A perennial Music Niagara Festival favourite returns just in time for a Cool Yule virtual party.
On Wednesday, Dec. 23, the Toronto All-Star Big Band – A Christmas Celebration will be aired via the Music Niagara website and YouTube channel.
The band’s artistic director, Zygmunt Jedrzejek, is looking forward to a return to NOTL as their usual summer appearance at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery for Music Niagara was cancelled in August.
“Music Niagara audiences have been wonderful for us,” Jedrzejek says. “At Ravine, year after year, the tent is filled and the audiences have been enthusiastic, which fuels the young performers as well. It’s a win-win situation. We enjoy coming to a spectacular part of Ontario, and the audience seems to enjoy the brand of music that we play.”
The Toronto All-Star Big Band (TABB) has become known over the years as one of the most intense and stimulating youth music programs in Canada. They’ve worked with some of the biggest Canadian and international names in jazz and swing, and many of their members have had success in their own bands as well.
TABB usually plays approximately 80 dates per year, with 30 of them happening during the summer months. All of their summer gigs were cancelled, as was their regular Music Niagara Christmas show, usually held at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Music Niagara general manager Karen Lade says both of TABB’s yearly appearances sell out quickly, filling up to 250 seats each.
Jedrzejek assumed the Christmas show wouldn’t be happening, and was delighted to get the call from Lade about next week’s virtual performance.
Out of necessity, the big band becomes a not-so-big band for the upcoming program. “Bringing a big band with the protocols that are necessary would be almost impossible,” explains Jedrzejek. We’ve had a handful of recent performances, mostly virtual, but we haven’t even tested having 17 musicians on stage with two metres separation, trying to perform safely. So we are bringing a combo instead.”
That combo includes 2020 Juno Award winning drummer (with his band Turboprop) Ernesto Cervini, and TABB conductor and pianist Jesse Whitely. Saxophone phenomenon Anthony Rinaldi and Juno nominee Daniel Fortin on double bass round out the instrumentalists. The musicians are joined by two vocalists: recent Humber College Bachelor of Music graduate Alisha Oliver and Donovan Locke, a member of TABB since 1999.
Jedrzejek says he and the musicians love to do these swinging Christmas concerts. “The majority of the Christmas repertoire was written in the 1930s and 1940s,” he says, “which of course would lend itself to big band music. In the 30s and 40s, big band music, jazz and pop were basically the same.”
The performance was recorded this week in the beautiful setting at Willowbank Estate, beginning a new partnership between the School of Restoration Arts and Music Niagara Festival. Jedrzejek promises a mix of swinging Christmas favourites, chestnuts that people may not have heard before, and well-known big band standards to get you up cutting a rug in your living room. Expect arrangements from the likes of Les Brown, Louis Armstrong, the Andrews Sisters and Harry Connick Jr. as part of the show.
The Toronto All-Star Big Band – A Christmas Special can be seen Dec. 23 at 4 p.m. on Music Niagara Festival’s website or YouTube channel.