The “saxplayer for the taxpayer” and other late-July moments in the Toronto mayoralty race

Jul 28th, 2014 | By | Category: In Brief

Leyland Gordon Band at The Rex, December 27, 2013. Leyland Gordon, guitar ; Richard Underhill, alto sax ; Victor Bateman, bass ; and Mark Kelso, drums. (Out of camera range : Bernie Senensky, piano.)

Aesthetic and brilliant jazz saxplayer Richard Underhill was brilliantly holding forth, musically, at the Rex Hotel this past Thursday night, with the Leyland Gordon Band. (An often inspiring concoction of some of the city’s finest players, intermittently assembled by financial guru, guitarist, and songwriter Gordon, to perform the works of such talents as  Pat Metheny, George Benson, Bob James, and Mr. Gordon himself.)

It was also announced from the stage that Richard Underhill, along with all his current musical commitments, is running for the office of Mayor of Toronto. Mr. Underhill himself noted that he is now especially active under the slogan the “saxplayer for the taxpayer” — having heard so much about respect for taxpayers as his campaign has evolved over the past six months.

Richard Underhill the mayoral candidate!

According to the mass media, there are five main and perhaps only three deadly serious contenders in this race (Rob Ford, John Tory, and Olivia Chow). Yet, on the latest tally as I write, there are now 68 officially registered candidates on the ballot for Mayor of Toronto this coming Monday, October 27, 2014. Richard Underhill is one of the 63 candidates beyond the mass media’s main list of five! But I agree that he still deserves more attention than he’s getting from the big corporate communication networks. We first bumped into him on this site this past March 18, 2014, when my colleague Dr. Randall White posted “Key current campaigns : Olivia Chow, Alex Mazer, and Richard Underhill in Toronto, and Tim Hortons in Quebec.”

This past Canada Day, July 1, 2014, Underhill’s mayoral campaign was more extensively (and of course influentially!) covered in a Toronto Star interview by Jennifer Pagliaro  — “Meet the longshots: Mayoral candidate Richard Underhill … is hoping to leap from the cramped interior of the Spadina bus to the mayor’s seat at city hall.” (The “saxophonist-about-Kensington is best known as a member of the Shuffle Demons, the jazz funk outfit that immortalized the TTC’s Spadina Bus in the mid-1980s.” The bus has now been replaced by a Spadina Streetcar. And as Underhill most recently told Jennifer Pagliaro : “As much as the song has been great and I love the original spirit of getting on that bus and being crammed in with a mass of humanity going down Spadina, it’s kind of better with the streetcar.”)

Jazz Hockey monster band — which traded ice for stage to support Richard Underhill for mayor, June 16, 2014.

When Dr. White first wrote about Richard Underhill’s underdog (and even underground?) Toronto mayoral campaign, this past March, he said he’d collected far more interesting Underhill material than he could use at that time. And he promised to report on this material sooner than he has. When I was assigned the subject this time, he generously passed along his Richard Underhill file  — perhaps thinking I could spare him the hard labour of trying to turn this material into a proper story (as my grandmother might have said). What I have done instead is  quickly organize the raw material passed along into more useful clusters, more or less on a chronological plan, sort of. And you can click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below to inspect the results — a hasty survey of which does seem to me to offer a more detailed (and even “nuanced”) picture of Richard Underhill and his intriguing Toronto mayoral campaign. (I think I would almost certainly vote for Underhill myself, if it seemed that Olivia Chow was in no trouble at all, which alas it does not seem at the moment — see the three-way-tie poll below!)

Meanwhile, right here I offer two final links to other must-read recent Toronto political writing, as part of the wider context to the Underhill Campaign — the “Saxplayer for the Taxpayer.”    First : “Toronto Ford Fest draws big crowd and LGBT protest …  More than a thousand cheer Mayor Rob Ford, but LGBT protesters cry foul.” And second (and remember these numbers: there will be a test) : “Chow, Tory and Ford in statistical tie in mayoral race: poll …  The telephone poll by Forum Research has found that the three main contenders in the mayoral race are in a statistical tie with Olivia Chow enjoying the support of 29% of respondents while John Tory sits at 28% and Ford comes in third with 27%. Karen Stintz (5%) and David Soknacki (5%) rounded out the field … Chow is down seven points from a similar poll conducted on July 2 while Tory and Ford are both up one point …  In the event of a three-way race between the main contenders, the poll puts Chow ahead with 35% of the vote compared to 32% for Tory and 27%  for Ford … Tory, meanwhile, enjoyed the highest approval rating with 67% compared to 54% for Chow, 48% for Soknacki, 44% for Stintz, and 33% for Ford.”


(1)  “Richard grew up in Salmon Arm, British Columbia and attended Salmon Arm Senior High where he graduated from in 1979. Rich can often be found out and about in the Kensington Market area of Toronto’s downtown district.”

(2)  “RICHARD UNDERHILL (saxophonist, composer, arranger) A founding member of the highly successful jazz fusion group, the Shuffle Demons … Underhill is a busy session musician and sideman for such diverse artists as Molly Johnson, the Neville Brothers and Jake Langley. Underhill, an innovative composer and arranger also leads a number of his own groups. He earned a 2003 Juno award for his first solo effort ‘Tales from the Blue Lounge’ and acclaim for his follow up releases include ‘A Moment in Time’ and ‘Kensington Suite’  — named for his beloved Toronto neighbourhood. PLAYS Piano, Tenor, alto, baritone sax.”

(3)  Welcome to Richard Underhill’s music site. For all music bookings please contact him at … The big news in 2014 is that Richard is running for Mayor of Toronto. To join in the campaign, donate or view his exciting and progressive platform, please go to”

Richard Underhill with Shuffle Demon colleagues Perry White and Ryan Oliver, at The Pilot, February 2013.Photo : Lloyd Smith.

(4)  CAMPAIGN LITERATURE : “Richard Underhill for Mayor …  What makes me unique in this mayoral race is that I have had the opportunity to travel the world as a musician. I have toured to over 30 countries and have seen first hand how other cities are modernizing far quicker than we are and reaping the social and economic benefits from better transit, increased green space, complete streets and human scale development. Have any of the other candidates in the race traveled from New York to New Delhi, Amsterdam to Auckland, Helsinki to Havana, Berlin to Budapest or Goa to Guadalajara? … This gives me a unique perspective and a large palette of ideas to draw from in order to help us unlock our vast potential and shape a city of the future. A dynamic, resilient, self-sufficient and confident city. May the best PLAN win.”

(5)  “The founding member of Toronto’s outrageous Sun Ra influenced Shuffle Demons, Underhill took this ground breaking Bop Rap ensemble from the streets of Toronto across Canada and to Europe … The Shuffle Demons feature a fusion of hard bop and rap combined with exotic costumes and a no-holds-barred performance style. They recently celebrated their 25th Anniversary with a cross Canada tour and in 2006 performed at festivals in India, China and Europe.”

Sun Ra and his Arkestra, 1960.

(6) Sun Ra … “In late 1968 Sun Ra and the Arkestra made their first tour of the US West Coast. Reactions were mixed; hippies accustomed to long-form psychedelia like the Grateful Dead were often bewildered by the Arkestra. By this time, the performance included 20–30 musicians, dancers, singers, fire-eaters, and elaborate lighting. John Burks of Rolling Stone wrote a positive review of a San Jose State College concert. Sun Ra was featured on the April 19, 1969 cover of the magazine, which introduced his inscrutable gaze to millions …”

(7) “Space Is The Place [Sun Ra Film 1974] …  Sun Ra was allegedly born Herman Poole Blount on May 22nd 1914 and returned to the stars on May 30th 1993. He was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, one of the earliest UFO contactees, a poet and philosopher known for his ‘cosmic philosophy,’ musical compositions and performances. He himself said he was of the ‘Angel Race’ and not from Earth, but from Saturn.”

(8) “Paradise” — Sun Ra Arkestra

(9) “Spadina Bus” — Shuffle Demons

(10) “Spadina Bus” — Shuffle Demons, Yokohama Jazz Promenade, 2011

(11) Shuffle Demons —- 2012 “Spadina Bus”

(12)  JAN 2, 2014 — “Eight curious candidates who are running for municipal office in 2014, including Dimitri the Lover …  Another mayoral candidate is Richard Underhill, a jazz saxophonist best known as a founding member of the Shuffle Demons—of ‘Spadina Bus’ fame.”

(13)  “Consider Richard Underhill For Mayor” … Alan Parker,  January 3rd, 2014, in a TORONTO SUN.COM BLOG  …  Underhill says : “I think Olivia Chow would make an excellent mayor, but in the end it’s up to the citizens of Toronto to decide. However, I don’t feel that I am running AGAINST Olivia Chow or any other candidate, I feel I am running WITH them to help craft a better vision for Toronto. One of my slogans is ‘let the best PLAN win’ and so, for me, being a part of the discussion and helping to set the agenda will be a huge triumph. I may lack hands-on political experience, but I think one of my strengths is that I am non-partisan. To me, parties should not have a role in city politics. Being free to take whatever stand I feel is right on certain issues without the baggage of party politics is an asset that I bring to the job.”

(14)  Jan 6, 2014 at 03:00 PM … JONATHAN GOLDSBIE, “People who are not Rob Ford … They can be interesting, too! …  Richard Underhill (running for mayor): “He states that if he’s ‘not in a position to win near voting day, [he’ll] drop out and support the most viable progressive candidate.’

Richard Underhill wails away on baritone sax with community band in his Kensington neighbourhood, August 8, 2004.

(15)  Barb Brouwer, Salmon Arm Observer, posted Jan 14, 2014 at 3:00 PM— updated Jan 14, 2014 at 4:15 PM — “Richard Underhill looking to become Toronto’s next mayor …  Despite the controversy swirling around current mayor Rob Ford, Underhill believes that unless people become more aware and engaged, he could get in for another term …  ‘There are enough people who believe the hype,’ he says. ‘If you tell the big lie and work with it, you can actually get people to vote against their own interests’” …

(16)  Mark Smith, January 30, 2014. “Richard Underhill Mayor Shuffle Demon … Q : Your platform leans heavily to the left, one could say you are the anti Ford and you will be attacked for suggesting perceivably wacky ideas like fruit trees on every street … A : “The platform is a set of ideas, ideals that we can strive toward. They may not come to fruition, but they are ideas. We have a City Hall full of good ideas. I trust the capacity for councilors, city staff and bureaucracy to do a good job, we just have to let that happen without building walls, it has to be done with a non partisan approach, working together.”

(17)  “Local saxophonist Richard Underhill runs for mayor” —  FROM THE TORONTO SUN! … BY ERROL NAZARETH, QMI AGENCY, FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, MARCH 13, 2014 08:06 PM ET …  “Everything in his platform is about fairness and kindness to one another. Our city can use a bit more of that.”

(18)  MY THREE WOULD BE… RICHARD UNDERHILL … “Every Week as part of Dani Elwell’s ‘Sunday Afternoon Jazz,’ Dani asks notable personalities from all walks of life what their top three jazz tunes are … This week, Juno Award winning jazz sax man and local hero Richard Underhill tells us his three favorite jazz tunes of all time … (1)  Miss Ann by Eric Dolphy : ‘One of my early influences, Dolphy fused hard driving bebop swing and energy with wild leaps and an almost 12 tone sensibility that hearkens the work of Arnold Schoenberg. This song captures the wild abandon of Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee, maintaining the furious swing while incorporating a very modern melodic concept. It’s a very catchy melody!’”

(19)  ERIC DOLPHY, Miss Ann

(20) “Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, The Home Smith Bar is a showcase for some of the most important instrumentalists and outstanding singers on today’s jazz scene in the charming intimacy of one of Toronto’s best-loved lounges … Tonight, we feature saxophone virtuoso RICHARD UNDERHILL —  founding member of ‘The Shuffle Demons’; multiple winner and nominee of Juno, Casby, and Toronto Music Awards; three-time Montreal Jazz Festival Grand Prix du Jazz finalist ; winner of the 2008 Roy Thomson Hall Award ; and 2014 candidate for Mayor of Toronto. This evening’s all-star Trio also features long-time ‘Boss Brass’ pianist DAVID RESTIVO and talented bassist  DAN FORTIN …”

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