visit Shannon Butcher’s website.

Visit Ross MacIntyre’s website.

Visit the Steve Koven Trio’s website.

Listen to our Spotify playlist of these terrific artists.

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