Calgary: A Big Band Haven?

Calgary Jazz Orchestra 

For awhile now, I’ve known about Calgary’s Prime Time Big Band that performs regularly at the Ironwood in Inglewood. However, over the holidays, I was invited by friends to join them at a performance of Johnny Summers and the Calgary Jazz Orchestra’s “A Perfectly Frank Christmas.” While at the concert, I began to wonder, “how many big bands are there in Calgary?” 

Serendipitously, one of the other guests in our concert fivesome was John Towell, who is a trombonist and part of Calgary’s Big Band community.  When asked about Calgary’s Big Band music scene, he quickly exclaimed, “I don’t know if Calgary is a unique haven for big bands. It’s possible something similar happens in many cities. But it’s certainly ‘under the radar’ – people are often surprised to discover the level of activity here. And the big bands are just part of the picture. Add in concert bands, orchestras, choirs and numerous smaller groups and you realize there are a huge number of Calgarians actively involved in our music scene.” 

Trombone section. Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

We continued our conversation about Calgary’s “big band” music scene after the concert at The Nash’s Sunday Dinner (probably the best meal I had in 2015; the $39 family style meal was as my two-year old friend would say, “DELICIOUS”). I wasn’t home more than an hour and I received an email from John saying, “here is a reasonably complete big band list for Calgary – there could be more.”

 

 

Calgary's Big Bands

 Source: “Anthony’s Community Music Pages” (Anthony Reimer: jazzace.ca/music)

Big Bands 101

During our discussion, I asked John what is the definition of a “Big Band” and he quickly said they usually have about 20 musicians and singers. The standard line-up is five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, 3 to 4 rhythm instruments (piano, bass, guitar and drum) and one or more singers.

He went on to explain that not all “Big Bands” are called Big Bands. They may also be called Jazz Orchestras, Jazz Bands or Swing Bands (the latter 2 terms can also refer to smaller groups). Bands that get together primarily for fun (vs. money) may also be referred to as rehearsal bands, reading bands, hobby bands, weekend warriors or ‘kicks’ bands. Who knew?

Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

Calgary’s Big Band Community

In Calgary, Big Band musicians come from all walks of life, from high school students to 80+-year-old seniors; from enthusiastic amateurs to talented professionals as good as you would find anywhere. It is a true community.

Some of Calgary’s Big Bands focus on dance music of the big band ‘swing’ era, while others are more into the jazz repertoire of the 1940’s to present. Most bands perform commercially available arrangements (charts), although a few feature compositions and arrangements by local musicians (i.e. Johnny Summers/Calgary Jazz Orchestra, Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble).

You will find Calgary’s big bands performing in all kinds of venues – nightclubs, churches, Legions, community centres, schools and senior citizens’ centres are the most common.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra’s two sold-out “A Perfectly Frank Christmas” performances, for example were held at the River Park Church in Marda Loop. The made me wonder, “how many churches in Calgary double up as concert halls?” A quick check of their website and it looks like RPC is the home of CJO’s! (Perhaps Churches as Concert Halls could be the subject of a future blog)

I digress. Arguably the best spot to experience Calgary’s Big Band on a regular basis is the Saturday brunch with Prime Time Big Band at the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Inglewood (now in its 13th season and likely the only regular event of this kind in Canada). Every two weeks, the 20-piece Prime Time plays a new program to packed houses. All ages and backgrounds come to hear music ranging from Duke Ellington classics to The Big Phat Band’s exuberant contemporary tunes. Founded 20 years ago by bandleader Dave Jones, Prime Time’s membership is made up of almost all of the city’s most veteran jazz musicians, including Eric Friedenberg (on saxophones and woodwinds), Al Muirhead (on trumpet and flugelhorn), Brian Walley (on trombone), Kai Poscente (on bass) and John de Waal (on drums), playing alongside more recently established local pros and invited international guests. Hint: Order your tickets early, as it is almost always a sell-out.

If you are interested in a specific band’s performances they are usually publicized via each band’s own mailing list, website and Facebook page. Another good source of public performances is the JazzYYC website (jazzyyc.com).

Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

Last Words

Given what must be hundreds, if not thousands of big band musicians calling Calgary home and many thousands more attending their concerts, it puzzles me that Calgary has struggled over the past 25 years to create a vibrant and viable Jazz Festival or a jazz club (like the now closed Beat Niq). 

Up close and personal....

Towell disagrees, “The rumours of demise of jazz in Calgary is highly exaggerated.  The JazzYYC Society has revived Calgary’s Summer Jazz Festival after superstitiously avoiding the “F” word for a couple of prior years’ events. And a scan of events on the JazzYYC website, or in Calgary Herald’s Swerve magazine, reveals Calgarians can get out and hear live local jazz musicians almost any day of the week. Go listen!"

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Mexico City: Full of Surprises

One of my criteria for a great urban experience is how many fun surprises you encounter while on your way to other places.  Recently, while in Mexico City for 18 days, I was super impressed by the number and diversity of surprises my mother and I encountered – everything from coming upon thousands of locals participating in a Zombie Walk, to a plaza’s fun dancing waterfall with coloured lights that attracted hundreds of families and young adults on a Sunday evening.  

Reforma Fun

The first surprise happened on our first day when I unexpectedly discovered I could walk on 8-lane Reforma Boulevard (think Paris’ Champs-Elysees), as it closed Sunday mornings to allow cyclists, joggers and walkers to wander. After a few blocks, my second surprise was happening upon some 20 feet tall, colourful and fun paper-mache creatures. Soon I realized there were over 200 sculptures lined up like a parade on both sides of the boulevard.  Hundreds of people, taking pictures and laughing at the imaginative sculptures that linked indigenous spiritualism and decoration with modern surrealism, created a carnival atmosphere.

Everyone loves a parade, especially if there are fun, colourful and imaginative floats like these ones.  In this case the floats were stationary and the people paraded around them. 

Sundays on Reforma were amazing with cyclists, joggers, pedestrians and public art.  Who could ask for anything more? 

One of Reforma's traffic circles was turned into a fun playground.  Caught these guys trying their hand at double-dutch skipping.  How cool!

Archery Fun

On another day, I wandered to the Zocalo Square having earlier noticed new bleachers had been set up. I found a small crowd watching a dozen or so archers with their high-tech bows seemingly firing arrows randomly and silently to a target about 100 meters away. Alternatively you could actually stand by the targets and hear the “invisible” arrows “thud” as they hit the their targets – almost all of them dead centre or just inches away.  Given there was no protection from a stray arrow; it was a bit of a hair-raising experience.  I soon realized they were warming up for the World Archery Competition that was happening in the temporary stadium in another part of Zocalo.

Ready! Aim! Fire!

Pretty good shooting if you ask me?

Loved how they use the area underneath the bleachers for swings.  

Bakery Fun

Later that same day, as we were wandering back from the fabric block (my Mom is an avid quilter), I was intrigued by a reflection in a bakery window and the word “Ideal”.  Upon a closer look in the window we realized this was Pasteleria Ideal, the motherlode of bakeries - there were hundreds of people inside and we couldn’t see all the way to the back.  Once inside we were in awe - this was definitely the biggest and busiest bakery we had ever seen. The size of a small department or grocery store (estimated 40,000 square feet), it even had a second floor gallery with specially decorated cakes for weddings, birthdays, first communions etc. The place was swarming with people many carrying huge trays (30 inches in diameter) heaping with their favourite breads and pastries.  So mesmerized, we didn’t even buy anything that day.

This was just one quarter of the store and you can see how packed it is with people.  They truly were swarming around.

This was just the pastry section of the store.

The second floor exhibition space is much less crowded. 

Hammock Fun

Another surprise was the 20+ fire engine red shed-shaped metal structures that appeared one day in Alameda Central Park. Interesting-looking, but we had no idea what they were all about. The next day as we wandered by, we noticed they now had hammocks attached to them – which were all occupied. Later in the day, I figured out it was part of Design Week, which included dozens of pop-up displays and exhibitions throughout the city.  Very cool!

How cute is this?

People of all ages and backgrounds loved the hammocks. 

St. Jude Fun

Then one night we were kept awake by firecrackers going off every few minutes – my Mom was not happy.  I was thinking this might go on for several days, as the Day of the Dead was still a few days away. The next then we encountered a small parade with people carrying statues of St. Jude and a small marching band.  My mother, a devout Catholic, quickly realized we were at St. Jude Church and it was October 28th – St. Jude’s Day. They were simply celebrating this apostle and patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.

The street in front of St. Jude Church was packed with people buying statues and other items. It was like the Stampede midway. 

Zombie Fun

Perhaps the biggest surprise came when we got off the bus late in the afternoon of our first Saturday as we were heading back to our hostel. We found ourselves in the midst of tens of thousands of people (from infants to seniors) dressed up in gory outfits with makeup to match. “Was this the beginning of the Day of Dead celebrations?” we wondered.  The procession of people was slowly walking from Revolution Plaza towards the historic city centre. Only later did we find out it was a Zombie Walk.  Too fun!

The Zombie Walk took over the road and both sidewalks with participants and spectators for several blocks.

It was a blood bath!

People of all ages joined the fun.

These two girls crawled up to me as I was taking photos. Parents smiled and nodded "Yes" when I asked if I could take their picture.  

Fountain Fun 

Then there was also our first Sunday when we decided to take an evening walk toward an eerie pink-lit building in the distance.  Not only did we discover it was the monument at Revolucion Plaza that is lit every night, but that it has a large, fun, dancing fountain that attracted hundreds of people (young and old) to watch or run through it.  The squeals and screams of happiness were infectious. 

People gathering around the fountain with the Revolution Monument in the background. 

It was like being in a surrealism painting watching people play in the fountain.

One night we were treated to an impromptu performance of all women moaning, groaning and dancing on the plaza next to the fountain. Great public spaces allow for lots of spontaneous activities.  

Another popular activity was for young women to get dressed up like princesses and have their picture taken at the fountain. It was like being in a Disney movie.  

Lottery Fun

The BEST surprise was attending the National Lottery draw.  Early in the day, we finagled our way into the art deco National Lottery building (who can say “no” to an 84-year woman politely asking questions in English) with its spectacular murals and auditorium. It turnout, a public draw takes place to choose the winning lottery numbers.  As chance would have it, there was a draw that night at 8 pm.  We didn’t give it much thought until we were just about back at our hostel and realized it was 7:45 pm and we were just a block from the National Lottery building. We decided to see if we could get in.

Again, my mother thanks managed to talk our way in and we were treated to the most amazing evening of entertainment.  As we headed for our seats, we encountered about a dozen young people (ages 10 to 16) in military uniform lined up waiting to get into the auditorium.  No sooner had we taken our seats then they marched in and up onto the stage. After a flurry of hand-shaking and greeting of the head table dignitaries, the young people took over the night, managing the elaborate system of ball dropping and number calling/chanting – a spectacle almost impossible to describe.  Watch the video and you will know what I mean.

Canoodling Fun

The public displays of affection that occurred in the parks, plazas and sidewalks was a delightful surprise. Everywhere we went, couples (young and old) were sitting on benches canoodling, not the least bit shy about it (they even liked having their pictures taken). We also noticed how handholding was very popular with people of all ages. Paris may commonly be known as the “City of Love,” Mexico City – in my opinion – gives it a run for its money.

These couples saw me taking photos from a distance and smiled as I went by. I asked if they'd like their picture taken and they nodded "yes." 

Just one of dozens of photos of people hand holding in Mexico City. How many couples can you count holding hands in this photo?

Hostel Suites Fun

Our final surprise happened as we were leaving. My Mom, returning to our room after saying goodbye to the hostel staff, held two decorated sugar skulls – gifts from the Hostel Suites staff. The staff there are the best!

Me, Mom and Hostel Suites staff member

Our home away from home in Mexico City Hostel Suites. 

Last Word

We came to Mexico City for the "Day of the Dead" and Our Lady of Quadalupe shrine but left with memories of dozens of other fun, memorable and everyday surprises. 

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Stampede 2015: Have we lost that luv'n feeling?

On Saturday (July 4th), I thought I’d head downtown and check out what is new this year in terms of Stampede window cartoons and other street decorations.  I thought the cartoon art would add a whole new dimension to the “window licking art” I love so much.  

I realize some of the art purists or high-art nerds don’t think of it as art, but the Stampede graphics add a sense of fun and colour to our otherwise contrived conservative corporate downtown.

While there was some great windows (see photos below). I also found lots of street fronts on Stephen Avenue Walk disappointing?  I was thinking places like Sports Chek (Calgary based) and Winners (has been located on Stephen Avenue for years) would do a better job of dressing-up their windows – No!

Looks like just another Saturday at Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Hys, Brook Brothers and Holts seemed to forget entirely that the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” was happening. The Stephen Avenue entrance to The Core showed no evidence of Stampede spirit. 

 

Where's The Stampede Spirit?

The Hyatt had nothing; same with Marriott on 9th Avenue.  The Glenbow, Convention Centre and Calgary Economic Development also showed no Stampede spirit. Even the Municipal Plaza had no real evidence of Stampede, unless you count the one window painting at the Municipal Building. Neither the Central Library, nor the Simmons Building in East Village had any Stampede spirit. 

Entrance to the Hyatt on Stephen Avenue, not even a hay bale?

Hard to believe Calgary Telus Convention Centre on Stephen Avenue could look this sterile during Stampede. 

The Marriott Hotel facing 9th Avenue doesn't exactly shout out "Stampede!" 

Where's the spirit? Where's the energy? Calgary Economic Development block shows no sign of Stampede spirit, or a sense of energy? 

Interesting, the Calgary Tower had a painting that said Yee Haw…I am pretty sure the Stampede cry is - Yahoo! 

Not only did the Simmons Building have no Stampede decorations, you couldn't even get an adult beverage at 3 pm.  What's with that?

I get there is a downturn in the economy, but this was a sad statement on our Stampede Spirit. Walking by the McDougall Centre on the way home, all they had was one small banner of Stampede flags across the entrance. 

Except for three blocks of Stephen Avenue Walk, our downtown looked deserted as it usually does on a weekend.  I seem to recall in the past most of the buildings and +15 bridges had stampede windows. Not this year - you would be hard pressed to know that Stampede was even happening. 

The Good Guys!

David's Tea I thought had one of the best windows.

Office lobby reflections create attractive Stampede streetscape.

I was surprise how few +15 bridges had window paintings in them this year. 

Most of the banks downtown were good at decorating their window with kitschy cartoons. 

Is that Ralph Klein on the window of the City Hall LRT Station?

Last Word

Has Calgary become too big for it britches to celebrate what is truly one of North America’s oldest, largest and most unique festivals?  Where is that community spirit?

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Stampede Park: Art Gallery/Museum

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Flaneuring Austin & SXSW

 

Guest Blog from GABEster (geologist, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) G. Taylor an Everyday Tourist wannabe. This is a steam of consciousness blog consequently the different fonts and text sizes and casual grammatical structure. Enjoy!

We got to Austin today safe and sound and got picked up by Dave’s wife (air b&b renters). She was super nice as we headed into the heart of Austin. Once getting in we checked out our apartment (which is quite nice) and then headed to Whole foods on Lamar street (the ORIGINAL whole foods).

I forgot to pack any socks or briefs so I needed to get me some organic briefs at a high marked up price. When we got inside, wholy shit!

Brisket & Beer 

Brisket & Beer 

This place had quality organic everything that tasted amazing - a coffee roaster that continuously roasts coffee in store. A fresh seafood restaurant and a BBQ joint that makes killer brisket. 

And yes, a bar that serves liquor and has taps for draught beer in a grocery store. 


Essentially whole foods has everything from red bananas to organic cotton briefs for the desperate traveler.

We went to the Ginger Man Bar and had a few drinks to end our night!

The mother ship Whole Foods store! 

The mother ship Whole Foods store! 

City of no plastic bags

One of the reasons I really like this city is how they take hard stances on subjects like no plastic bags allowed. Very few businesses are allowed to use them, resulting in a lot of bio degradable paper bags.

DAY ONE

The first day of SXSW was dripping in anticipation for me. Having been in Austin for about two days before it began, I wasn’t sure if this festival was as big as I had heard. The night before the streets were empty. In the morning there was sparse traffic but people started to percolate through Austin’s grid system streets and avenues.

And then like an explosion, everyone was here. And everything was happening, right in that same moment, all at the same time!

Dumb ass

FIRST EVENT: panel on SXSW film tips


Really good information but also a VERY great way to start channelling some positive energy,  feel extremely fortunate to be here. The one thing I want to mention was the MC told a story about how one year he was walking down the street looking for a free lunch (which legitimately free food and drinks everywhere during the interactive festival). A girl was yelling, “free lunch! Free lunch!” holding a sign. He decided to go in, and lo and behold, it was an intimate chat with the founder of Yahoo!

This describes the true heart of this festival - it is literally an adventure, no one knows everything that is going on, and with that, no one knows what the “best thing” is going to be - you have to guess and walk through many doors for no reason other than your curiosity.

SECOND EVENT: let’s walk around Austin


We went for a long walk through the downtown of Austin and found a big exhibit Google had put on showcasing new wireless technology that allows insane bandwidth. They also show cased virtual reality tech they are working on including a bird simulator which you fly like a bird (really fun) as well as… Wait for it… Card board box virtual reality glasses that use your smart phone. Don’t believe me? Well I got to take one home, so I can show you!

cardboard mask

FILM EVENT: 808 - 4.0/5.0 - Documentary


We saw the world premiere of 808, a film about the Roland 808 and how it is in EVERYTHING YOU HEAR!! Insane. I knew a lot about the 808 through my musical journey and software but had never seen one and b)never knew what the fuss was about. Highly recommend this movie for anyone who listens to any music. Also some very funny interviews in the movie (50 artists interviewed). The best being beastie boys, but I won’t ruin it.


FILM EVENT: 7 days in hell - 4.0/5.0 - Comedy Short


Andy Sandberg and crowd make a ridiculous short mockumentary about a tennis match that never happened. Definitely for the young adult that enjoys the SNL and lonely planet humour. One of the best parts was the Q&A at the end where Will Forte and Andy Sandberg face time in through two separate iPhones and then end up talking to each other’s face timing phone.

MUSIC EVENT: Hotline Miami 2 Release Party w/Magic Sword

As if my day couldn’t get any better after seeing two world premieres, I convinced Justin to come with me to a video game release party. After the intro DJ these two guys took the stage, hooded in cloaks with LED masks (very Daft Punk esque). The music blew me away, and it was a super intimate concert.

It is a very big deal when I find new music that impacts me so this was almost sensory overload from an already amazing day. We were supposed to see another movie across the river, which meant we had to leave mid act. As I fumbled for my words trying to mention we had to leave soon, Justin responded with why would we leave this?! Which made me extraordinarily happy that we could finish the act.

And… Then we saw a midnight screening world Premiere (yes, this day seemed like I never end with awesomeness).

FILM EVENT: The Invitation - 4/5 - Thriller/Horror Creepy cult movie that was actually quite good. Adult milk shakes were amazing.

Stay tuned for more!