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A Guide to the 2013 Toronto Jazz Festival

The 2013 Toronto Jazz Festival features international legends and local favourites. Plus, the first night is free.

The Bobby Sparks Trio.

The Bobby Sparks Trio.

  • Multiple venues
  • June 20–29
  • Prices vary

The 2013 Toronto Jazz Festival descends on the city on June 21 with a huge “free for all” event. That means all of Friday, June 21′s programming at every Jazz Festival venue is, yes, completely free of charge. There will be concerts from local favourites Molly Johnson and Mary Margaret O’Hara, plus a show by Smokey Robinson and Martha Reeves, who will be launching the fest from its epicentre, Nathan Phillips Square.

Here’s a rundown of some of the shows worth checking out on Friday—and during the rest of the festival, when you’ll actually have to pay.

Free-For-All Friday

There are over twenty shows to choose from on Friday, and all of them are free. Here are our top-five picks.


Smokey Robinson with Martha Reves and the Vandellas

When: Friday, June 21, 8 p.m.
Where: Nathan Phillips Square

The Motor City is coming to the T-dot! Wristbands for the Smokey Robinson/Martha Reeves and the Vandellas double bill will start being distributed at 5 p.m. on Friday on the east side of Nathan Phillips Square. If you’re hellbent on a spot in the tent, get there early. Otherwise, screens and speakers will be set up outside the tent to accommodate the overflow. There’s a limit of one wristband per person, and doors open at 7 p.m.


Mary Margaret O’Hara

When: Friday, June 21, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Where: Musideum (401 Richmond Street West)

The kooky and fabulous O’Hara really is one of a kind. Joining her is local songstress Yvette Tollar.


Molly Johnson

When: Friday, June 21, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Where: Jazz Bistro (251 Victoria Street)

This will be a rare opportunity to see a concert-hall artist in a small club. Get to the Jazz Bistro early and sit up front.


Michael Dunston with Dave Young

When: Friday, June 21, 8 p.m.
Where: Shops at Don Mills (1090 Don Mills Road)

Local soul singer Dunston is joined by the great bassist Dave Young for a tribute to Donny Hathaway.


Victor Lewis with Ryan Oliver

When: Friday, June 21, 11 p.m.
Where: The Rex Hotel (194 Queen Street West)

New York–based drummer Victor Lewis is joined by one of Toronto’s finest sax players, Ryan Oliver. This should be a great way to end the night.

Roberta Gambarini.

The Rest of the Fest

There’s a lot to like at the 2013 Toronto Jazz Festival, both for jazz fans and for casual listeners. Fancy seeing Steve Martin play his banjo? There’s a mainstage show for that! There’s also tons of local talent in the spotlight, which is great to see. Here are our top-five picks for the rest of the fest.


Dr. John and Mavis Stapes

When: Saturday, June 23, 8 p.m.
Where: Nathan Phillips Square

If you grew up watching The Muppet Show, you know you want to see the legendary New Orleans musician that “Dr. Teeth” was based on. Pairing Dr. John with the unstoppable Mavis Staples makes this, hands down, the best double bill of the fest.


Dr. Lonnie Smith

When: Monday, June 24, 10 p.m.
Where: The Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen Street West)

The legendary Hammond B3 organist started out with guitarist George Benson, recorded for Blue Note, has been sampled by hip-hop artists like A Tribe Called Quest and is still, after decades in the business, going strong.


The Canadian Jazz Quartet With Special Guests

When: Monday, June 24 through Friday, June 28. Nightly shows at 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Old Mill Inn (21 Old Mill Road)

Local mainstay the Canadian Jazz Quartet never disappoint. To make things even better, the quartet is bringing in a roster of American straight-ahead jazz notables like saxophonists Harry Allen and Houston Person. The Old Mill can be a bit of trek, but it’s right next to the subway and there’s free parking to entice you.


The Bobby Sparks Trio

When: Tuesday, June 25, 11 p.m.
Where: The Rex Hotel (194 Queen Street West)

Funky, gritty good times direct from Texas, by way of Brooklyn. Wear your dancing shoes and get your stank face on to see these Snarky Puppy alums.


Roberta Gambarini

When: Friday, June 28, 8 p.m.
Where: Jazz Bistro (251 Victoria Street)

Considered by many to be the finest female jazz singer of her generation, the Grammy-nominated Italian vocalist always thrills.

Photos by Tracey Nolan/Torontoist.

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