What were you doing this time last year? We can’t help but look back on what an amazing summer it was in the T-Dot of 2015. So many things happening, Pan-Am Games, playoff berths, Suicide Squad had the JokerMobile racing up and down our streets late at night. But for us, the highlight of the summer was something that no one anticipated. Mr. Sean Jones held a Monday night residency at Casa Loma and together with Liberty Group, they created something that Toronto has never seen.
The idea was simple, really. Take a classic setting that is the Castle in the center of the Metropolis that usually holds court to classical performances that involve woodwinds, brass and chorale singing, that fits with their already prescribed demo and for one night a week, take that out, and replace it with something fresh, inject some soul into the castle and the beautiful garden behind it. Put up a stage and a covered tent, put up spectacular lights and chandeliers, get the mood right. Now all you need is the RIGHT performer, with the RIGHT band. They could’ve picked from a number of Canadian staples that came with a built-in audience that many of us have seen before. A safe choice…but…
Enter Sean Jones, who dropped his new album Waiting for Midnight, earlier that year. Waiting for Midnight is a classic soul record that invokes the greats of a time long past. Sean skillfully called on the angels and demons of true urban soul music (emphasis on the “soul”) and created a mood, a palpable feeling on this record, that elevated him above his earlier incarnation as one of the members of the Juno Award Winning group, In Essence. Sean was ready to step out on his own. Liberty bought into the vision. And with the help of the musical direction of the genius that is Michael Shand, Soul in the City at Casa Loma featuring Sean Jones was born… but would they come?
The album was making moderate noise, through an online push, as well as showing up in stores eventually. Radio play was limited to jazz stations although some AC stations did pick up the lead single “One In A Million“. Things were going ok when the first Monday of Soul came around. When we arrived, we expected a decent show. That’s not what we got. We were greeted by the amazing Casa Loma staff, dressed to the nines, and a beautiful sculpted garden area, classy sponsors, gelato servers, an exquisite menu and wine list, and because it was the first week, seats very close to the stage (a luxury that we would have to fight for in the weeks to come), and this was all before the show even started. But, then… it did. Mike and the band took the stage and then they quickly set things off with an uptempo groove that highlighted their live AMAZING brass section, they ran it for 16 bars, then Mike gets on his mic and says, “Ladies and Gentlemen,….. Sean JONES!” (like you were about to see James Brown, himself). Right on cue, Sean bursts from the back of the room and takes his place and commands the audience to listen by exploding into his first song. We knew then that we were in for it.
Video courtesy of SeedNine (watch til the end to see a cameo by your new favorite blogger).
Long story short, on that first night, which only had about 150-200 people, we were blown away. All of us. And I imagine that none of us could stop talking about it to our friends. Because the next week, there was over 300 people there, the week after that, 400, and so on and so on. The 4-week limited engagement was eventually extended to 10 weeks, and on the final night, the attendance was over 1000. The power of word of mouth. Casa Loma had to put tables and chairs with TVs showing the stage on the outside of the tent until the entire garden was full to capacity. Over the 8 times or so that we went, we got to sit in the covered part maybe three times because of how many people attended.
And the VIPs… A who’s who in Toronto came to see Sean Jones do his thing. CP24’s Steve Anthony, Mayor of Toronto John Tory, some Toronto Maple Leafs showed up, Kardinal Offishall, and countless entertainment industry execs. Sean, if you know him, is a great guy with a great heart so it was no big thing for him to share his success. Every Monday, he invited a guest or two to come and do their own thing or do a duet with him. The likes of Jully Black, Divine Brown, Canadian legend, Alan Frew of Glass Tiger, Johnny Reid, Liz Loughrey, Adrian X, Jackie Richardson (amazing), Nefe, Canada’s Neo-Soul Princess, Ivana Santilli (spectacular), and on one of the last nights, R&B legend, Eric Benet graced Sean’s stage. Monday nights in the summer were never going to be the same.
Luckily, for you, and thanks to Liberty Group and new sponsor, Nordstrom, Soul In The City has begun it’s second year at Casa Loma, and Sean continues his reign over the kingdom. Almost every Monday night through the 2nd week of September, you can come and witness greatness under the stars in the shadow of the castle walls. Show starts at 7:30pm, but because I like you, I’ll give you this hint: Get there as soon as you can after 5 to secure a seat inside the covered tent, (not that it is as necessary as last year, as this year, they have installed a jumbotron to wonderfully accommodate those seated in the courtyard — brilliant addition).
Just to give you a taste of the spectacularness that is Sean Jones’ Soul In The City, here’s his amazing rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World“:
Here are some pics from last week’s show: