Odyssey Showcases Ultimate Valentine to Jazz
Jazz music has certainly created enough romantic standards to slip into when making a Valentine’s Day playlist for that candle lit dinner with your sweetheart. Ella and Louis singing “Cheek to Cheek”, Miles soothing horn on “Stella by Starlight”, the sensual crooning of Holiday singing “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)” and, of course, sorrowful Chet and his funny Valentine.
When you dip your toe into the vast ocean of jazz and you’re looking for love, the waters you wade into make for a fine history lesson in the music of romance.
On this day, however, where lights were being dimmed, chocolates unwrapped and everyone appeared to be walking around with a bouquet of roses, the Odyssey Showcase went even deeper into those waters. Be you an aficionado of the genre or curious about its roots, The Gift of Jazz: From Africa to New Orleans to the True North Strong and Free was a show with a lot to love on a day devoted to that very sentiment.
It was a trip through the decades at the National Gallery only this time it wasn’t via the artwork on the walls. From the cotton fields to the church pews where the glorious gospel of “Amazing Grace” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” rang out to the heavens, the beginnings of jazz in the hands (and voices) of Michael Curtis Hanna and Deborah Davis was, well, just heavenly!
Early on, however, we were shown that even in its hymnary beginnings, the seeds of jazz could still swing.
That church transformed into a jumping joint in New Orleans when those saints came marching in and then continued that march right on into rag-time as Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” provided an interlude before the Roaring Twenties had Hanna busting out his best Louis Armstrong. “Basin Street Blues” and “Birth of the Blues” had this reviewer picturing a smoky nightclub somewhere ‘round midnight where the sound of a trumpet carried all the way down the Main where it seemed like even the street lights were swaying.
Before things wound down too much, the chica, chica boom made famous by Carmen Miranda bought out World Tap Dancing Champion Darin Kyle and equally impressive Bernadette Bélanger. Each time one, the other and especially both took the stage it wowed the audience. Some in the crowd couldn’t sit any longer and found being upright and boppin’ was the best way to be.
The first act contained a stunning tribute to jazz music’s Satin Dolls. Women like Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith received a fitting homage in the vocals of Davis and Sharil Shaw.
Interspersed between the music was the history with Canadian Olympic Hurdler Sekou Kaba serving as the show’s narrator, explaining the context of the chosen songs and their place in the legacy of jazz. Actors helped accentuate this via their portrayals of historical figures in and outside of the music. Darin Kyle’s Booker T. Washington, Tifanni Kenny’s Harriet Tubman and Simone Shepherd’s Viola Desmond were particular standouts. Other guests for the evening included CTV News Anchor Stefan Keyes and Poet Laureate Jamaal Jackson Rogers.
Of course, you can’t have jazz without a band that can kick it up to 11 as much as they can tug on your heart strings with a slowed down groove. René Lavoie took care of that business on the sax with Ed Bimm on the piano, Ken Kanwisher strumming the upright bass and Gino Scaffidi on Electric Guitar. Yet, it just might be the band’s musical director and drummer, Peter Baudoin, who stole the show.
As the second set reached a crescendo on “Sing Sing”, out strolled fancy footed Kyle again.
What proceeded was an all-out tap dancing verses drumming battle that nearly set of the fire alarms. Ohhhhh yeah, it was that hot!
Beaudoin slammed the skins as fast as Kyle’s feet could carry him with no clear winner in the musical dual (but us the audience, of course). It all led into a jubilant medley of Motown that got us dancing in our seats.
So, while this Valentine’s Day was sure to bring sweet delectables, floral buffets and, I’m sure, something gold, diamond and glistening for some, this music lover was more than content with what Odyssey Showcase gave me to unwrap: The Gift of Jazz.