Five Things You Should Know About Jazz

Theme and variations: these are the essential elements of jazz. Simple. The vast majority of jazz is one or more musicians establishing a theme – a song, riff or line – and futzing around with it. America’s gift to the arts, jazz started when the descendants of slaves brought sophisticated rhythms to European melodies. But it hungrily gathers in musical styles and genres from all over the world, and concocts its own gumbo. That’s why Toronto’s such a great spot. As jazz god Quincy Jones said, We Are the World.

Five things you need to know to impress the pants off your date:

1. Anything can be “jazzed” when done by a talented player. (Impossibly, John Coltrane breathes soul, sex and swing to My Favorite Things from that feast of wonder bread,The Sound of Music.)

2. Listen for the “theme” at the beginning of each number. Chances are good you already know it, but they’re inventing new ways of looking at it. The band establishes the theme in its entirety, then one player starts to improvise while the others repeat the structure of the theme.

3. Clap following solos. To show you appreciated the improvisation, gently clap when a soloing player steps down and gives centre stage to another. It interrupts the chatterers who still think all this is complicated and didn’t listen. Your clapping not politely shows where their attention should be, it indicates that you’re not an idiot – something musicians and women respect.

4. Tell her to find the “downbeat.” It’s the 1 in the 1, 2, 3, 4, we feel in most songs. The band is intentionally varying a theme. They’re likely disguising the downbeat, though it’s there. Finding the downbeat’s a fun, simple game anyone can play, but suggesting it makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Which leads to our next point.

5. Jazz is “sex.” That’s your 4th word, completing your jazz education. Just like jazz, during the love act you’re taking an established theme and playing with it. Remember, rock and roll was a euphemism for the deed. Think of jazz as the kama sutra. Proceed.

Where to take her to see jazz in YYZ:

– The Rex Hotel on Queen Street is where to find great local players, even on their night off. 18 shows a week, never expensive. Drink the beer.
– Saturdays at 3:30 the Pilot near Yonge & Bloor hosts free shows. Watcha got to lose?
– The Red Guitar on Markham in Mirvish Village is a viable alternative, and features two different jazz performances most nights of the week.
– Lula Lounge on Dundas West embraces the multi-cultural: exciting Cuban and African sounds here plus decent martinis.

Meet the Asshole Cyclist (AH) – You know who you are. A sanctimonious airhead whose vehicle* doesn’t pollute and therefore shouldn’t have to obey traffic laws. Like those applying to the right turn. According to the Toronto Police if a car ahead of a cyclist is turning right on a green light, the cyclist must let the car go. (That’s the law, so please put your finger away, AH.)

Still, if you won’t be encumbered by the rules of the road, at least consider the laws of nature. You, AH, are invisible in a driver’s blind spot. (Hence the name.) Solution? Instead of stopping (the law) you kick his mirror off. Now he sees you all right!

But think: even if you were in the right (and you aren’t) picking a fight with three tons of steel makes lousy odds. Learn more at, or don’t. But at least put on a helmet, so when you do get hit the rest of us won’t be stuck with OHIP costs for your lifetime supply of adult diapers.

* By the way, don’t for a minute think we are SUV-driving yuppies who hate cyclists. In fact, all of us at XYYZ are lifelong cyclists and drivers. (And we traded our SUV last year for something smaller.) As cyclists, we resent being intimidated by those even ruder ADs (Asshole Drivers) who lump all cyclists together thanks to you, AH.

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