Alison Young Quintet Coming To Meaford

Friday August 3rd brings the Alison Young Quintet to Meaford for the third show of the Meaford Summer Concert Series.  Each concert is under the open sky in the parking lot beside Meaford Hall.

Alison Young is a sax player, originally from Ottawa, who has become one of the most in-demand players in the Toronto jazz scene, performing regularly in venues like The Rex, The Jazz Bistro and The Reservoir Lounge, contributing to several albums and touring around the world with a variety of bands.

“That’s basically how I travel,” she says, “I’m lucky enough to work with a lot of groups that work in Europe. Last year it was Singapore and South America. It was great!”

After playing with R & B bands as a teen, before attending the music program at University of Toronto, her featured performances in the National Youth Jazz Ensemble at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2001 and 2002, inspired one critic to note:

“The stun is witnessing phrasing and technique indicating decades of practice and study, coming from a girl too young to have done any of that. She plays alto with an authority and command beyond her short years…performing with the facility and inventiveness of a much more mature musician.”

Downbeat magazine has noted her “endless creativity and flair”.  Last year she was chosen as one of the ‘Best 35 jazz Canadian Jazz Artists under 35’ by the CBC.   Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen writes “her melodic maturity rises above the music”, while the Whole Note Magazine says “Alison Young takes musical chances, and has something to say”.

She knew from a very young age that this was the life for her.

“In junior high I had a really great band teacher and she actually ran a stage band.  That was the first time I heard swing music and I was like: ‘What is this?  I need to do this!’  So I got my parents to rent me a saxophone and taught myself basically for the first little while and then never looked back.”

Praised even at a young age for the maturity and tone of her playing, she explains, “I played along with records and just kind of wanted to capture that full sound.  That’s always been important to me.”

Her initial jazz inspiration from listening to big bands blended with an appreciation of R & B picked up as a teenager.

“When I was seventeen and eighteen, my first gigs were playing in a soul cover band.  We played these little bars in Ottawa and in Hull and I thought this was so cool.

“I love that music.  When they hired me they said, ‘OK, just check out the movie, The Commitments.’  It was basically that repertoire so that got me into Aretha Franklin and Solomon Burke and all these R & B artists.

“A lot of the gigs I do in Toronto are R & B gigs.  When I play as a sideman with several bands, I do that kind of music and I also play a lot of jazz.  I play a lot of both and I’m still trying to figure out which one is my sound, or can they both be my sound?  And I think I’m heading in that direction: just do both.”

But the experience of a big band in full swing still lures her.

“I’ve been playing with the Jim Galloway Big Band in Toronto,” she says, “which is all older Basie charts and Ellington charts.  So it’s like going back to my roots because that’s the first jazz I listened to and I was so excited about it.”

Alison has been leading her own band in various formations since 2012, which has allowed her to compose and arrange for combinations from duo to septet.  Among her many recorded performances as a session player, her compositions, recorded with the Heillig Manoeuvre and Red Hot Ramble, have been featured on JazzFM and CBC2.  She has a debut album of mostly originals ready to release.

“A lot of my songs are straight ahead and in the hard bop vein, a little bit funky but with jazzy chord changes.  Melody is my priority when I compose.”  She admits to influences more along the Stevie Wonder vein and isn’t through growing yet:  “I think next I’m going to try to get some rock and roll into the sound, because we’ve got Eric St Laurent on guitar and he’s a real rocker.”

The quintet playing in Meaford will include St. Laurent’s  “eclectic and energetic” guitar; Saskatchewan’s “hard swinging” Jeff McLeod on piano and organ; Chris Banks on the bass; and Chris Wallace on drums.  The repertoire for a Meaford Friday night will be “party jazz, funk and soul.”

The same precocious talent that has accelerated Alison Young’s career is evident in the opening act, singer/songwriter Miranda Journey.

Bring a camp chair and a contribution for the food bank to catch the 7 p.m. start.

Latin Grammy Winner Alex Cuba Headlines Weekend at Blue Mountain Village

On Saturday August 4th at 8:30pm Blue Mountain Village brings Latin Grammy and Juno Award Winner Alex Cuba to the Coca-Cola Village Stage, headlining the weekend’s Mosaic World Music Festival.

A musician since the age of four, Alex Cuba has in his veins the music of that tropical island whose name he has appropriated for the stage.  But his music is uniquely Canadian in spirit.

His Cuban music roots run deep. Seminal Cuban artists like Matamoros, el Benny and Compay Segundo filled his ears from infancy.   He played in his father’s ensemble of 24 guitarists alongside his twin brother Adonis Puentes, (who will be at Summerfolk this August), appeared as a teen on Cuban national TV, won a songwriting competition at the age of eighteen.

After studying electric and standup bass, he toured Cuba and internationally.  He was on a tour of Canada when he fell in love with a Canadian girl, Sarah Goodacre, daughter of a B.C. politician.  She returned with him to Cuba and they were married.  Later they emigrated to Canada, so that he could “creatively spread his wings” and to be close to Sarah’s’s family in Smithers, B. C.

In Smithers, he and his wife created an independent label Caracol Records, to distribute Alex’s music.  Working on their own, Alex and Sarah have built his career and a following in the Spanish-speaking world.  In Cuba, his music is not heard, in keeping with that country’s total rejection of artists who leave to find success elsewhere, abandoning the revolution.  Like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente before him, international success excludes the country of his birth.  Likewise in the U.S. labels still avoid Cuban artists, both in the aftermath of a longstanding blockade of trade between the countries and in anticipation of more of the same from the Trump administration.  He succeeds in spite of these drawbacks because what he offers has a distinctive difference.

Alex’s brother came to Canada as well and under the name the Puentes Brothers they made a great first impression on the Canadian music scene, picking up a Juno nomination nomination in 2001 for their first recording.  In 2004 they diverged into separate recording careers in Canada, but they continue to write together.

Not long after embarking on a solo career, Alex Cuba’s recordings on 2006 and 2008 won him Junos  for World Music Album of the Year.  Working from a Canadian base his music has had an impact on the Latin music world. He won Best New Artist at the 2010 Latin Grammy Awards, where his third album, self-titled, was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Album.  In 2011 he won a BMI Latin Award for his songwriting on Nelly Furtado’s #1 Spanish hit “Manos Al Aire” to which he contributed on more than half the songs.  In 2012, Alex received his second Socan Hagood Hardy Award for outstanding achievement in Jazz and World Music. And he continued to win Latin Grammies with every new release.

In 2016, his Latin Grammy win was as a singer-songwriter rather than for World Music, for an album which included duets with several Canadian artists, including Ron Sexsmith, David Myles, Alejandra Ribera and Kuba Oms.   His Canadian take on Latin music substitutes beautiful vocal harmonies and guitars for the horn riffs in the style of Beny Moré that normally punctuate Cuban music.  “Lo Mismo Que Yo,” his intoxicating duet with Sexsmith, became a hit in the UK Singles Chart, reaching #52.

Alex is aware that he sounds different from other Latin artists and he attributes that to his “Canadian identity”.

“I became a singer-songwriter, a producer, a musician in Canada. Canada has given me an identity,” he told Georgia Strait, “My music was made in Canada. No Latin artist in the Latin world can sound like me, because they don’t have this Canadian side that I have. They don’t have the situations, the inspirations, et cetera, that I have found in this country.”

Part of the Canadian influence on his sound is the guitar-oriented narrative tradition in Canada evolving from artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn to bands like The Tragically Hip.  Another part is the wilderness surrounding Smithers, where he has lived for fifteen years, which he credits with giving his music a more open and airy feel, and ensuring his themes have universal appeal.

“In Cuba,” he went on to tell Georgia Strait, “sometimes it’s all about the rhythm; it’s all about making you move, physically. But Canada, it’s different. It’s about making you move mentally, maybe making you move spiritually. You know what I mean? That inspired me to create that way, to incorporate that into my music—to pay more attention to the way I craft my music, my melodies, how many instruments I have on an album, et cetera, et cetera. It has given me a sound.”

Ironically many Canadians won’t understand his narratives because they don’t understand Spanish.  His music has a spiritual and rhythmic beauty that can be enjoyed even by someone who doesn’t understand the words, but like other Canadian artists, he has something important to say.  He cares about his lyrics.

It is special to him when he gets a chance to perform for “people that understand Spanish, that understand the power of my words,” he continues. “This has been happening for me in Mexico, as well. I’ve been playing solo shows down there; the last one I did, I played for 2,000 people on my own, and it was unbelievable—all those people singing my songs. I felt like a kid, you know? Like I wanted to play nonstop for four hours. It was beautiful!”

The Alex Cuba concert is the highlight of a weekend of world music at Blue Mountain Village that includes Bamkanda Drumming, Greek Dancing lessons, belly dancing, and the Beinn Gorm Highlanders, along with some great rock and roll from Sean Pinchin, The Summit Band and Alysha Brilla.

 It’s all free!

Chuck Jackson’s All Star Band Plays Meaford Summer Concert Series

By Bill Monahan

On Friday, July 27th, Chuck Jackson and The All Stars headline the second concert in the free Meaford Summer Concert Series, at Market Square in downtown Meaford (beside Meaford Hall).

Chuck Jackson, from his home base in Port Credit, has become familiar to fans of the blues in the Southern Georgian Bay area, where he has brought his talents to a number of different venues, with different band line-ups.  He is a highly respected blues singer and harmonica player, honoured in 2002 with a Blues With A Feeling Award from the Toronto Blues Society in recognition of his distinguished career.  He’s also won Maple Blues Awards in 1999 and 2007 for Male Vocalist of the Year.

Chuck Jackson with Donny Walsh of Downchild

Although he originally made his name as lead singer of the Cameo Blues Band, he joined the Downchild Blues Band in 1990, replacing their original vocalist Hock Walsh, and has been touring with the band ever since, along with contributing original songs to the band’s repertoire.  His All-Stars line-up usually includes Michael Fonfara and Pat Carey from Downchild as well.  He has often teamed up with Tyler Yarema, including a duo concert last year which packed the Gayety Theatre in Collingwood as a Chris Scerri Presents event.

In addition to his busy career as a performing musician, Chuck is the founder and director of Port Credit’s popular annual fall bluesfest, called the Southside Shuffle, which has been running for twenty years.  He relishes the opportunity through the festival to introduce some new acts to a devoted audience alongside the well-known headliners.  In an interview last year with Mississauga News, he pointed out the he had introduced Jimmy Bowskill to the festival when he was just eleven years old, and since then Bowskill has gone on to win Maple Blues Awards and has become a member of the Sheepdogs.

Chuck Jackson and Tyler Yarema

Chuck Jackson and Tyler Yarema

It’s expected that Tyler Yarema will join the All-Stars for the show in Meaford, which starts at 7 pm and runs rain or shine.

Opening for the band will be Sophie Wensley, a rising local talent with an engaging R & B style.

The Best of The Best To Start the Meaford Summer Concert Series

Joey DiMarco has been the go-to drummer for decades for gigs and recordings, working from his home base in Burlington.  He teamed up with Gabor Szepesi, who’s been providing keyboards for recordings and TV shows as well as live gigs since the 70’s.  The pair decided to draw on talented friends from their many years in music to create a gigging band they called The Collective.  The quality of their friends means The Collective is always on the money with a world class groove.

The Collective will be kicking off the Meaford Summer Concert Series on Friday, July 13th.  The band is made up of the best players you’ll hear anywhere.  When Chris Scerri says they have played with the Who’s Who of rock and R & B, movies and pop music, he means names like Iron Butterfly, Better Midler, Jack Dekeyser, Greg Godovitz, Grant Smith & the Power, Long John Baldry, Daniel Lanois, Etta James, Sharon, Lois and Bram as a small random sampling.

Guitarist Danny Weis co-founded Iron Butterfly but quit after their first album to co-found Rhinoceros.  After an album and a tour with Lou Reed, he was tapped to provide the sound track music (and hit song) for Bette Midler’s movie The Rose.

Danny had been born into music, the son of Johnny Weis, the famous Western Swing guitarist who once played with the Spade Cooley band.

“I fondly remember the years I would go see my dad, Johnny Weis, play guitar, backing people from the Grand Ole Opry at Bostonia Ballroom in El Cajon,” says Danny on his website, “I was age 9 to 12, and I used to stand right in front of the stage and lean on it with my elbows. I wasn’t too tall then, I guess. I remember Johnny Cash playing right in front of me with my dad backing him on guitar with the band. [Cash] always remembered me and would stoop right in front of me, saying, ‘Folsom Prison?’ I said yes with joy.”

In 2005 Danny Weis released a beautiful jazz album called “Sweet Spot”, about as far from Iron Butterfly as you can get.  Like the other players in The Collective, his wide ranging musical taste and pedigree can take you in any direction.

A common thread among the players in The Collective is that most of them played at one time or another in a legendary blues band called Sweet Blindness.  Lead singer of The Collective, Donnie Meeker rotated as lead singer in Sweet Blindness with the late Bobbi Dupont.

“The Toronto sound was the original Bluenote,” Michael Williams told Cashbox magazine, “we always had a soul thing going on because we were so close to Buffalo and Detroit…The big time for Sweet Blindness was opening for Kool and the Gang.”

In addition to touring with Sweet Blindness, Donnie Meeker becomes “Downtown Donnie” when he does a Blues Brothers thing with his own blues brother “Dirty Bertie”.

Max Breadner opens the show

Bring a camp chair and something for the food bank in time for the show to start at 7 pm with Max Breadner.  Max is a notable young local talent who has progressed from performing to song writing.  He’s played the Meaford Summer Concert Series before, and last year he opened for John Brownlow at The Red Door.

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