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Musicians struggle as concert venues close

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Marc Jordan

The Toronto music community has been hit hard by the coronavirus.

The city’s clubs and bars are closed for an indefinite period of time and concerts and music festivals have been cancelled, putting the livelihood of many musicians in jeopardy.

Jewish Music Week in Toronto 2020 has been cancelled. And this summer’s Ashkenaz Festival may be quite different from previous editions.

Musicians make a living through live performances, as fewer people are buying CDs or even downloading music, and royalties from music streaming services tend to be low for most artists.

Amanda Martinez

Latin jazz singer Amanda Martinez and her husband, bassist Drew Birsten, a couple whose income comes solely from recording and performing, are among the hardest hit by the virus. Martinez’s U.S. tour, to promote her album, Libre, was cancelled, as was Birsten’s U.S. tour with the Sultans of String.

Jazz singer and songwriter Marc Jordan was nominated for a 2020 Juno for his 2019 album Both Sides. The virus was responsible for the cancellation of the Juno Awards ceremony and winners have yet to be announced. Jordan said all of his gigs, including one in Los Angeles and three in the Nashville area, have been cancelled.

Jordan has been working in his home studio. Pianist Michael Kaeshammer was supposed to join him there for a session, but in the end the two of them thought the better of it. “You don’t want to transmit something that’s going to kill somebody. Some of us are carrying the virus and there’s no way around it. The socially conscious thing to do is to self-isolate,” Jordan said.

Jazz-classical fusion artist Ron Davis was nominated for a Juno for his instrumental album SymphRONica UpfRONt, but his dream of walking up the red carpet with his wife, singer Daniela Nardi, never became a reality. Some of Davis’ gigs have been cancelled, but his income is secure because he practises law. He is worried about his music director, guitarist Kevin Barrett, whose only source of income is music.

Eric Stein, who plays mandolin with the klezmer fusion band Beyond The Pale, said the band got back to Toronto from their recent U.S. tour just before the virus hit here. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the virus circulates here for a year in some form or another. “Organizations like Ashkenaz are going to have to re-evaluate what we do,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of stuff on social media, people looking at streaming concerts and doing concerts from empty spaces and moving more to a virtual space.”

Drummer Lorie Wolf was supposed to perform at Jewish Music Week, which has been cancelled, and she is scheduled to play at this year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival, but the event is now up in the air, she said. Her monthly klezmer jams, which she co-hosts at Drom Taberna, a restaurant on Queen Street West, have been cancelled. She also leads a wedding band called he Horah Machine. With the virus circulating, she isn’t expecting anyone to book the band.

David Buchbinder

Since last May, trumpeter David Buchbinder has travelled back and forth between Toronto and New Orleans to study jazz. He said he was thinking about riding out the virus in New Orleans, with the idea that in two weeks or a month it would be gone. “I realized there was too much unknown going on,” he said, and he drove back to Canada. “I was very happy to cross the border,” he added, speaking from an Airbnb in Toronto, where he’s self-isolating.

Toronto-based composer and singer Lenka Lichtenberg’s tour of the Czech Republic was cancelled. Her multimedia show, The Thieves of Dreams, based on poems her grandmother wrote when she was a prisoner in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, was slated for a late April performance, but it’s been postponed until the fall.

Faced with cancellations, jazz singer Ori Dagan is planning to set up a Patreon page online, where he can post music videos for patrons around the world who subscribe to his channel. Dagan also programs live music at the 120 Diner, a club in downtown Toronto that’s now closed, except for food delivery and takeout. He said the diner was struggling before the virus hit and it and other similar venues are in a critical situation.

Brian Gladstone’s monthly open mic at the Free Times Cafe, Dr. B’s Acoustic Medicine Show, was cancelled in March, as were his upcoming gigs at the Tranzac Club, the 120 Diner and the Black Swan. The guitarist, singer and songwriter said the artists will be around after the virus passes, but the currently shuttered venues may not. “The venues may not be able to survive for a few months,” he said. When the city allows the clubs to reopen, he’s planning to organize fundraisers for them

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