Piano Music at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Piano Music at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Piano Music at the Montreal Jazz Festival

My wife Nancy and I dropped by the Montreal Jazz Festival Thursday night to an ocean of people taking in the sounds of the open air concerts. We were meeting Dr. Mary Ann Gorcsi and her husband Adam at the Hyatt. Security was pretty tight, as we made our way to the media room for our accreditations. Thank goodness for cell phones, we were able to connect and get Mary Ann and Adam through security to make their way to the official Montreal Jazz Fest Jam Session.

When we arrived at the Jam I realized than and old friend John Roney was hosting the jam session. Over 6 – 7 years ago I had auditioned him for a gig in the Middle East and sent him on a three month stint in Abu Dhabi or Dubai (I can’t remember) with a singer. He was great then, but holy smokes, he is fantastic now! Not only was he technically proficient, he was a very excellent jam host and a true gentleman. John called me up to perform and I gave the audience a classic Oscar Peterson rendition of Night Train. They were only to happy to sing the signature “bop, bop…bop” at the B section.

John Roney & Paul Tobey
John Roney and Paul Tobey At Jam Session

Right after me, the Montreal Singer Dawn Tyler Watson took the stage. I used to share an apartment with her in Montreal! She brought the house the down! With two songs she had the audience on their feet offering a Standing O. Her energy is way up there and it’s easy to appreciate both her talent and her showmanship. She gave the most wicked horn solo with her voice and traded 4’s with the drummer. The drummer was also on fire (I can’t remember his name), but John was happy to let him loose, and whoa, did he give us a show. We enjoyed our visit with both John and Dawn and it was a pleasure being in the fine company of two wonderful spirits.

Dawn Tyler Watson & Paul Tobey

The next day we ventured up North to St Donat then returned to the Montreal Jazz Fest on Sat morning. We brought our son Adrian to The Little Jazz School but were disappointed when we learned that it had ended the Tuesday before. It’s too bad, we were looking forward to seeing James Galfand who is also an old friend from Montreal. Instead, we headed up to the Alcan kids park where Adrian got to enjoy a bit of children’s interactive play making instruments and exploring. As a nine year old, he got bored pretty quick, so off we went to take in the instrument clinics at the SIMM exhibits. He begged me to buy this blue guitar he tried out but I didn’t give in. I just finished paying for his violin!

After that we were greeted by some super kind MJF volunteers when we checked in to our hotel We received our traditional free t-shirts (which I look forward too), and then made our way to the venue I was playing at.

The piano I played is reported to be worth a quarter of a million dollars, only one of 2 in Quebec It’s an Italian made piano, Fazioli and I found out that it will shipped back shortly to Italy for some repairs. The room seats about 110 comfortably, and it’s very comfy and intimate. I was happy to learn that over 100 tickets had been sold for the 5 o’clock show. I played loads of piano music, everything from Green Green Grass of Home to Stairway to Heaven, Lush Life, Take 5, Moodance and others. I was supposed to only play for an hour, but the show ran past one hour and a half. Oops. We were having fun. I tried to teach the audience how to clap in 5/4 time. That was also fun….and scary at the same time! I invited a pianist from the audience up on stage to play duo. The audience really enjoyed that. Thanks to James Newhouse for being a good sport and a great pianist.

Something happened at the concert that’s never happened to me before. It had been such an intimate experience that I asked the audience if they had questions. And, that’s how the concert ended, – an open discussion between the audience and me. It was a truly generous audience, and they left me with only a little bit of product to sell for the next show. Poor Nancy tried to handle the rush at the table for product, but it took another 40 minutes before she could handle the last customer. And that’s when I got the news. Clement, the sound engineer, came over to us with a message; Andre Menard (festival President) had left a message for me to call him. I called him back and he asked me to meet him back stage door at Place des Arts. He wanted to introduce me to Dave Brubeck!

Nancy, Adrian and I scrambled to pack up, buy a Camera and 2 Brubeck Cd’s and make our way back stage for 8:30. Andre and Sophie (beautiful Sophie), met us back stage. The first to greet us was Brubeck’s manager and famous conductor Russell Gloyd. We chatted about his career as an arranger and conductor and I found out about his great success including working with the London Symphony etc etc. It seemed like a gift from the universe because I’m in the midst of composing for my symphony debut in Feb. He offered me some arranging tips, and some tips from the conductor’s perspective. Incredible, valuable and insightful. Things I didn’t know. And then, he offers me his personal info so I can send my scores for some feedback. Okay! When someone offers themselves as mentor, I’m ready to learn. I was / am so completely grateful.

After about 20 minutes with Russell he took us to the green room to meet Dave Brubeck. Dave and his lovely wife were sitting side by side quietly waiting for their cue to take stage. With only 5 minutes to curtain call, I walk in to meet a beautiful grey haired man that greeted us with curiosity and deep reflection. I shook his hand, and then Iola’s. It’s kind of strange meeting a guy whose music you’ve been playing for 20 years. He signed a couple of CDs for my son and I, and allowed us to take pics. I expressed my gratitude, and he thanked me for playing his music.

It was time for him to take the stage so I showed him the way. I said to him “you’ve played here many times I figured you’d know the way.’’ He replied “I play a different theatre every night!” Wow! 85 and still playin’ every night. Russel Gloyd and I went into another room to discuss arranging and he asked me to play one of the songs in my show. It was time for Dave to take the stage, and we were escorted behind the curtain to a few chairs at the edge of the stage. We watched as Dave took the stage to a standing ovation before even playing a single note. That’s a powerful feeling. Andre Menard walked back stage beaming with pride that the Montreal audiences would be so generous and grateful that this master is taking the stage. It’s really surreal. Adrian asked him if Dave is the most famous pianist in the world. At that moment, he was! In awe, we sat quietly behind Dave watching from stage right as his back was framed between two black curtains. Dave had trouble earlier holding a pen, but to our surprise was still in full form at the piano. It’s truly amazing how his chops are still great.

We could only listen to the first two tunes, before we had to leave to make our way back to play our 10:00 o’clock show. But boy, did I have a story to share with my audience! I could only hope to be able to still play that well at 85…and have a career that has audiences up on their feet before I play a single note with my beautiful wife still by my side. The next time I play Take 5 or Blue Rondo, I will have the memory of Dave and Iola and the Montréal audience who immortalized that moment into my mind! Thank you Dave, Iola, Russell, Andre and Montreal!