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Award-winning artist Ori Dagan helps spearhead Serenade From The Balcony every Friday At The Senator Restaurant

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Award-winning jazz artist Ori Dagan is a featured performer of Serenade From The Balcony at The Senator Restaurant in Toronto | Photo: Judy Wyntrub

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When Sybil Walker, Operations Manager of the Senator Restaurant in Toronto, asked jazz vocalist and composer Ori Dagan if he would like to sing on her balcony, he was definitely up for the challenge. The balcony she was referring to is above the Senator and next door to Jazz Bistro on Victoria Street, just south of Dundas.

Walker was looking for a solution during the current COVID -19 crisis that would provide a “safe and entertaining way to re-engage with our neighbours, provide some entertainment, and keep some musicians working.” Dagan welcomed her idea and was pleased to be part of a venture to provide some relief to people hungry for the opportunity to enjoy live music at a quality venue again.

Originally called the Busy Bee Diner, it is the oldest restaurant in Toronto in continuous operation, since 1929. The Senator was officially established in 1948 and was taken over and renovated by current owner Bobby Sniderman, in 1984.

The location consists of two very distinct historic rooms – the original 1940’s Diner on the main floor and the Top o’ the Senator, an intimate room that dates back to the 1860’s. The 24 seat room is on the second floor of the original diner and is outfitted with period furnishings including a 1920’s Prohibition-era bar from Cleveland and a classic 1929 Heintzman upright piano. The balcony is on top of the current diner facing Victoria Street and is in the perfect position from which to entertain the audience below.

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Dagan partnered with Walker to create a dynamic concert series, Serenade From The Balcony, which launched on Victoria Street on June 26, and showcases live jazz every Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Each performance presents a vocalist (he is the vocalist every second Friday), accompanied by two musicians who are social distanced and perform in perfect sync with one another.

There is a comfortable patio on the street, where people can enjoy a light snack, glass of cool lemonade, or a margarita. In addition, there is limited seating available for non-diners and plenty of standing room from which to enjoy the concerts.

Dagan has attracted thousands of viewers who enjoy watching the performance from the comfort of their homes. Other performers have included Alison Young, Laura Hubert, Natasha Buckeridge, Steve John Dale, and Nathan Hiltz. Hiltz and Dogan teamed up on the Shakespeare-inspired song “Sweetheart,” which was awarded Best Jazz Song at the 2018 American Songwriting Awards. They will be reunited on the 25-foot stage with Young on Wednesday, August 7.

The Senator Restaurant hosts a live jazz series this summer every Friday afternoon in Toronto | Photo: Judy Wyntrub

Dagan is supported by FACTOR, Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records and the new program and is an excellent complement to his singing career.  Featured in 2017 at SXSW in Austin, he has recorded 3 albums and is currently working on a 4th featuring his own original compositions.

For those who prefer not to travel downtown or may not feel comfortable joining an audience yet, even a socially distanced one, the Senator events are live-streamed on Facebook.

Walker, the dynamic force behind the series, has made it clear that the series is  “really for the neighborhood”. “In the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, we are hoping to raise our community’s spirit with this balcony concert series,” she stated. In another recent interview, noted that the restaurant had contributed 1,500 muffins, cookies and brownies to St. Michael’s Hospital as a gesture of appreciation to frontline workers.

Ori Dagan, Michael Shand and Alexander Brown live at The Senator Restaurant on Friday, July 24, 2020

The series will continue through September offering concerts by seasoned performers as well as musicians and singers who are just starting out in the jazz field. A complete calendar for August is available on the Senator Restaurant website

Judy Weinryb is a published author who facilitates a Creative Writing class on zoom at the Bernard Betel Centre for Creative Living.

She has been a freelance writer for the Canadian Jewish News, the Jewish Tribune and the Markham Review. A social worker for many years, she has an interest in Jewish Community from both a professional and personal perspective.

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