Gia & The Unpredictable Update

Gia & The Unpredictable Update is built around the virtuosic musical skill and imagine compositions of keyboardist and band leader Gia Ionesco. His talents have attracted the attention of the cream of the crop of Toronto Jazz players. The all-star cast of The Unpredictable Update comprises of saxophonist Pat LaBarbera (Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones), guitarist Reg Schwager (Diana Krall, George Shearing), saxophonist Johnny Johnson (Holly Cols, Molly Johnson), bassist Pat Kilbride (Rik Emmett, David Braid), percussionist Alan Heatherington (Nexus, Vuja De), drummer Wilson Laurencin (Marc Jordan, Victor Wooten) and saxophonist Clifford Ojala. 

Gia & The Unpredictable Update also performs in various ensemble, performed with many renowned musicians such as saxophonist Kirk Macdonald, Alex Dean, Andy Ballantyne; bassist Alex St.Kitts; trumpetist Bruce Cassidy.

Pat LaBarbera


Pat LaBarbera is known internationally for his years on tour with the Buddy Rich Big Band, and Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine. He also performed with the big bands of Count Basie, Woody Herman, and Louie Bellson. He has worked and recorded with musicians such as Chet Baker, McCoy Tyner and Dizzy Gillespie; performed at major international jazz festivals and jazz clubs; appeared in numerous radio and television shows and film documentaries; and recorded over 100 albums.

Pat is also an excellent and highly respected educator. He is much in demand as a national adjudicator and performed at several music festivals, and as a guest lecturer at many Canadian and American universities and colleges. A faculty member of Humber College in Toronto since 1976, Pat teaches advanced jazz improvisation and repertoire, leads various student jazz ensembles and instructs private woodwind students.

Rejoining Elvin Jones’ Jazz Machine in January 2001 for two years, Pat performed and toured North America, Britain, Europe, and Japan. Presently, he continues to write and perform with his own trio and quartet.

His ballads CD Deep In A Dream with Don Thompson, Neil Swainson and Joe LaBarbera featuring lesser-known jazz standards, received both Juno and Jazz Report awards for instrumental jazz in 2000. It is available from Radioland Records at all major record stores in Canada and from www. in the United States. His CD From The Heart with George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Joe LaBarbera, features original tunes by Pat and his brother Joe, and some standards. Produced by Justin Time Records, it is available at all major record stores in Canada. Pat’s latest CD crossing The Line was recorded at the Top O’The Senator jazz club in Toronto. It features Brian Dickinson, Neil Swainson, Joe LaBarbera, and special guest, Randy Breckr. It was released in October of 2005 by JazzCompass Records in Los Angeles and is available at

“Pat has tremendous musical ability beyond technical facility. He has great power of concentration to detail and is totally committed with body and soul.” Elvin Jones

Johnny Johnson


Juno award winning sax player Johnny Johnson is a well known fixture of the Toronto music scene. An adept recording session player in high demand, he is also a regular member of many popular bands. Johnson is equally at home playing the funk/fusion sounds of Soul Stew, the high energy latin/fusion of The Montuno Police, jazz standards with The Barlow Group, and classic blues with Michael Pickett. Other bands include Cimmaron, Vector, The Boss Brass and Manteca. In addition to all the saxophones, from sapranino through to baritone, he is also proficient on piccolo, flute, alto flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet. This versatility has led to concerts with such diverse performers as Molly Johnson, Holly Cole, Diana Krall, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Dionne Warwick, Peabo Bryson, Cal Dodd, Alphie Zappacosta, Dianne Reeves, Bill Mays, Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, as well as guest spots with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions. In everything he does, Johnson brings a rare combination of musical sensitivity and the technical ability to play just about anything.

Reg Schwager


It was at two jazz workshops conducted by Phil Nimmons – at the University of Toronto (1978) and the Banff Centre (1979) that Reg met some of the musicians he would begin working soon after he moved to Toronto in 1979. These included fellow students Renee Rosnes and Ralph Bowen and faculty members including Nimmons, Dave McMurdo, Herbie Spanier and Pat Labarbera. Since then he has been working steadily on the Toronto jazz scene and in other musical areas including new music (New Music Concerts, Hemispheres and Sound Pressure, among others) and improvised music (with musicians such as Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink).

Reg has toured extensively across Canada and worldwide with George Shearing, Diana Krall, Peter Appleyard, Rob McConnell and many others. He appears on over 80 commercially released recordings with such artists as Junior Mance, Gary Burton, George Shearing and Mel Tormé. CDs released under his own name include “Resonance”, “Border Town” and “Live at Mezzetta”.

Reg has written hundreds of jazz compositions, some with lyrics by Jeannette Lambert. His arrangements for big band have been recorded by the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra. His arrangements for string orchestra and jazz ensemble appear on Mike Murley’s CD “The Melody Lingers On” (CBC Records).

Reg has been the recipient of the Guitarist of the Year award from Canada’s National Jazz Awards for four consecutive years (2005-2008).

Pat Kilbride


Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Pat has been playing professionally for over 25 years. Now living in Toronto, he has toured extensively in Canada, the U.S., and Europe with a wide array of acts including English rock legends Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. He’s played with Michael Brecker, David Foster, Sarah Mclachlan, Roger Hodgson, Dutch Mason, Melissa Manchester, The Canadian Tenors, Guthrie Govan, Zappacosta, Ron Sexsmith, and many others.

He has played on countless sessions, including jingles, soundtrack work and over 200 albums in a variety of styles, several of which received Juno nominations.

Current releases include albums by The Canadian Tenors, Sass Jordan, Rik Emmett, Melanie Doane, Julian Austin, Brigham Phillips Big Band, [juno nom] John McDermott, The Code, Vito Rezza’s 5 After 4 [juno nom]. He is also active in theatre work, having played for more than 20 productions. Some highlights include: Dirty Dancing, Toxic Avenger, Lord of The Rings, Wicked [sub], The Producers, Lion King [sub], Mamma Mia [sub], Rent, Needfire, The Full Monty.

He was nominated as Electric Bassist of the Year by Canadian Musician magazine.

His television credits include Being Erica, Degrassi, Instant star, Gemini awards, Fox Sports, and The Greatest Canadian.

He is currently on the faculty of music at Humber college.

Alan Hetherington


Alan Hetherington is a Canadian drummer/percussionist who has traveled and studied widely in South America and the Caribbean. He has studied Cumbia in Colombia, the Joropo tradition (maracas) in Venezuela, Afro-Peruvian music in Peru, Cuban folkloric music in Havana, and specializes in the many musical styles of Brazil. He has performed with The Vancouver Symphony, The Toronto Symphony, The Canadian Opera Company, Nexus, Peter Erskine, John Wyre and World Drums, Glen Velez, Trichy Sankaran, and Celso Machado. He is a member of the Contemporary World-Jazz group, Vuja De, and Ravi Naimpally’s Indo-Jazz ensemble, Tasa. He has made many recordings for television and film and has toured with ensembles and as a solo artist throughout Europe, North and South America and Japan.

For the past 15 years Alan has spent Toronto winters in Brazil performing with Sombra e Agua Fresca, Denys Christian, Bell Brasil, Carlos do Cavaco and Filo Machado. He is also very much involved in the Brazilian Escola de Samba tradition, having performed with many of Brazil’s foremost Escola ensembles. Alan is the Founder and Director of Toronto’s own Escola de Samba de Toronto and has traveled throughout Canada, the United States and Japan teaching the tradition. The Escola de Samba de Toronto and Alan’s connections to Brazil are the subject of filmmaker Avi Lev’s recently released documentary, We Are Samba.

Alan holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of British Columbia where he studied with John Rudolph, and a Masters Degree in Percussion Performance from the University of Toronto under Russell Hartenberger.

Wilson Laurencin


Wilson Laurencin was born in England to West Indian parents and moved to Canada with his family when he was eleven years old . Growing up Wilson was influenced by many artists like Chick Corea and Weather Report and Clive Zander. Not limiting himself to any specific genre of music madeWilson’s appreciation diverse spanning to include Jazz, R & B, Calypso, Rock and Pop Music. Wilson studied drumming, at the Drummers collective in New York City, where he was exposed to some of the best talent in the world. Wilson was aware of talent around him and took full advantage of the opportunity. Wilson has worked with many great talents like Ben E. King, The Philosopher Kings, John Patitucci, The Dream Warriors, Deborah Cox, The Mighty Sparrow, Rich Little, Dave Koz, Burton Cummings, Richard Marx, and Len.

Clifford Ojala


He was a graduate of the Tri-Service School of Music in Esquimalt, B.C., attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., and a member of The Regular Force Royal Canadian Regiment Band in London, Ontario.

A music teacher with 40 years of experience teaching and playing throughout Canada. Spent years with the Lakehead Separate School Board and with Lakehead University teaching Clarinet, Saxophone, Jazz Band, and the History of Jazz course. Played school concerts throughout Northwestern and Northern Ontario. played many International shows at the Thunder Bay Auditorium with such performers and performances as Bob Hope, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, Engelbert Humperdinck, Fiddler on the Roof, and also the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra.

Clifford appears in “The Heritage of Canadian Military Music” written by Jack Kopstein & Ian Pearson.

His own band is the “Green Dolphin Street”.

Levon Ichkhanian


Following the family tradition of musicians, Levon Ichkhanian’s musical experiences range from recording, composing, producing and touring. He has released three solo CDs (with featured guests Alain Caron and Grammy award winners John Patitucci, Paquito D’Rivera, and Bernard Purdie). He has played on over 100 commercially released recordings from Canadian Idol to India’s renowned Hariharan. He has composed for the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, as well as created soundtracks for filmmakers, such as Atom Egoyan, environmentalist David Suzuki and Choreographer Twyla Tharp.

Levon has toured throughout Canada, the US and Europe, both with his own world/jazz group, in addition to touring with the likes of Peter Murphy (former frontman of Bauhaus) and A.R. Rahman (of “Slumdog Millionaire”). He has performed at events as MIDEM in Cannes and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, sharing the stage with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Oliver Jones & Taylor Dane, and in stage productions as The Lord of the Rings, 3 Mo’ Divas, Spamalot, Robin Hood, and the Tony Award Winning Toronto production of Jersey Boys.

Levon is an avid explorer of improvisation, which forms the basis for his workshops, master classes and published articles. A recipient of the Governor General of Canada’s acknowledgment for musical excellence and International Association of Jazz Educator’s All Star Jazz Award, he has also been the cover feature in numerous music magazines. In addition to the acoustic and electric guitars, Levon plays world string instruments, including the Oud, Banjitar and Bouzouki.

Alex Dean


Alex Dean, one of Canada’s foremost jazz saxophonists, has been a mainstay of the Canadian music scene for many years. He has played and recorded with Bill Evans, Kenny Wheeler, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Harry Connick Jr., Phil Nimmons, the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Alex held the tenor saxophone chair with Rob McConnell’s Grammy award winning Boss Brass and the Juno award winning Rob McConnell Tentet. The Alex Dean Quartet/Quintet recordings include the newly released “At this point” (released Nov. 2010), Dreamsville, Both Feet, and Kaitlyn’s Waltz. Kaitlyn’s Waltz was voted Best Jazz CD of 1994 by The Jazz Report and one of the Top Ten Jazz CD releases by New York’s Village Voice. Alex was also voted Jazz Musician of the Year by the Toronto Star. Alex is a widely respected private teacher and adjudicator in Canada and the U.S., and he is a faculty member at both Humber College and the University of Toronto.

Andy Ballantyne


Andy Ballantyne is a saxophonist, arranger and composer in Toronto, Canada. A graduate of the Humber College and University of Toronto Jazz programmes, he also attended the Banff Centre Jazz Workshop in the late 80’s. Over the past 20 years Andy has had the good fortune to perform and/or record with many jazz greats, including Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, Don Byron, Vince Mendoza and Carla Bley. He is a regular member of John MacLeod’s Rex Hotel orchestra, The Paul Read Orchestra, Nimmons and Nine Now, and the Neufeld/Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra.

As a versatile performer in several different genres, Andy has performed for numerous musicals (“The Producers” was the most fun), recorded jingles and soundtracks, and backed up celebrities including Paul Anka, Petula Clark, Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight and Donna Summer. He is currently on faculty at Humber College teaching saxophone, theory, and arranging/composition. Formed in 2006, the Andy Ballantyne Large Ensemble (ABLE) is an 11-piece band comprising some of Canada’s finest jazz musicians.

Bruce Cassidy


Born in Fredericton and schooled in Nova Scotia, Bruce Cassidy made the leap into jazz in the late 1950s, getting his start in Montreal in the company of trumpeters Herbie Spanier, Guido Basso and pianist Joe Sealy. After a period of study at Berklee College of Music in Boston he moved to Toronto and was soon performing at Toronto’s main jazz venues and in studios, including the first seven albums released by Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass.

He started out with trumpet as his first performance instrument and is today also one of the world’s foremost performers on the EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument), a wind synthesizer invented by Nyle Steiner. He wrote and recorded the first orchestral concerto for this instrument and with it has performed the Ondes Martenot solo part in Olivier Messiaen’s Turangulila Symphony with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra.

His love of variety led to extended playing, recording and touring with Doug Riley’s Dr. Music, Lighthouse and, the fusion band Blood, Sweat and Tears for which he contributed compositions and arrangements for their last two albums. Artists with whom he has appeared in concert include Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Dionne Warwick, Anne Murray, Marvin Gaye, Chucho Valdez, and various symphony orchestras, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

After a world tour in 1980 Bruce moved to South Africa and immersed himself in the African music scene. He wrote and produced music for orchestral concerts, film, television and international dance competitions. Under the auspices of the South African Department of Arts and Culture he composed and produced an opera based on African Xhosa folklore, The Clay Flute, and produced a number of concerts for European artists and the SA internationally renowned opera singer Sibongile Khumalo. His latest album production in South Africa was Our World, a modern orchestral/jazz outing for the renowned Soweto String Quartet. In 1995 he was contracted to return to South Africa to lead an international big band at the National Arts Festival there.

His own projects in South Africa include:

  • Timeless, an award winning duo which combined the EVI, with the ancient instrument specialist Pops Mohamed which toured Scandanavia and central European countries
  • The Body Electric (a group focused on the healing power of music, and
  • A 10 piece band, the Hotfoot Orchestra which has taken root here in Toronto with the finest local musicians.

Since Bruce’s return to Toronto in 2003, he has produced, with his Los Angeles partner Ken Wiley, the first jazz play-along book for French horn.

He has also arranged Joe Zawinul’s classic “Birdland” for 16 french horns, and has written arrangements for Rick Morrison’s band The Carnival of Souls

Bruce has formed and recorded a new, expanded band for Blood Sweat and Tears vocalist David Clayton-Thomas for whom is now musical director. 

Alex St. Kitts


Alex St. Kitts is a Toronto born composer and musician; he is one of the most in demand 20-something electric bassists in the city.

Alex began playing bass at the age of sixteen after watching Canada’s most prestigious bassist Pat Kilbride.  After only one year of bass study, he auditioned and got accepted at Humber College for the Contemporary Music Degree and subsequently had the honor of studying with the greats such as Mike Downes, Pat Kilbride, Pat LaBarbera, Mark Rogers, Vaughan Misner and many more.  Amidst his time at Humber, he has received three scholarship awards for excellence and proficiency in Music. He has finished the program and now has a Bachelor’s Degree in Contemporary Music.

He has had the honor and pleasure of performing with such bands as The George St. Kitts Band, The Sara Dell Band, Dylan Murray, KC Roberts, and Brownman Ali’s Electryc Trio, D-Sisive, Purple Revolution and many more.  Notable achievements have been playing with such greats as Mike Stern, Chris Potter, and the LaBarbera Brothers.

Alex has been playing around the Toronto scene, in various settings, and has also played in England, and many places in the U.S.  He is currently working on some new projects, including his group “The Astro Droids” with fellow members Robin Claxton and Will Hebbes and “MOONWALKER: The Michael Jackson Tribute”.