Pat Blythe – Sounds Like Toronto…..and music

There’s been much written about the vibrancy of Yonge Street, particularly beginning in the late 50s to its eventual winding down during the mid to late 80s. Clubs like the Brown Derby, The Colonial Tavern, Club Blue Note, Town Tavern, Le Coq d’Or, Steeles Tavern, Friars Tavern, Hawk’s Nest, The Zanzibar, Silver Rail…..graduating to The Gasworks, Piccadilly Tube, Nickelodeon, Hard Rock Cafe and many others. All gone, except the memories. The jazz and blues, the beginning of the Toronto Sound, rock, disco and punk invasions, the Yonge St. Mall…..

Heritage Toronto has partnered with Plank Media to create a digital museum celebrating Toronto rich musical history. Sounds Like Toronto” invites you to discover stories of artists and venues that have defined our recent music heritage, and have played a transformative role in our city’s past and future.” Take a peek. It will probably keep you occupied for the rest of the week. https://soundsliketoronto.ca/en

It’s an interactive, online exhibit split into four main categories. Of course the first one I pick is Beginnings. I scroll down and Kensington Market catches my eye. I then hone in on drummer Archie Alleyne.

There is a lot to explore on the website and even an area dedicated to MuchMusic, Electric Circus and Speaker’s Corner. I’m going to spend some time poking around in this as I’m sure there is much I don’t know. They’ve even been thoughtful enough to provide a list of resources for further exploration. I’ll start with Alleyne.

Archie Alleyne

One of Canada’s top jazz drummers, Alleyne was born in 1933 in Toronto and raised in Kensington Market. He performed with the greats…..Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins and so many more, becoming their drummer of choice whenever they visited Toronto. He waited over 50 years to form his own band, Kollage, performing regularly at The Rex and various jazz festivals across the country. In an interview with Bill King, Alleyne stated, Finally, I’ve got a band where I choose the music and the concepts. I’m playing what I want, and I’m having a hell of a time. I can get into my drums more. There’s no prima donna vocalist insisting I play just brushes.”

Billie Holiday with Archie Alleyne on drums at the Town Tavern

Alleyne was primarily self-taught o(he had a few lessons with Jack McQuade), and at the young age of 22 became the house drummer at the Town Tavern jazz club for ten years. In 1967 he was in a horrible car accident and retired from music for twelve years. During this hiatus, he became a restaurateur, partnering with Toronto Argonaut quarterback John Henry Jackson, Dave Mann and Howard Matthews (whose wife was the great Salome Bey). Together they opened The Underground Railroad, serving up great music and the best (and only) soul food in town.

In 1982 Alleyne was back to music, performing and touring with numerous different jazz musicians. At the age of 70, he formed Kollage with his boyhood chum and tenor saxophonist Doug Richardson.

(l-r) Two of the three co-owners Archie Alleyne and Howard Matthews study the menu of the new restaurant

A social activist, Alleyne was focused on supporting and encouraging young black musicians, specifically Canadian black musicians. He wanted to create mentors and role models for young musicians here in Canad without having to look south of the border. He was instrumental in having the Canada Council of the Arts reverse their exclusion of funding jazz artists, and lobbied the Toronto Jazz Festival to ensure black musicians were properly represented at the festival.

Archie Alleyne

A Member of the Order of Canada, Alleyne established a scholarship fund to recognize excellence in jazz studies. He was active on the jazz scene in Canada for over sixty years and by the time he passed away in 2015, Alleyne had left all of us a legacy of impassioned work, both musically and socially, that will continue for generations.

Jazz clubs in Toronto

From the 1940s to early 1970s The Colonial Tavern and the Town Tavern were the two main jazz venues in Toronto. The Colonial was located at 201 Yonge St., while the Town Tavern was just down the street and around the corner at 16 Queen St. E. However, it’s The Colonial that holds a special place in Toronto’s music history. It was the first club where an all-black dance band was allowed on stage in Canada. Pianist Cy McLean, who led Canada’s only full-scale black orchestra during the 1940s, broke the colour barrier by performing at The Colonial in 1947.

The Colonial was one of the most significant clubs to feature live music in Toronto. Many local artists credit the club with being their biggest influence, remembering all the greats they saw performed there, some even brought in by their parents to see the bands. Opening its doors in 1947, The Colonial welcomed some of the biggest jazz and blues musicians of that time. Much of the Toronto Sound (that’s a whole other column) got its start here. The Colonial is one club that saw it all, from its classy jazzy beginnings, then segueing through blues, funk, R&B, and as times changed, eventually rock and roll, followed by punk (in the basement)…..and then came the strippers. The Colonial finally closed its doors in 1986. Now a vacant lot, it’s a sad reminder of a once glorious time in Toronto’s musical history.

The Town Tavern opened in 1949 as a theatre restaurant, turning into a full-time jazz club in 1955 at the behest of Oscar Peterson. It was here where the Oscar Peterson Trio would record their live album On the Town.  The doors closed in 1972 and the building demolished, the land it sat on now completely absorbed into 2 Queen St. E.

Nostalgia/nostalgic….

These days, nostalgia reigns supreme, especially on social media. If you go through the lists of music-related groups on FB, you’ll find hundreds (I haven’t counted to thousands yet) of pages created for the collection of memories, memorabilia (buttons, hats, T-shirts, etc.), stories, photos, vinyl, general information…..all of the past. It’s not just those of us who lived some of those times, it’s also much younger generations of people as well, some as young as mid-teens, who love the music and are keen to learn. There seems to be a very deep, almost visceral longing for “the days of yore”.

I miss those days too. From what I personally experienced, they were the best! There was a certain freedom in the air; to explore with instruments and voices; the freedom to experiment, to discover, to open up; the blending of styles and sounds. Artists were fearless. No one was mocked or made to feel the fool. There were no formal teachers. Everyone was learning and growing; sharing and teaching each other….oh, and having fun doing it. While California had Laurel Canyon, we had Yonge Street, Yorkville and Kensington. No, it wasn’t perfect but the music and the stories that came out of those 30+ years…..that ambience or feeling have yet to be recaptured or repeated. Nothing has come close since.

Lest we forget……

Also, let’s not forget that unforgettable, indelibly imprinted, iconic performance, February 9, on the Ed Sullivan show 57 years ago. Changing the course of thousands of lives (not to mention putting the music industry on its ear), the world lost a host of potential accountants as many would turn towards MUSIC!!!

Ringo, George, Ed Sullivan, John and Paul, February 9, 1964

Pens and pencils were quickly exchanged for drumsticks (or chopsticks when no drumsticks could be had), a broom handle was a stand-in for a guitar, and millions of voices sang into an equal amount of hairbrushes; Christmas lists would contain one item…..a guitar or a drum kit. Life, as many parents knew it, would never be the same. The impact that single performance had on all those young minds and hearts around the world was gobsmackingly powerful and quite literally changed lives forever. …..and then there was the hair! Oh, and all those screaming girls…..bonus!!!!

The Beatles at rehearsal for the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965

Till There Was You – The Beatles

All My Loving – The Beatles

Don Thompson Quintet (Archie Alleyne on drums)

This popped up in my FB feed, a reminder of how great this song is and how applicable to the times. Thanks for repost Peter!

Brick by Brick – Waves That Stray

A really creative video and the perfect song to match.

20 Year Dream – The Neighbourhood Watch

The following is a great up-beat song with a reggae twist. This is a new release by artist and speaker, Brenda MacIntyre, Medicine Song Woman, in collaboration with Errol Starr Francis, who also produced the single. Singers Nenokassi and EMI Canada artist-turned-author Colette Baron-Reid lend their voices to this song of hope.

Together We Can Stand Up – Brenda MacIntyre

In My Life – The Beatles

February 9 Podcast

This week’s conversation is with Toronto rock back Hot Lips. A fun afternoon with three extremely talented artists. Great people and great songs!

https://luvthemusic.podbean.com

Also available on Spotify, iTunes, Google Music, Amazon Music and TuneIn…..search for Luvthemusic and follow me!

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay sane.

Cheers!

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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