Music News Digest, July 6, 2020

The Polaris Music Prize (pictured) goes virtual, Tenille Townes raises big bucks for two charities, and Indie Week begins hosting online events. Also making news are Alexandra Stréliski, Roots Music Canada, the Drake,Toronto hip-hop violence, Kestrels, Blakdenim, ArtHaus, Adria Kain, The Beat Club, Holger Petersen, Paul Reddick, and farewell Freddy Cole, Sean Tyla, and IdaHendel.

Music News Digest, July 6, 2020

By Kerry Doole

– To nobody's surprise, the Polaris Music Prize has chosen to not host a winner Gala event this year. Instead, the Short List of ten eligible albums will be celebrated with a cinematic tribute on Oct. 19, to be broadcast in Canada on the CBC Gem streaming service, CBC Music’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages and internationally at The 2020 Polaris-winning album will be revealed live at the end of this event and will receive $50K. The nine other nominated acts on the 2020 Short List will receive $3K each courtesy of Slaight Music. For this special, Polaris is seeking Canadian filmmakers to create commissioned films honouring each Short Listed album. An application form and info is here. The Polaris Short List will be unveiled live on a CBC Music nationwide radio broadcast on July 15.


– Fast-rising country singer/songwriter Tenille Townes raised $89k during her recent virtual Big Hearts For Big Kids fundraiser with all proceeds benefitting two organizations: Sunrise House (a local youth shelter in Townes’ hometown of Grande Prairie, Alberta) and Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee’s Troop 6000 (an initiative that supports girls without permanent housing in the Nashville area). In the eleven years since Townes started the annual fundraiser, Big Hearts For Big Kids has raised over $2m. Hosted at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, the virtual event featured songs from Townes' debut album, The Lemonade Stand, as well as at-home performances from a star-studded cast including Dierks Bentley, Brandi Carlile, Luke Combs, Andy Grammer, Mickey Guyton, Ashley McBryde, and Lori McKenna. The full event will become available to view soon across Townes’ social media platforms. 

– Toronto's Indie Week will be hosting a series of online events, beginning tomorrow (July 7). This session features a panel of guests sharing advice on navigating the challenges in moving online and how you can attend their events and connect with their delegates and attendees. The speakers will be Fabiana Batistela (SIM Sao Paulo, Brazil), Robyn Stewart (BreakOut West), Umair Jaffar (Small World Music / Global Toronto), with Darryl Hurs (Indie Week / CD Baby) moderating. There will also be a performance by Desiree Dorian. The session starts at 5 pm, and is free with pre-registration here


– Last week was a memorable one for Montreal pianist/composer Alexandra Stréliski. She won a Juno Award for Instrumental Album of the Year, for Inscape, and was then presented with a platinum record, highlighting the 80,000 copies plus sold of that release in Canada. Streliski also received a silver ticket — certified by ADISQ — from OPAK Media to highlight more than 25,000 concert tickets sold throughout Quebec. She will tour that province in the upcoming months and will perform with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal on April 6 and 7, 2021.

– Toronto Star crime reporter Betsy Powell has written a number of stories recently exploring the alarming violence in the Toronto/GTA hip-hop scene. She notes that “at least 20 underground rappers have been killed in the past decade, all in shootings... By the Star’s account, nine Toronto-area rappers have been killed since this time last year, including potential breakout star Dimarjio Jenkins, who performed as Houdini.” Powell’s latest story includes comments by top hip-hop video director Julien Christian Lutz, aka Director X, and rapper Bizz Loc.


– Roots Music Canada recently surveyed its Canadian folk, blues and world music audience, obtaining feedback regarding the impact of the pandemic. Over 200 Canadian music lovers responded. Check the results in chart form here and read Heather Kitching's insightful analysis and advice for artists here.

– After recent allegations of racially discriminatory behaviour at Toronto cultural hub The Drake Hotel, the company’s founder Jeff Stober is retiring as CEO, though he will remain active in the firm. The criticism that surfaced over the past month prompted the Polaris Music Prize to cease using the venue for many of its events. You can read an extensive analysis of the situation at The Drake in NOW here


– Toronto Songwriting School has announced a new program that gives songwriters and music fans new insight into the songwriting process. The Songwriting Masterclass Series will run every other week from July 12 - Aug. 23 as a pay-what-you-can Facebook Live event featuring Colleen Dauncey, Erin McKeown, Dan Bern, and Julian Taylor.

– Halifax rockers Kestrels have released Vanishing Point, a second single from their upcoming album Dream or Don’t Dream, out on Darla Records on July 10. The collaboration with US guitar hero J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr) on the first, Grey and Blue, grabbed attention.

– Ottawa-based band Blakdenim has released a debut full-length album Usual Suspects: Season III. Of note is the presence of hip-hop pioneer Darryl “DMC” McDaniels from RUN-DMC on a new single, Sharks. The group's eclectic sound draws upon funk, punk, hip-hop and electronica. 

– Launched last year, Toronto music company ArtHaus has its first official release with the release of Peace Be Still, a track by Adria Kain. Check it out below. ArtHaus is a multi-faceted venture headed by Sandy Pandya (Pandyamonium Management) and Serena Ryder.

– Stony Plain Records head and veteran broadcaster Holger Petersen has just been given the Alberta Award of Excellence for his lifetime of achievement. His trophy case must be stuffed by now, but all honours are richly deserved. Our congrats Holger.

– All the current hype is around drive-in concerts, but the concept of rooftop shows deserves exploring in these pandemic days. Toronto trio The Beat Club was quick off the mark on Saturday, playing atop the roof of the American Electronics store in the Junction. Of note: TBC includes original Blue Rodeo drummer Cleave Anderson.


 – East End Toronto music venue Sauce is not yet allowed to host public gigs but is lending its stage to local bluesman  Paul Reddick so he can perform a series of shows with no audience that are blasting out to computers every Wed at 8 pm. Reddick is working on a new release for Stony Plain.


Freddy Cole (born Lionel Frederick Coles), a jazz and blues pianist and vocalist who spent much of his musical life in the shadow of his older brother Nat King Cole, died on June 27 from complications from a cardiovascular condition. He was 88.

Like his famous older sibling, he played the piano and sang, but he used his music to insist, “I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me.”

Freddy Cole leaned toward a more explicitly bluesy style than his brother, who became one of the most popular crooners of the 20th century. Freddy sang in a plain-spoken manner, always eye-to-eye with his audience, in a way that Nat — whose voice was floating, mythic, serene — never did. The title of Freddy’s debut album, Waiter, Ask the Man to Play the Blues (1964), reflected the smoky barroom aura of his music. Yet there was no mistaking the affinity between their vocal styles: warm and welcoming.


Cole was nearing his 60th birthday when real success first came his way.  In 1991, Sunnyside Records released I'm Not My Brother, I’m Me, his first album to get widespread attention.

He was an all-state athlete in high school with dreams of playing professional football, but a hand injury derailed things. Nat, who was 12 years older than Freddy, had already scored multiple No. 1 hits by the time his brother began playing professionally. Freddy studied at Juilliard, and two years later, in 1953, he had a minor hit on Okeh Records, Whispering Grass. He began working regularly as the pianist for major bandleaders like the saxophonists' Benny Golson and Sonny Stitt while studying toward a master’s degree at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He developed a close friendship with the vocalist Billy Eckstine, who became his mentor.

It was in his autumn and winter years that his star shone brightest. Starting in the 1990s, he performed often at venues and festivals around the world and released a string of well-received albums, mostly on the Fantasy and HighNote labels. Four were nominated for Grammys in the best jazz vocal album category, though he never won. In these years he occasionally performed alongside Natalie Cole, Nat’s daughter, who had become a star in her own right. Source: New York Times

– Sean Tyla (born John Michael Kenneth Tyler), an English singer and guitarist prominent on the London pub rock scene, died on May 17, at age 73, of chronic liver disease. News of his passing has just been made public.

Tyla was the leader of ‘70s pub rock legends Ducks Deluxe. from 1972-75. and later the Tyla Gang. The latter's 1978 album, Yachtless, is viewed as a classic of the genre. He also played with Help Yourself, Joan Jett, and Deke Leonard, and appeared solo.

After disbanding the Gang in 1979, Tyla signed a solo deal with Polydor, releasing three albums for the label.

In 2010 the Tyla Gang reformed in its original line-up, touring Sweden during the fall. The band released two albums since its reformation, 2010's Rewired and 2013's Stereo Tactics. A 3-CD anthology, Pool Hall Punks. was released through Cherry Red Records in 2016 to coincide with Tyla's 70th Birthday Tour.

Tyla’s autobiography, Jumpin’ In The Fire, was published by Soundcheck Books in 2010. Sources: Will Birch on Facebook, Wikipedia

– Ida Haendel (Hendel), a renowned Polish-born violinist, died on July 1, aged 96.

She started at the Proms in London, with the Beethoven concerto (1937) and the Brahms (1938).

During the second world war, she performed in factories, in Myra Hess’s National Gallery concerts and for British and US troops. From 1940 to 1947, she recorded a wide range of works for violin and piano for Decca, some of which were reissued in 2000.

An endorsement from famed composer Jean Sibelius came after a 1948 Finnish radio broadcast of his concerto:

In 1952 she moved to Montreal, and in 1979 to Miami, but continued to use London as a base, and in 1991 was appointed CBE. Haendel told her story in her 1970 autobiography Woman With Violin. Source: The Guardian

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