By Herman Silochan
Over lunch with Frank Francis on Monday, I took a photograph of him saying I want it for this week’s column; let’s recognize him, give him well deserved kudos for bringing music from the cutting edge, educating Torontonians beyond the mainstream.
“No, no, not me, please put in John Coltrane, he is the great music revolutionary, he’s my hero, that’s what jazz is all about, his is true folk music, ‘Trane challenges you.’”
“Well, I’ll talk to the editor,” I promised.
Who is Frank Francis and what does he do? Many of you might recall the Trane Studio at 964 Bathurst Street, a mecca for music lovers, jazz especially, those in search for pure sound on a weekend evening, plus servings of real Caribbean food.
The food got mixed reviews, but no one, as far as I know, had unkind remarks about the performers.
Francis came from Jamaica as a youth, already imbued with the evolving sounds of ska, dancehall and of course reggae. But in polyglot Toronto, and at school with a very mixed international body of classmates, his musical world had expanded, twisted and reformed many times. Beyond music and the performing arts, his personal drive was the free expression of the self beyond constraints. He took it to the stage, actor, director and producer; but those sounds of “free” music would not go away.
So, ten years ago, in 2003, he rented space on Bathurst, and thus Trane Studio was born. If you have ideas about setting up a permanent music venue, year round, then consult Francis. Given the hundred and one things you have to do beyond the dreaded financial expenditure, it’s not for the amateur. Francis persisted, and over the nine and a half years, with the ups and downs of cash flow, Trane became a byword for the Jazz aficionado.
Naturally, the philosophy of the great saxophonist John Coltrane made its way into the management and selection of performers. Not that Francis was rigid in an ideological way, after all humanitarianism has so many sides to it.
“Why humanitarianism?” I want to know more.
“Coltrane reached out beyond his African American roots after his military service in the Second World War, looked consistently at what was happening musically in the world outside. A spiritual awakening had begun. Already precociously musical talented, it was when he heard Charlie Parker – the Bird – play, it transformed him.
He collaborated with the likes of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, taking jazz forward from what was accepted as ‘traditional’, music was transformed as never before. Coltrane’s admiration of the legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar was part of that spiritual journey, so much so that he named his son Ravi Coltrane, he too being a mean performer in his own right.
The public space at Trane Studio provided a combination of nostalgia and a firm commitment to the cultural process – or progress. No better place than this city, cultures interacting every minute of the day or night, borrowing, adapting and outright originality.
There was also an educational imperative forming within Francis, long before he decided to open Trane. In 1998, he put on a musical venue to honour the very same John Coltrane, and was taken aback by young people’s lack of knowledge of Jazz, that they were missing out in one of the great musical revolutions in modern history. There was a bigger issue, would Jazz survive here? Even in spite of the annual Toronto Jazz Festival?
Trane Studio was that attempt; it lasted for nine years, then Francis, reviewing his life and what more he wanted to do, not to mention the extenuating finances, he closed shop.
Will Trane be resurrected?
“Yes! Most certainly!” Francis is emphatic. He said that he needed to recharge, to review his directions, but he has not lost that revolutionary fervour, he feels that he owes himself and his long list of musical friends more of that cutting edge.
In honour of Trane Studio, this Saturday, February 2nd, at the Brigantine Room in Harbourfront will be three exclusive jazz performances, all for one price. The players have been chosen by Francis from his extensive repertoire. You’ll hear the likes of Sudanese born Waleed Abdulhamid, Ernest Dawkins, Ursula Rucker among others.
This Harbourfront exclusive is part of Kuumba, kicking off Black History Month. What a way to start. Google Harbourfront for more info.