As the music of Herbie Hancock and his talented friends carried us away on Saturday evening, it was easy to forget the violence that had taken place just a couple of hours earlier, a couple of blocks away. Most people will remember June 26, 2010 for the way a few hundred thugs hijacked the peaceful protests associated with the G20 Summit in Toronto, and began smashing windows and setting police cars on fire, drawing thousands of riot police in response.
But not us. Oh sure, the after-effects of the riots could be felt even at the concert. Because all transit going into the downtown core was cancelled, it meant that many of us had to walk a long, long distance to get to Nathan Phillips Square, the courtyard just in front of City Hall. And on the way to the venue, we often walked past stray riot police and businesses with smashed windows. Some of us even wondered if this Toronto Jazz Festival concert might be cancelled, being as close as it was to what had seemed like a war zone just a few hours earlier.
But once we arrived, it was hard to believe we were in the same city. Canadian bassist Brandi Disterheft opened the concert as planned, and reminded us why we had all come here despite everything. Her varied, creative music set just the right mood, supported by William Sperandei and Chris Gale on the trumpet and tenor sax, respectively, and by Stacie McGregor on piano and Sly Juhas on drums.
And then it was time. Hancock and his bandmates (**) took the stage and the place exploded. And he gave us all a means of dissipating the tensions that had gripped us during the day. He even made a point of reminding us that we couldn’t rely on the G20 Summit leaders (or, implicitly, the police) to produce peace in the world: it fell to each of us to produce this peace in our own hearts.
I myself, not having followed jazz through the years, only knew Hancock’s name and didn’t know his music at all. Yes, yes, I know: I’ve been sorely deprived all this time. But the skill, life, and liveliness of the music, not to mention the virtuosity displayed by each member of the band, kept me riveted all evening.
They played many pieces that long-time Hancock fans obviously recognized. And they even did covers of some songs I knew too, such as “Court and Spark” by Joni Mitchell, or “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Those actually brought tears to my eyes. This was sweet music and catharsis all in one. And then Hancock did several pieces from his latest CD, The Imagine Project.
I may not have followed his music before this, but now I know I have countless CDs to catch up on. This music helped all of us remember what was really important in life, and dissipated the stresses of the G20 weekend. And even though it took me well over an hour to walk home afterward, Mr. Hancock, Brandi Disterheft, and all their bandmates made the experience more than worth the effort it took to get to the concert and back.
(Mr. Hancock was accompanied by Greg Phillinganes on vocals and keyboards, Lionel Loueke on guitar, Tal Wilkenfeld on the bass guitar [how do they make them so young these days?], Vinnie Colaiuta on the drums, and violinist and vocalist Christina Trane. Each of these musicians was so good, they deserve several paragraphs of their own. I was grateful to be able to see and hear so much talent all in the space of a couple of hours.)
Here’s what we got for an encore, though this particular video was recorded at a different venue: