Express to a jazz rock funk utopia

With their weekly gig at The Toucan, local five-piece Ghetto Express pull passengers from all fronts of Kingston’s scene

Spencer Evans on keys.
Image by: Tyler Ball
Spencer Evans on keys.

Artist in Profile

What’s your excuse for going to The Toucan every Monday night? Not that you need one—mine’s that I live next door, Arthur the bartender pours the perfect Creemore and the jazz styling of local five-piece Ghetto Express never fails to get bodies grooving and jiving each week.

Their vibrant set is unraveled week after week with veterans of the scene Mike Sakell on drums and vocals, saxophonist Jon Stewart, guitarist Mark Taras, bassist Alec Barkin and pianist and vocalist Spencer Evans. After multiple changes in the lineup, the group has become a rock solid fixture in the community and their love for music permeates every show they play. Their passion is contagious and will inspire audience members to go against the grain of sticking to what they know, venture out and explore the treasure troves the town has to offer.

Who are you?

My name is Mike Sakell.

What do you do?

I play drums for the Ghetto Express every Monday night at The Toucan. I’ve been playing drums in bands professionally for about 35 years.

How long have you been playing The Toucan?

We are now in our tenth year at the Toucan, arguably the longest running house gig ever in Kingston, something we are quite proud of.

How long have you been playing in Kingston?

About 25 years.

How did the band form?

Ghetto was formed when the previous house band at the Toucan (Blue Monday) ended a four year stint. Myself and the bass player from that band (Zak Colbert) didn’t want to lose the gig, so we approached the owners of the pub and asked if they would be interested in hiring a new band, with a new approach.

Where and how often do you practice?

Usually we work out new stuff on stage. We don’t very often get in a room together and work on songs.

Most memorable gig?

Last Monday night.

What role does the audience play?

The audience is of course very important to us, and we totally feed off of their energy, as any live performer will tell you.

What inspires and fuels your high-energy live shows?

I look no further than the bandstand. I feel very privileged to be working with such high calibre musicians and friends … Inspiration also comes from being involved in something that I love to do. It’s what I do best, and the fact that I’ve made a living at it for so long makes me feel very fortunate indeed.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of the gig for me is the audience reaction and also like I said before, getting to play with the calibre of musicians onstage week after week, I never take that for granted.

What’s the most challenging part?

The most challenging part is getting through a night when you know that you’re just not clicking together. Whether it’s me or just the band in general, some nights it just doesn’t gel and seem as tight. I think that’s pretty normal though and the good far outweighs the bad in this case.

Favourite song to play?

I don’t have a favourite song that I play, but the style I like to play the most is funk music, good ole groovin’ danceable funk.

Ghetto Express play The Toucan every Monday night from 10:30 p.m. until last call at 2 a.m.

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