The TD Niagara Jazz Festival has just announced its spring lineup for its Jazz and Blues Series at the Hare Wine Co and it includes some of the biggest names in Canadian jazz.
It kicks off this Monday, April 3, with the all-star septet The Canadian Jazz Collective.
The group is fronted by saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, guitarist Lorne Lofsky and trumpeter Derrick Gardner.
“This is really big news,” says festival co-creator and executive artistic producer Juliet Dunn. “We couldn’t ask for a better beginning for the fifth edition of the Twilight Series on this, our 10th anniversary year.”
The CJC is the brainchild of artist manager Judith Humenick, who had a feeling that putting together a group of powerhouse musicians, each with their own seemingly endless string of both live and recorded credits, would create something special.
“She wanted to establish all three of us more widely in the European market,” says MacDonald on the phone from Toronto. “I had worked with Derrick, and also with Lorne before, and Judith thought we would have good chemistry together, a nice blend of personalities between us.”
Accompanied by pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and clarinetist Virginia MacDonald, the trio embarked last year on a trip to Villingen, Germany, where they connected with drummer and German native Bernd Reiter. There, they recorded the eight original compositions that make up their debut album, Septology - The Black Forest Sessions, out March 31.
A European tour followed, culminating in a performance at the famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London.
“We had a wonderful time,” MacDonald says. “The response was fantastic, standing ovations at every gig. I think as good as everybody plays in the group, there’s a special kind of energy when we all play together. We’re real simpatico, musically and personally. It’s very special.”
Scheduled to head back to Europe in May to promote the new album, Humenick has booked the septet for a number of gigs in Ontario and Quebec, including the show in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The first two tracks from the CJC album are available to hear now on streaming services. Dig That, written by Gardner, showcases the trumpeter’s chops with a cool jazz tempo set by the rhythm section. Lofsky’s The Time Being gives freedom to pianist Dickinson to shine like the composer’s former bandleader, Oscar Peterson.
“We’re all accomplished composers,” MacDonald explains. “Original compositions is what this group is all about. When we do these concerts we play repertoire from the recording, and you’ll be hearing other things as well. We will occasionally add a standard or two, something from Horace Silver or Wayne Shorter.”
The Humber College Jazz faculty member and two-time Juno Award winner goes on to speak of the vast knowledge of the genre that each member brings to the CJC, and he insists that the combo’s youngest member, clarinetist Virginia MacDonald, is just as accomplished as her bandmates.
“She is equal to anyone in the group,” the proud father says of his 27-year-old daughter. “She is a world class musician. She’s turned into an incredible virtuoso. Her approach to music was never a technical one. There was always a depth in her playing even when she was very young. Probably from being around music all her life.”
In fact, with Virginia in demand recently on albums by trombonist Michael Dease, drummer Sanah Kadoura and Juno Award winning singer Caity Gyorgy, the CJC has actually had to work around her schedule. But she was able to make the trip last year to the Black Forest.
“Touring with her is fantastic,” MacDonald adds. “The way people respond to her musicianship is really quite something. She really captures a room with her energy and the sound of her music. She really draws people into her playing. And the other guys in the band love her.”
MacDonald says each member of the group brings something unique to the band.
“It truly is an all-star band,” he says. “And at the same time, nobody comes in without their ego truly in check. No one comes in with any kind of attitude. This is a band of leaders working together in a group context. We’re as good as anything you’ll hear on any given night.”
On April 17, London-born bassist, former St. Catharines resident, Lakeport Secondary School and Brock University grad Duncan Hopkins brings a quartet featuring Reg Schwager, Ted Quinlan and Ted Warren to the Hare Wine Co. The bassist will be leading a tribute to another former resident of the Garden City, the late trumpet and flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler.
The series shifts to a Sunday night on April 30 to celebrate International Jazz Day. Fittingly, the surefire future international jazz sensation Caity Gyorgy appears at Hare that night.
At only 24 years old, the Humber College grad has already earned two Juno Awards — for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year in 2022 for her EP, Now Pronouncing: Caity Gyorgy, and just this month for her debut LP, Featuring.
Georgy brings a youthful, joyful exuberance to her own compositions that are often written in the style of the Great American Songbook. Her song Secret Safe won the grand prize in the Jazz category of the 2021 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Georgy’s third album, You’re Alike, You Two, a collection of Jerome Kern songs performed with pianist Mark Limacher, will be released in July.
The Twilight Jazz and Blues Series continues on May 15 with the Denielle Bassels Trio, and concludes Monday, June 5, with a night of blues from the Bentley Collective, featuring composer, singer and guitar player Brooke Bentley Blackburn.
Tickets for all TD Niagara Jazz Festival events can be purchased through niagarajazzfestival.com.