Friday, November 17, 2006

A homecoming... of sorts

In a matter of hours, I'll be heading to Toronto, mainly for a family event but also to play a gig at Tranzac Friday evening at 7:30, with my friends and accomplished musicians Michael Herring and Nick Fraser. It's an evening of firsts: my first time at Tranzac (as an attendee or performer); my first time ever playing with Nick, though I've seen him play so frequently these past few months I feel as though I have; the first time a lot of this music is going to be played in my "hometown."

It'll be an interesting visit, as I haven't been back in about two and a half years, a rather tumultuous time period in the city's cultural agenda. Toronto has its own indie-rock boom going on, thanks to, among others, the Broken Social Scene, and finally musicians like Herring, Fraser, and Joe Sorbara's Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto are gaining a foothold in the arts circles. There's also this whole buzzword of "Torontopia" which sounds nice, but I don't really understand what it's about. Yet two of the legendary jazz institutions have shut their doors, for better or for worse (and there's valid arguments on both sides), and I've heard off-and-on reports of artistic stagnation.

I've always felt that Toronto is a city far more accommodating of insularity than Montreal -- it's possible to function in a bubble. In Montreal, I'm not a film buff, but the Film Festival shuts down the city. Jazz Fest in Toronto was limited to Nathan Phillips Square and a handful of other venues, and it really was possible to ignore its presence. (I use the past tense because I haven't really been paying attention since I've lived here in Montreal.) On the other hand, Toronto always seemed to have a more consistent, if smaller, audience for creative music, whereas Montreal composer Charles Papasoff can rightly proffer the song title "You Only Love Me Two Weeks a Year."

I harbour ambivalence about Toronto - Kensington Market's cool, and there are some wonderful musicians there, a list of friends and colleagues too long to enumerate here. But, as of my last visit, I still find it overbearing, cold, and sterile a lot of the time. Maybe on this visit, that will change.


Joe Mason said...

Hey, we're in Toronto this weekend too! We're not getting in until 9:00, though, so we'll miss your show. I'll give you a call once we get into town in case you wanna hang out.

nd said...

David--good to catch you at the gig. Pity about the sparse attendance.... but, well, that's Toronto for you. & I enjoyed the music! -- Well, a jazz fest & film fest aren't comparable: I can assure you the Toronto film fest has a massive, unavoidable impact on the city during September! & in earlier years I remember the jazz fest itself as being more ubiquitous in Toronto--I remember for instance simply wandering around downtown in the early 1990s to see what I stumbled across (in one case it was a concert in a parking lot that turned out to be Leroy Jenkins' Sting!.... woo-hoo!). Nowadays it is indeed a pathetic shadow of itself, even if assiduous combing-through of the programme will yield a few worthwhile gigs (this year, Joost Buis & Vijay Iyer, among others). But basically the city's jazz scene is in rotten shape. -- I can't think of any way in which the disappearance of the Montreal Bistro & the Top o' the Senator could be considered positive--the range of programming might have been narrower than I would have liked but they were still essential pillars of the Toronto jazz scene & I'm extremely sad they're gone (esp. the Bistro).

Ryshpan said...

Joe - sorry I missed you. We got tied up and I didn't have time to do anything outside what was already planned.

Nate - first of all, good to meet you finally, and thanks for coming out. I agree that the Bistro and the Senator shutting down are not positive for the scene there, though it seems that the presence of creative music in Toronto has risen with their closures. I miss those clubs more as a jazz fan than as a musician - at least at the Senator (I never made it out to the Bistro), it was rather evident that they were never interested in booking acts that fell outside their stylistic or prestige requirements, so their closures don't really affect me in terms of where I could book a gig.