Anyone who’s ever had the sheer joy of attending a performance by longtime Toronto Reggae/R&B/Pop singer Jay Douglas over his long career knows how his magical persona and talent can inspire and unify and audience.
But who could ever have suspected he was such a powerful spellbinder that he could induce a sharply divided group of people like members of Toronto City Council to get up and dance in chambers during a meeting?
Yet, as videos uploaded to YouTube and broadcast on U.S. network television have shown, that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, December 17, when he was asked to make a deputation to the body on behalf of the establishment of a Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council to promote live music as a tourist draw and stimulus. Mayor Rob Ford can be seen cavorting with Council speaker Frances Nunziata while several other members of Council also get up and shake their booties.
And this took place as Douglas played Pied Piper to the chamber shortly after Nunziata had sharply rebuked Ford regarding his refusal to apologize for remarks he had made the previous day calling the council “corrupt”! Ford eventually relented and issued the apology.
Council later voted to establish the council and name 28 people to it based on interviews conducted over the past weekend with a shortlist drawn from the 106 people who had applied to be on it after the initiative was approved in principle last month.
Douglas made his point and got the party started on Tuesday when he sang an infectious Christmas-themed “Merry Christmas” ditty, strolling as he did so through the chambers midst a group of the elected representatives and inducing them to get up and dance. It’s a classic Douglas move that he’s used with great effect at shows spanning dozens of years and many different types of gatherings, always with the same enthusiastic response. The last time I saw him do so was in April when he was the only performer to leave the stage at St. Clements Hall during the George Olliver 50th anniversary gala, put on by SongTown, to perform beneath the glittering chandeliers hanging above the tables of delighted fans.
On Wednesday, as the council meeting continued and establishment of the music council came up for a vote, a beaming Mayor Ford spoke strongly in favour of the initiative, which was unanimously carried.
Ford noted that in Austin, Texas “the city council there brings in a band to play at the end of every meeting.”
He said that during his visit there earlier this year, as part of the Toronto delegation studying how that city has benefitted from promoting live music, he had his eyes opened and was impressed by how much tourism and money the industry produced for the city. Council also approved establishing a “twinning” initiative with Austin in respect to music promotion.
Seeing how well Ford’s remarks were received by a council that so recently censured him and reduced his powers, and how the council members seemed to forget their differences during the dancing session, was a palpable reminder of how powerfully positive music can be.
“You’ll never meet anyone who says they don’t like music. Everyone loves music,” Ford said. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t feel that way about Jay Douglas too.