A Night at The Rex

Dear BlogUT reader,

Before you take a look at the title of this article, roll your eyes, and choose something less pretentious, please know that I am far from a jazz connoisseur. In fact, while something of a music enthusiast, I know next to nothing about jazz; all I’ve really had to go on for the past 21 years are stereotypical mental images of some fat guy blasting away on a trumpet while a sweaty tweaker bounces around uncontrollably in the audience. So, since I value your time as much as the next girl, and simply know too little about the genre, I won’t be boring you with jargon or technical details, or insightfully describing the “virtuosity of the alto sax”. This article is meant to be the thoughts, recollections, and recommendations of a jazz beginner, noob, philistine, or whatever other degrading term you’d prefer to call me. So, looking to get up close and personal with some real jazz, and not just the one Coltrane album in my collection, I decided to head down to The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar located in the bustling Queen St. West area and get initiated.

The first thing that became apparent as I approached The Rex’s exterior is that it isn’t a stuck-up or intimidating venue in the least. While jazz may conjure up images of stuffy, exclusive clubs, The Rex couldn’t be further from this cliché. The outside of the bar exhibits something of a sleek, retro look, while the interior is Cheers-esque, with wooden finishes and a pervading sense of warmth (Although maybe that was just the central heating. Yowza it’s cold out these days!). I was also heartened to discover that the place was absolutely packed. Although it was a little overwhelming to walk in and be greeted by what seemed to be a wall of people, me and my plus one were lucky enough to find a spot near the back, with seats just high enough to get a glimpse of the stage at the opposite end of the room. The crowd was a mix of all ages, and everyone seemed in good spirits with the drinks flowing and a nice selection of bar food at the standard expensive-but-not-Toronto-expensive prices. I ordered the New York style cheesecake with caramel sauce and was pleasantly surprised: the night was off to a good start.

Up next, a waitress came to our table, but we were told that we absolutely couldn’t be served until we paid our cover charge. Oddly enough, when we arrived there was no one at the door waiting to take our money and stamp us; we had to sit and wait a good 15 minutes before someone came to our table to help us. I also thought the cover was a little steep at $10 a person. It’s nice to support local acts, and so I wasn’t annoyed per se, but considering the place was beyond packed, $5 or even $7 seemed more reasonable to me. Still, for the show that followed, and for the wonderful ambiance of the place as a whole, it was worth giving up a tenner.

The best surprise of the night was when we discovered that the nightly act was the Radiohead Jazz Project, bringing together the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and local tribute band Idioteque. To be introduced to any live jazz that night would’ve been a pleasure, but knowing the songs really helped me get into the spirit of the evening. For the most part, the group sounded very tight and comfortable playing with one another. They burst out of the gates with a freewheeling, beautifully-played version of Bodysnatchers. Without any vocals getting in the way, the trumpets really shone, and the song presented itself in a completely fresh, invigorating way. Paranoid Android in particular was an audience favourite, and had people roaring with delight at every new twist and turn. Yet, as much as I hate to say it, the vocals really let the group down. To begin with, they were far too high in the mix at the start of the night, overpowering the backing band at various points. Yet, even when the vocals were noticeably turned down, the quality of the singing wasn’t up to par, especially when it came to the soaringly high notes Thom Yorke is famous for. In all fairness, few people could ever hope to cover Yorke’s vocals in a convincing or even competent way. Still, it seems to me that the show would be much stronger as a whole if the vocals were simply omitted altogether. It speaks to the strength of the backing band, however, that the lackluster singing didn’t detract much from the overall experience: the show was a rousing success with the crowd, and left me wanting to get out there and explore much more live jazz in the near future.

In summary, while certain elements of the show could’ve done with some reworking, the night as a whole was a wonderful experience, leaving me hopeful that this is but the start of my adventure into the world of jazz. Perhaps I’ll head back on the 25th, when our very own U of T Student Jazz Ensemble hits the stage. Join me?


Junior Editor’s Note: Due to an unfortunate error, this article could not be posted until ten days after it was first written – the “25th” referred to is of February.

Looking Back, Moving Forward: My 3.5 Years at U of T

It seems like I can only do the same thing for three consecutive years before I get bored with it. High school was completely bearable – enjoyable, even– until grade 12, when suddenly waking up for another day of academic drudgery seemed a fate worse than summer school. I even went through an unfortunate (and exceedingly awkward) nu metal phase for about three years in elementary school before that gave way to the next musical trend. Yet, surprisingly enough, it took me exactly 3.5 years to truly feel the urge to get the bleep out of U of T.

As someone who has been in school for virtually my entire life, and who has enjoyed most of what that experience has offered, the impulse to enter into the real world has never been high on my list of priorities. Career? It can wait, seeing as it’s off in that distant future realm, which doesn’t seem like it’ll be arriving anytime soon (whoops)! Saving for a rainy day? I dunno, looks perfectly sunny today! With that kind of rationale, U of T has been the perfect environment for me. Getting to sit around reading and writing everyday with little to no regard for the impending world of jobs and rent has been an enriching experience to say the least. It has also been completely, relentlessly, and mind-numbingly exhausting. So after three and a half years of novel after novel, tutorial after tutorial, and essay after essay, I can safely say that the “real world” is looking pretty amazing.

Looking back on the past few years here at St. George, one thing stands out: U of T is hard. Damn hard. Not everyone can hack it, and the fact that I’ve been able to thrive, let alone persevere, is pretty shocking to me sometimes. Don’t let all those Life Science students fool you, Humanities kids: Philosophy would give any student a run for their money. Yet, despite the sheer terror I initially felt walking into philosophy class, it turns out it has been one of the most rewarding disciplines I’ve ever studied. Thanks to U of T, I can logic my way out of anything, and while that’s not the most immediately applicable life skill, it’s a lot of fun annoying your friends by telling them that they’ve erroneously “appealed to improper authority” (I’m a terrible person).

The next, and probably most, important thing that stands out to me about my U of T experience is that it has allowed me to grow in ways I didn’t even think were possible. Setting aside all the academic stuff, university has broken me out of my shell in a big way. Heading to the very first day of frosh, I felt like turning and sprinting in the other direction at the first sight of that rowdy, sweaty bunch chanting what sounded to be satanic incantations. The best decision I ever made as a post-secondary student was taking that first step onto the quad. That first step led to the next step, and the next, until I suddenly looked back on that moment a year later and realized that I was on a journey – and that I wasn’t afraid anymore. Learning how to navigate life downtown on your own terms changes you. After a few months, I was no longer that sheltered suburbs kid lost in a swarm of people. I talked to strangers, I made friends, I used the subway without having to stare intently at the map: I finally had freedom and, while it felt somewhat dizzying, it was also exhilarating. The months went by, the marks came in, and it turned out I didn’t have to worry so much. U of T is daunting, sure, but I quickly found out that, while difficult, it’s not impossible to do well and enjoy yourself here.

All that being said, it’s easy to reminisce on any period of time in your life and become overly sentimental, wax a little too poetic, and so on, so I should temper my previous paragraph by saying that the U of T experience, while hard to summarize, had been more of a mixed bag than completely positive or negative. I’ve spent a lot of stressful weeks in classes that I’ve hated, shed many tears over piles and piles of readings, and been disillusioned with the university system in general. I’ve also had many wonderful, interesting, and unforgettable courses (The Beatles!), spent many a night laughing and drinking with friends, and have enjoyed the pure thrill of meeting new people, making new connections, even falling in love. At the end of the day, I’d like to think that the good has outweighed the bad but, even if that’s not true, I don’t regret anything about my time here (I especially don’t regret how little I’ve used the gym).

So, as I head into my final semester, I think that my feelings about the last 7 semesters can be summarized with the following:

Thank you for everything U of T. Now RELEASE ME!

Shakespeare in the Park: Cozy Up to “The Winter’s Tale”


It’s been just over two months since classes (thankfully) ended for the dedicated and tireless troopers here at U of T, but let’s face it: as much as we all look forward to some free time spent out in the sun, or even likelier spent inside our video game caves (Portal 2 anyone?), it’s all but impossible to avoid those boring days spent asking oneself, “What am I going to do today?”. I’m very happy to report that due to my brilliant sleuthing skills—okay, Googling skills, really—I stumbled upon an event that will delight playgoers, English students, and tree-huggers alike. That’s right, it’s the 29th Annual Canadian Stage Dream in High Park, featuring a play by everyone’s favourite bearded bard that is sure to delight, The Winter’s Tale.

To try and draw in those of you who perhaps prefer Two and a Half Men repeats (or anything at all) to Shakespeare, the performance is free, with donations of any amount accepted at the gate if you’re feeling generous à la Scrooge after seeing the three ghosts. As for you Shakespeare connoisseurs out there, this adaptation of the play by Canadian theatre director Estelle Shook is wonderful. With minimal props, live music in between acts thanks to two amazing violinists, and actors occasionally coming out into the “aisles” of the amphitheater, you instantly feel yourself enveloped in Shakespeare’s fictional land of Bohemia. Actor John Blackwood’s humorous portrayal of the roguish pickpocket Autolycus was of particular note and was clearly an audience favourite, garnering laughs and applause at each reappearance. David Jansen was also stirring as the guilt-ridden Leontes and provided a pleasing contrast to the comedic scenes, rounding out the play’s “tragicomedy” label.

For the remainder of you who, like me, are somewhere in between Shakespearephobes and Shakespearephiles, this play is a welcome chance to get out into the fresh summer air and enjoy a play full of twists and turns, tense drama and laugh-out-loud comedy, and even a man exiting the stage being pursued by a bear, as the famous stage directions dictate. So hop on the Bloor line to High Park station with a bag full of snacks, take the beautiful walk through the park to the amphitheater, snuggle up under a blanket with some friends (and yes, a mosquito or two), and enjoy an entertaining night under the stars.

There is a certain unique ambiance that the outdoors provide to any dramatic performance.  This atmosphere particularly lends itself to Shakespeare’s plays, which often debuted at The Globe, the open-air amphitheater founded by the playwright himself. It is certainly fitting, then, to appreciate his work in the way it was intended to be seen, and in the way it has been admired by so many throughout the centuries; I’m certainly no bard, but you could almost call it poetic.

The Canadian Stage Dream in High Park will run until September 4, 2011 at the High Park Outdoor Amphitheater. The show can be seen every Tuesday to Sunday and begins at 8 p.m. (weather-permitting). Gates open at 6, so get there early to snag a good spot!

For more info, stop by http://www.canadianstage.com/dream

The A.G.O.’s Maharaja Exhibition: My (Lazy-ish) Look into the Lives of India’s Princes

Maharaja Poster

It’s that time of the year again, folks. Heads are aching from constant essay-writing, eyes are straining from late nights spent studying, and few of us have the stamina to drag ourselves to class, let alone head out to local arts events and attractions.

Nevertheless, I’m writing this to you, the over-worked reader, in hopes of changing your mind about the latter: to get your curiosity flowing, to fire the artsy half of your brain up after a long winter of creative hibernation, and to give you a peek into the AGO’s newest (and definitely most vibrant) exhibition, entitled “Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts”.

Being one of the over-worked students mentioned above, I’m entitling this entry a “Lazy-ish Review”, as I don’t have the time (or nearly enough artistic prowess) to write elaborate insights on the significance of each piece in the exhibition, and you certainly don’t have the time to read them. So here’s what you do need to know:

Continue reading “The A.G.O.’s Maharaja Exhibition: My (Lazy-ish) Look into the Lives of India’s Princes”