Music Online. Under the Radar
Welcome to our Sunday music section
“Notable Canadian Jewish Performers.”
By David Eisenstadt
TORONTO December 4/22 – Jonno Lightstone modestly says he’s “somewhat under the radar”. His many career achievements say otherwise because he’s acknowledged as one of Canada’s top klezmer musicians.
Long-time collaborator, Toronto-based guitarist/pianist Brian Katz said, “Jonno is one of the most dedicated and developed klezmer musicians in Canada. Hearing him play for just 30 seconds, it’s clear how completely grounded he is in the tradition. I am fortunate to make music with him.”
A multi-faceted musician and sought-after teacher, Lightstone also coach award-winning ensembles. Over the years, he has performed at countless Jewish community events in and around Toronto playing with groups including Klezmology and a Cuban band called Tres Kilos. Recently he hooked up with Papalote, specializing in Cuban roots music while playing with a new klezmer group – Moyshe and the Swingsters. Lightstone and Katz are often joined by other talented players including Anne Lederman, George Koller, and Artie Roth. He also plays lead alto in the Encore concert band and leads/teaches at Klezkonnection, Canada’s largest community klezmer group. Add a private teaching practice with students in Toronto, New York, and Israel, and music instruction at Royal St. George College, Lightstone is happily very busy.
Encore Band Toronto — Harlem Nocturne
Jonathan, nicknamed Jonno, was born in Detroit, MI. in 1953 to Jewish parents Morris and Lucille (nee Gould) Lightstone, originally Lichtenstein. He studied and played flute through high school. The family moved to England. He told me that “instrumental music wasn’t part of the UK school curriculum,” so he turned to the potter’s wheel as a creative outlet. He returned to Canada in 1973, enrolling at Sheridan College’s School of Design, in Oakville, Ontario, one of the top studio ceramics programs in Canada. He then moved to Owen Sound (north of Toronto), opened his own studio, and became a successful potter “making handmade, wheel-thrown porcelain that sold well.”
But music, central in his formative years, and which he set aside, beckoned a return. He picked up the flute and “rediscovered music”, initially playing in a folk rock band and diving deep into jazz history.
Singer-songwriter Batsheva, now living in Nashville, TN. said, “early (in my career) Jonno told me I need to learn about jazz, so he shleped me all over Toronto to hear the important jazz artists. Everything I learned about jazz, I learned from Jonno.”
That’s when the klezmer bug bit. “Something about klezmer music spoke to me, more than jazz or classical music ever had.” While gigging as a rocker, he took up the saxophone, and in the early 1980s, he started the Culture Vultures, one of the first klezmer bands in Ontario. “What’s a klezmer band without a clarinet,” he mused. So he bought a clarinet, studied with Kurt Björling, and “learned the proper way to make klezmer ornaments and how to ‘sing’ through my instrument. My sound style reflects the great klezmer clarinetists of the past – Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras, and modern players Joel Rubin and Andy Statman.”
He finally decided to seriously pursue a music career, returning to Toronto to gain a more solid grounding in theory, enrolling at age 34 in Humber College’s jazz program. He said, “that experience changed my life because it helped to make me musically literate while allowing me to develop my ear so I could really hear inside the music.”
Graduating in 1990, he played in various bands exploring many musical genres – “first was reggae with Tabarruk, then ska with the Skanksters, then salsa, then flamenco.” Five years later he founded the klezmer group Hu Tsa Tsa which “began as a funky brass band with clarinet, sax, tuba, and drums, gradually morphing into a chamber music group with clarinet violin and tsimbl. In 2004, he formed the Yiddish Swingtet with Jordan Klapman and Tony Quarrington, mixing klezmer with swing-era jazz.
Back to the classroom in 2008 where Lightstone earned an ethnomusicology master’s degree at York University. There he met David Mott, an accomplished saxophonist. In 2010 they founded Klezmology exploring the interface between klezmer music and free improvisation. Experimental jazz drummer Nick Fraser joined the group.
Lightstone has collaborated with a who’s who of Toronto-based musicians including Daniel Barnes, Matt Brubeck, Rona Goldensher, Zalman Molotek, Sharon and Bram (Under the Radar), Mitch Smolkin, Eric Stein and Theresa Tova (cjnonline.ca).
With virtually no live performances during the Covid lockdown, he kept busy prepping several pre-recorded Zoom presentations. These included Music Was His Mistress (Duke Ellington) and a three-part Yiddish music series – Songs From The Heart, The Story of Yiddish Music. But as live performances have resumed, he’s back on the bandstand with performances that shouldn’t be missed.♦
Credits: Photo – Steve Stober; Ivy Lo/YouTube
David Eisenstadt is the author of Under the Radar, 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians. He is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.
A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in our category section. Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact
David Eisenstadt will be giving Live and Zoom presentations about his book.
December 14/22- NCJWC, Toronto. 7:30 pm ET ZOOM
January 4/23- University of Calgary, Calgary. 12 noon MT LIVE
January 4/23 Temple B’Nai Tikvah, Calgary, 7 pm MT LIVE
For details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
-Thank you David! You’ve written a very nice article and I feel quite flattered. You really covered all the bases and thanks for reaching out to Brian Katz and Batsheva. It’s been along journey and still going strong. – JL, Toronto, Ontario Canada
-Wonderful article on dear Jonno. I’d forgotten the early potting years! It was great to see the whole story and his trajectory. The Culture Vultures and I did some performances together and a demo recording, in the early days, as I recall. Bravo on your piece and to Jonno. – BC, Nashville, Tennesse, USA
-Liked it! A discovery for me and so is the Encore Band. Thanks a bunch! – GB, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
-Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed his story. – HMS, Woodland Hills, California, USA
-A really interesting guy. – FK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
-Good stuff. Terrific performer with a curious background. – EG, Woodstock, Georgia, USA
-Thanks for introducing me to Mr. Lightstone’s music. It made me feel like dancing! – JPF, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
–I will listen to his music today. Thank you for the introduction. – BB, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
-What a multi-talented performer Jonno Lightstone is. A klezmer maven who plays jazz in big bands and more. I don’t know how you source these Canadian Jewish musical performers, but I hope you’ll keep it up! – MRB, Calgary, Alberta, Canada