Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wanda Stafford

Wanda_StaffordI'm a big fan of Marc Myer's Jazz Wax column - it's so well written and knowledgeable and I'm always learning something new...or undiscovered.

Witness the album pictured above for example. Recorded in 1960 by fledgling vocalist - but with great pipes - Wanda Stafford with a great band including the legendary Bill Evans. Initially the young singer wanted a friend of hers on the piano bench but said friend convinced her that she shouldn't miss the opportunity of working with his replacement! Her voice is in the vein of the cool stylings of June Christy and I would say Irene Kral.

Read more at Marc Myer's Jazz Wax column..suffice to say Miss Stafford briefly burned bright and gave it all up to raise her young daughter. Miss Stafford never completely disappeared,  she has been busy recording and performing live - witness her 2011 release pictured below (among others). She lives in the San Francisco Bay area

Not really jazz related - except for the 20's era jazzy theme song is "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" - an Australian series I've gotten hooked on via Queen Video....the jazz age era sleuth is a cool customer - smart, wry, gorgeous and possessing a stunning wardrobe..she is the nemesis/sparking partner of a Melbourne police inspector Jack Robinson. Divine! I am on series two - must get series one and I gather there is a series three in the making.

Someone even has a blog called " all about Phyrne (fry knee) - what an amazing name...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sublime Norma

What a rare treat to hear the wonderful British vocalist Norma Winstone at the Jazz Bistro last night. She was in fine form and the audience was filled with great musicians and vocalists - Mike Murley, Jim Vivian, Don Thompson, Fern Lindzon, Beverley Taft and Maureen Kennedy to name a few... you just know the performer is highly respected when so many talented individuals show up in the midst of the jazz festival.

Relaxed in slim fitting jeans and blazer and sporting a tasselled sparkling necklace that I soooo covet - she delivered a magical evening covering tunes written by her fellow trio members - from Germany Klaus Gesing on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and Glauco Venier  a proud Italian on piano. There were even some soccer references.

Highlights included a fanastic opening number - Nick Drake's "Time of No Reply" and Madonna's (!) "Live to Tell"...which never sounded so good. It was nice to be in the room with a focused and receptive audience and to see the trio having a great time and working seamlessly together. As one of her encores she performed the timeless Cole Porter - "Every Time We Say Goodbye".

Right now I'm listening to her latest CD - " Dance Without Answer" - lovely and ethereal. I just love the instrumentation. Norma Winstone is so adept at choosing great material and musicians you know you will not be disappointed. The last time I heard her was at another stellar concert at the CBC - with Fred Hersch. It has been too long since my Norma fixes..maybe I need to visit Britain again? :)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Williamsburg, aka Hipster Central, Brooklyn

After a fantastic few days in Manhattan it was time to venture into new territory - across the East River to Brooklyn.

There we were meeting up with my dear friend Richard and staying in a wonderful AirBandB find in Williamsburg near Bedford Avenue - a hot spot in this oh so happening area. Our host, Paul left a lovely basket of cereal, chocolate, coffee and snacks for us as well as almond milk in the fridge and permission to eat and drink what we liked from the fridge and pantry.
Richard and I enjoying the view of Manhattan

On our first night in Brooklyn we decided to check out "Champs" an amazing vegan diner - it was such fun - great atmosphere and food. A blast from the past.

Here's where we stayed:

I highly recommend you check out AirBandB - Richard said the previous place he stayed was also fabulous! His host Donald showed him around the neighbourhood.

On Saturdays down by the water where we were last night - near B......street is something called "Smorgasburg" - a cornucopia of food offerings - many vegan including the famous "Dun-well Donuts" - which lived up to the hype - F had a chocolate peanut butter pretzel one and I am ashamed to say I forget what I had save to say it was delicious! I also got yet more tea from Bellocq - Queen's Blend - with lovely roses and Hindu Holiday a spice filled rooiboos chai.  We also had yummy tempeh dish..further down the street on Sundays is a flea market which also has some artisans - I bought a very cute mug there from SKT ceramics...

If you're interested and you should be - head up to Greenpoint to visit the Dun-well Donuts shop and also have pizza at Paulie G's - I had the InagoddadaVegan one - with fennel sausage...even better the next day! Also check out Achillelle's Heel bar...

I really enjoyed the area - shopping at Meg - one of my faves here in Toronto, checking out the coffee shops, Mast Brothers chocolate - FREE SAMPLES! - pretending to be sophisticated and enjoying an absinthe cocktail at La Maison Premier, eating at Wild Ginger, Egg and more. We found a tea place on our last day called Tea Bar - must remember that for when we return.

I also got the opportunity to dine at Franchia in Manhattan on Saturday night as we were meeting up with Monique and Norma to go to the Kitano Hotel to hear Denny Zeitlin, Buster Williams and our favourite drummer Matt Wilson - fantastic, hot show! I just love watching Matt Wilson play.

Richard and I also got discount tickets at the Tkts booth in Seaport - much less busy that Times Square if you don't mind going off the beaten path to see Pippin thanks to the very helpful young information man outside the ticket booth. How can you go wrong with Bob Fosse choreography, Annie Potts, a great cast and a cirque du soleil influenced background?

Sadly our sojourn had to come to an end but I'm so glad I checked out Williamsburg - next time I could explore more the was just fun to walk around and check out all the shops. By the way there is a great kitchen ware store called "Whisk" on Bedford.

On Saturday, with the unexpected access to a vehicle we decided to check out a veg restaurant we were curious about in Markham called "Wu Tai". After being stuck in traffic and having to do a detour we had about half an hour before we had to return to Toronto to go and see Denzal Sinclaire and Kurt Elling in concert at Koerner Hall.

The staff were so lovely and accommodating, the venue is very glamourous and the food delicious - we will be back when we can have a more relaxed dining experience. In the meantime, we are enjoying the leftovers!

Yesterday we had the privilege of celebrating not only Mother's Day but Sophie's dedication (she is my great niece) or as my friend Richard calls it - "Gals Are Great Day" so no one feels left out. I am really mom to two furry someones - Lester and Billie. Here's a photo of Meredith and Sophie and also one with Meredith's mom - my sister in law Becky - she is on the left.

Friday, May 9, 2014

New York, New York, it's a hell of a town...

Well, more of heaven really if you love theatre, art, jazz, shopping, food...I could go on. Central Park was filled with blossoms - see photo to the left, a gorgeous cherry tree in full blossom - Fraser had to take a photo because my outfit matched! Yes, I am all about matching the flora wherever I go..

Our first night there (staying at Riverside Tower again) we had dinner at Candle 79 - delicious!

We had fiddleheads and morels as a starter as well as Spinach Ravioli....

 Fraser had a crepe, I forget what I had - but it was a special - I really need to be journalling these things!
 For dessert a chocolate peanut butter concoction.....

On Tuesday we decided to check out "Smalls" a funky little jazz club in Greenwich Village. We chose to eat dinner at "The Hummous Place" - which I believe has 3 or 4 locations - it was yummy. We forgot to take pictures - but had natch, hummous and I think a few appetiziers. Our friend Monique had a delicious cocktail with anise in it.

"Smalls" is kind of like visiting someone's rec room  - it's very cozy. The band was great - the Enzo Carpentieri quartet - particularly the guitarist Yotam Silberstein and the cocktails were amazing as was our bartender. One of the wonderful finds at the club was artist Robert Kendall who paints the band as they are playing - he was waiting to paint a big band that came on later in the evening. Monique bought one of his works which featured her friend Lew Tabackin...check him out at - the gallery doesn't begin to do justice to seeing his work in person - you can see one of his works to the right...

One of the not so pleasant things was the drummer's yappy girlfriend and her friends in front of us, fortunately she became absorbed in using her ipad. The two showed up the next night at the Jazz Standard but were seated far far away from us.

On Wednesday - one of the most torrential rains I've ever experienced - we were excited to go and see "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" with Audra McDonald (4 time Tony winner). Lunch was at Cafe Blossom...I had a fettucine dish and Fraser the salad special...

Now onto the play..

We were astounded from the first note - it was shiver-time, spooky how phenomenally well she captured Miss Billie - if you are in NYC and a Billie fan - you must go and see this production. Audra captured the essence of Lady Day - recounting the people and places and incidents in her life - from the highest of heights to the lowest of lows - racism, prison, bad choice of men but great choice of musical partners. Stunning.

Later on that evening we caught Hillary Kole at Iridium - we shared a tiny table with her a few years back when we were fortunate enough to catch Blossom Dearie. She is an amazing performer - I think she should do a show at the Jazz Bistro..anyone listening. She is charming, talented and nice. Rex Reed says so.

What a difference a day makes - after a long, rainy day - surprisingly we were able to get a cab to the theatre on Wednesday, but it was a matinee - the sun came out so we decided to venture down to the Lower East Side to shop at Moo Shoes and go to the Tenement Museum.

We had brunch at Peacefood Cafe - one of my favourite spots - again, we forgot to take pictures because we were enjoying ourselves too much - I'm pretty sure there was a fantastic salad and also vegetable biscuits which were so good we had to get some to go..Monique got a maple scone which was also great.

While down on the Lower East Side and having another great tour of a tenement - this time the "Hard Times" tour we went in search of Lula's Apothecary - the clerk in Moo Shoes gave us some great suggestions on places to eat - especially in Brooklyn where he lives. One of them was Champs..more on that later...

En route we went to McSorley's Bar - one of the oldest in New York for a refreshing beer. It was fitting because like going to the Tenement Museum it felt like we were time travelling.

No signage we had to hunt the East Village. It's between Avenue A and B, 516 E 6th Street. There was scaffolding in front of the building, but seeing many people with ice cream cones on the street was a dead giveaway. We tried the peanut butter and chocolate chip - OMG, plus strawberry and some other delicious flavour which I now forgot..d'oh. Journal. Journal!

We happened upon a lovely little community garden down the block, open to the public...

 That's Monique and I enjoying our ice cream - it's made with cashews so that's why it tastes so rich and delicious.
There is a contribution box at the front if you want to support their efforts...

We also visited the exterior of this building that Charlie Parker lived in..and paid our respects to Bird. That night we saw the fabulous Clayton Brothers at the Jazz Standard.

On Friday lunch at Candle on Amsterdam - again scrumptious...

 I think this was tofu and kale salada and the dish below sauteed vegetables iwth artichoke. We also had a potato and leek? soup.
 Strolling over to Central Park we came upon another community garden - it was incredible!

I can't imagine the work that went into this garden - many dedicated volunteers - there are also vegetable garden plots here.  Next up, we take our leave of Manhattan and travel across the Brooklyn Bridge to Williamsburg for our next adventure....

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Cappella Jam at the Wychwood Barns

CSLH graphicThanks to one of our regular front desk volunteers at Jazz Fm , Jane I found out about this wonderful fun experience which happens  bi-monthly at the Wychwood Barns. It's called Circle Collective and is led by the effervescent Nicole Andre or Niki as she is known.

Isn't that a great enticement on the left? It's very true!!

It's also described as "mostly improvised, somes freestyle, always a capella".

There were about a dozen of us - most of us first timers with a range of ages and vocal experience - some admitted shower or even "stairwell" singers. Niki is a singer/songwriter who has studied with instructors from Berklee who in turn studied under the amazing Bobby McFerrin and were part of his original "Voicestra". If you've ever been to a Bobby McFerrin concert you know what an uplifting experience that can be!

We did some warm up and after determining our range were grouped with like individuals in a cozy circle. Niki started phrases and then gave each section their own phrase until we produced an amazing whole from interesting parts. Those who felt brave (not me this time) could step into the circle and "freestyle". I am not doing a great job on explaining it suffice to stay you have to come and experience this!

Niki said she realized after studying at Berklee that there wasn't anything like this going on in Toronto -so kudos to her for initiating this project.

Check out the website for upcoming collectives:

S Lefkowitz and appreciation of Jazz FM volunteers

S Lefkowitz Toronto
Photo from BlogTo. I think the hummous I had is on the right.

 In the former location of Ezra Pound - a mighty fine coffee shop is now one of the latest trends in Toronto - Mediterranean food and in this case homemade hummous. It is being referred to as a hummuseria.

I dropped in for lunch on a nice sunny day last week and enjoyed the hummous with warm olives which come with warm pita bread and also sipped a refreshing mint tea - made with fresh mint - how very springlike.

The owner - Ezra Braves is super smart to convert his place because as much as I love cafes, we are becoming a bit oversaturated with them.

There are variations on the hummous toppings - including some for meat eaters, eggs, tahini and labneh and also green salad as well as a medjool date concoction with mint and orange rosewater syrup. You can order snack size for full meal size - that was quite satisfying for my lunch. I can't wait to go back and enjoy the outdoor patio.

This past week was volunteer week and we had a wonderful (catered) celebration of our great Jazz FM volunteers - including moi at the station and a Live to Air concert. Jaymz Bee was our host with the most and it featured performances from Big Rude Jake, the delightful Barbara Lica, Heather Bambrick, math professor by day/crooner by night fabulous Sam Broverman and to my delight Carolyn Credico - one of our "Jazzology" graduates from Mohawk. Thanks to Churchill Cellars for the lovely tipples i.e. wine - I particularly enjoyed a Spanish Rose. Volunteers are the life blood of the station as Bernie Webber and Ross Porter pointed out and we like to think we have the best volunteers out there!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Golden Age - Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester

Picture yourself in your best attire - a slinky satin gown or impeccable tuxedo, enjoying a cool glass of something illicit relaxing at a nightclub table surrounded by Art Deco fixtures. A suave, slim figure glides onstage clad in his signature white tie and tales - he turns to the orchestra in behind him, nods and an effervescent cascade of champagne vocals emerges.

This the delightful experience of listening to Max Raabe, the German baritone who has immersed himself in the glamourous period of the Weimar era of 1920s era Berlin. According to the press release he first fell in to love with the period in his teens and sought out all the old 78s he could get his hands on. He intitially went to Berlin to study opera but his evening activities of singing these classics in nightclubs sent him on a different path - lucky for us. For over a decade he and the Orchester have been entertaining audiences at sell out concerts worldwide.

This morning while baking cookies - cinnamon if you must know - I was transported back to that glittering time between the wars via the new recording "Golden Age" a mixture of recorded and live performances. Of course there are the classics - Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" and Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things", a yearning "These Foolish Things" but for me some of the lesser known material was just as compelling. The teasing "Though You're Not the First One" by Walter Jurmann, the slightly cheeky "Love Thy Neighbour", the lovely "Youkali" by the great Kurt Weill to name but three. Since these songs were the popular tunes of the day, in the mix are two pop tunes of our day given the Max Raabe treatment " Oops...I did it Again" and "Sex Bomb"!  

I think this would be marvelous to play at a dinner party perhaps while enjoying a cocktail or two or escape to that heady time in transit to wherever you're buys life leads.  The group is embarking on a 6 city U.S. tour - one of the stops at Carnegie Hall. How I would like to see them in Toronto!

For more info - www.