“I’m evolving as an artist. The best part of getting older is that we become more honest.”
Ron Davis, one of Toronto’s most vibrant jazz pianists, has been presenting his SymphRonica concerts at the Lula Lounge for nearly three years. His upcoming concert on May 31st, SymphRonica Meets the Dazzling Dancing Lombard Twins, is part of Lula’s 10th annual LulaWorld Festival, taking place this month, is one you don’t want to miss.
Conducting an interview with Ron is more like enjoying a cappuccino on a busy mid-town patio, which is exactly what we did. But first we needed that precious commodity, the second patio chair. So we traded a photograph of the two of us, taken by a local Toronto Slam Poet, for that very said chair. It’s always an adventure with Ron!
Our conversation meandered over various subjects including septuagenarian dating (re: sex), Iyengar yoga which he practices (“Iyengar yoga is to yoga what classical music is to music.”) and of course, music.
Neither of us are in our seventieth decade, but we were laughing at having the occasional “brain fart” – the memory lapses that happen, I think, mostly from having too much material stored in one’s head, and having had paths cross innumerable people.
Waving to an acquaintance whose name would come to him at a later point in our Kaffee Klatch, we launched into a conversation about the brilliance of the Netflix series “Grace and Frankie”, and creating relevant artistic experiences, long after society deems you “too old.”
Ron effuses, “On top of the inherent awesomeness, and not to mention the gift that is Lily Tomlin (she made Nashville one of my favourite movies ever), I love it when the characters deal with issues by NOT dealing with them, they ultimately end up HAVING to deal with them.”
Ron’s SymphRonica is a reflection of how he is responding to an ever changing landscape as an artist. “Music has become a visual art. Up until the ’60’s, maybe the ’70’s, we would go to concerts and it would be a listening experiences. And then at some point, as Aristotle predicted in poetic, art moves to spectacle.”
“Maybe it was Much Music and MTV, maybe there were other factors at play, but people don’t just listen to music. Now you can’t imagine music NOT being associated with video. What’s the number one source of music consumption at the moment? Youtube.”
All of Ron’s SymphRonica concerts have multidisciplinary and visual components. Whether it was the unusual combination of his last concert, Return of The Drumbeat with Nagata Shachu Taiko Ensemble, or inviting Foo the Clown (aka Helen Donnelley) to interact with his audience back in 2013, he is acutely aware of this aspect.
“There is a lag especially in classical and jazz. There is still a rear guard conservatism that tries to preserve it as strictly a listening medium, and they’re paying the price. Jazz clubs are closing, symphony orchestra’s are struggling. While this is NOT why I do what I do, it just so happens that there is a visual component to SymphRonica. Even when we’re just playing music, there is a visual component to how we look and how we interact with the audience.”
SymphRonica is a departure from the the musical projects that Ron has worked on in the past, but it is the one that encompasses the multiple dimension of his artistic interests. “I’m also evolving as an artist. The best part of getting older is that we become more honest.”
Next season, he’s hoping to collaborate with prominent members of the tap dance community. He’s also lined up Toronto based actress Shirley Hamilton. “She’s a great actor-singer who will not only be singing, but will be putting Canadian prose and poetry to our music. The show is called, Oh SymphRonica, Music and Words of Canada.”
Ron is all about improbable multi-disciplinary combinations. The Dazzling Dancing Lombard Twins, Martin and Facundo, first met Ron “when I co-produced the Glenn Gould Variations, honouring the 80th anniversary of Gould’s birth, in 2012.” They danced to a fugue, a musical form Gould was famous for performing, and for which the Tango has great synergy with.
The self-taught Lombard twins are heavily influenced by the late Michael Jackson. In fact, they danced at his memorial. Hailing from Los Angeles, via Argentina, they will be bringing their street dance – tango influence to the table with improv and choreographed works. A compliment to Ron’s world music, acoustic, electric jazz, and string quartet.
This performance will also feature original compositions from his upcoming album, Pocket SymphRonica, which will be released in February. Unlike his last recording, SymphRonica, which was produced with a symphony orchestra, his newest “pocket edition” was recorded with a jazz and string quartet after two years of gestation featuring Ron’s all-star band.
“The theme is exploration. Not old wine in new bottles, and not new wine in old bottles, but old wine and new wine in old and new bottles, all mixed together.” He continues, “There’s everything, including a barnyard dance, which I wrote and called Jaggy Dance. All the guys rolled their eyes, but it was wacky and it worked. Then we have my world music songs with a bit of Middle Eastern and jazz, a whacked out version of Poker Face by Lady Gaga, and a classical fugue I wrote as well.” Many of these works will be premiered at the LulaWorld performance.
SymphRonica band members for the closing season concert at LulaWorld include: Kevin Barrett on guitar, Mike Downes on bass, Roger Travassos on drums, Aline Homzy on violin, Aleksander Gajik on violin, Ben Plotnick on viola and Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello.
Doors open at the Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas Street West, at 7 p.m. Ron and his band will step on the stage at 8 p.m. As the title implies, it will be a dazzling evening. Hope you can join the fun!