Aretha Franklin performs at a free concert tonight for the Toronto Jazz Festival.
Jazz is trendy again. Starting tonight, as it has for the past 24 years, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival is rolling into town, bringing with it a plethora of shows from renowned local musicians to big name out-of-towners. In his second year as artistic director, Josh Grossman has provided the festival with an expanded vision (both geographically and musically) and a formidable web presence. Our top picks include everything from mainstream, swinging jazz to hip hop, at every price point imaginable, including free.
FRIDAY, JUNE 24
The Canadian Jazz Quartet with special guest Harry Allen
The Canadian Jazz Quartet has a residency at this New York–style bar, bringing their brand of classic, swinging jazz to the happy hour set most Friday evenings. These shows are always a great hang, and joining the Quartet on the first night of the festival is New York saxophonist Harry Allen (familiar to Toronto audiences from his 2004 recording This One’s for Barney, with local guitarist Andrew Scott).
Dave Brubeck Quartet
He’s been on the cover of Time Magazine, was lauded at the Kennedy Center Honors, and has been designated a “living legend” by the Library of Congress. Chances are, even if you don’t realize it, you are familiar with his 1959 recording Time Out and his biggest hit, Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.”
The Queen of Soul, who cancelled all her tour dates last year due to health issues, makes her comeback official with a free concert in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District. Fresh off her roof-raising appearance on the Oprah finale spectacle, Franklin will be backed up by some of Toronto’s finest musicians, led by the inimitable Guido Basso. What could possibly keep you away from this one?
SATURDAY, JUNE 25Jim Galloway and Friends
Galloway was artistic director of the festival for its first 23 years and for just as long, a lunchtime concert featuring his Sydney Bechet style, swinging, growling, melodic curved soprano saxophone has been a welcome inevitability. Galloway is always joined by some great local musicians and usually a few visiting dignitaries as well.
Dave Holland Quintet
If you were at the Dave Holland Quintet show during the 2009 festival, chances are you’ve already got your tickets to this show. The British-born bass player first came to prominence playing with Miles Davis during his Bitches Brew period. Since that time he has explored every corner of the genre, landing comfortably in a place where he, simply put, plays everything and plays it beautifully.
SUNDAY, JUNE 26Mike Murley Septet
Juno-winning tenor saxophonist Mike Murley’s septet is a collection of some of Toronto’s best musicians, including Tara Davidson (sax) and Kevin Turcotte (trumpet). It’s a real treat to hear Murley’s lush horn in these large group settings. If this set is anything like his most recent recording, Still Rollin’, expect lots of originals and improvisation.
Sparks, League & Thomas
Music industry insiders are calling this one the sleeper show of the fest, and it’s easy to see why. Sparks (organ), League (bass), and “JT” Thomas (drums) are all members of Snarky Puppy, a Brooklyn-based fusion collective and Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor.
MONDAY, JUNE 27Swing Shift Big Band
After spending lunchtime with one of Canada’s top preservationist big bands, you might just find yourself dancing through the aisles at McEwan’s. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Quite simply, Elling is this generation’s preeminent jazz vocalist, as at home with a break-neck pace up tempo piece as he is a silky ballad. He is a generous performer who always brings with him a keen sense of intimacy and warmth. Not to be missed.
TUESDAY, JUNE 28Vijay Iyer
The New Yorker calls him “extravagantly gifted”; if you saw Iyer open for McCoy Tyner at the 2006 Toronto Jazz Festival, you’re probably inclined to agree. It will be intriguing to see what five years of development have done to Iyer’s sound, and his unique blend of African, Asian, and European influences.
Corktown’s Django Jam
Guitarist Wayne Nakamura is the host of Toronto’s most established gypsy jazz jam. Sit back, relax and get ready to be transported to 1920s Paris. This show is free, but you’ll need to bring along a few dollars to enjoy one of Dominion on Queen’s great selection of beers.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29Chris Donnelly
Youthful University of Toronto professor Donnelly’s debut album Solo was recognized with a Juno nomination in 2009. Since that time he’s taken his inventive, virtuosic playing to festivals and concert halls all over the country.
Branford Marsalis is no stranger to the piano/saxophone duo, having played extensively with both his father, the great Ellis Marsalis, and with Harry Connick Jr. Tonight’s programme with Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo (the regular pianist in his quartet and an incredible talent) is a special one, as it is the world premiere of their new collaboration. This promises to be a night of beautiful, uncompromising, intimate music in one of our city’s best venues.
Yuks Yuks? Say what? That’s right, a comedian is part of the jazz festival. A truly modern creation, New York–based comedian Watts improvises most of his shows with a stream of consciousness stand-up personae and loop-pedal based a cappella compositions. You may have seen him on Conan, Fallon, or The Comedy Network, but we’re guessing that live is really the only way to truly appreciate his artistry.
THURSDAY, JUNE 30
Dave Young Quartet featuring Reg Schwager
Former Jazz FM personality Larry Green began programming jazz at this charmingly retro north end spot a couple of years ago with great success. Dave Young, one of this country’s finest bass players and an Order of Canada recipient, is at the helm tonight with the wonderful Reg Schwager (who won Guitarist of the Year four years in a row at the National Jazz Awards) joining in on the fun. There is no cover charge, but you’ll want to sample China House’s classically retro Canadian/Chinese fare. (Free advice: get the honey garlic chicken.)
Follow Your Instincts
A monthly showcase that acts as an incubator for young R&B and hip hop talent in Toronto. The level of talent is unpredictable, but buzz has been good for this event, and Harlem is a stylish venue with a great menu.
FRIDAY, JULY 1Heavyweights Brass Band
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know that one of the first things to greet you is the sound of one of the city’s great brass bands blasting out pop hits by Lady Gaga and Beyonce, and R&B standards by the likes of Bill Withers, in their gutsy, feel-good way. Toronto now has its own brass band, the Heavyweights: they are poised to play a bunch of shows this summer and set to release their debut album in September. Get in on the party now. Happy Birthday to us!
Call them one of hip hop’s favourite bands, heavy musicians, jazz-influenced, or the greatest band in late night: any way you look at it, the Roots bring something to the table for everybody while remaining true to their own vision and sound. Last year they played a sold out show that was one of the highlights of the festival. Toronto’s DJ Kong will be spinning before the show gets underway.
Rich Brown’s Rinsethealgorithm
It is a certainty that you’ll be way too pumped after the Roots to retire home; the best way to expend that extra energy just might be at a Risethealgorithm show. Bassist and composer Rich Brown leads with Luis Deniz on sax, Robi Botos on keys, and Larnell Lewis on Drums. Formed in 2004 with the aim of reimagining jazz as the original dance music, Rich and the band will keep you on your feet.
SATURDAY, JULY 2Terra Hazelton and Her Easy Answers
Well-known on the Toronto club circuit for her ease on stage and her gritty and graceful voice, Hazelton is the former vocalist for Jeff Healy’s Jazz Wizards. It’s been a big year for Hazelton, who is fresh off a west coast tour and her Gemini-nominated performance in Fubar II.
Yes, that Bootsy Collins. You don’t need to know more than that, do you? This promises to be the funkiest night Toronto has seen in a long time. Opening is Toronto rock soul songstress Saidah Baba Tailbah.
SUNDAY, JULY 3Mike Cado and the Groovemeisters
This set promises innovative and original compositions as well as fresh takes on well-loved standards. Lazy Sunday fare.
8:30 p.m., David Pecaut Square
The last time Nikki Yanofsky graced a Toronto Jazz Festival stage she was an adorable little girl who did an admirable Ella Fitzgerald impression. Since that time she’s proven that she’s got mass appeal (anybody who watched any Olympic coverage at all last winter knows who Nikki is) and a surprising musical maturity. Her new album features a song written for her by Feist and several co-written by Jesse Harris and Ron Sexsmith. Come see what all the fuss is about.
Photos by Tracey Nolan.