A few weeks ago, our Publicity team asked me to choose 15 picks from the more than 150 free shows we're presenting at this year's Festival. That's kind of like asking me to choose which of my 150 children are my 15 favourite. (Or is that a weird comparison?) I LIKE THEM ALL EQUALLY.
But. For the purposes of exploring the free shows you can see at this year's Festival, it's a good place to start. And so - here are my first 20 or so picks. (Because I couldn't even get it down to 15.)
David Braid The North: Friday June 22, 7:00 pm, Church of the Redeemer
David's album of the same name won the 2018 JUNO Award for best Jazz Album: Group - and this is the ensemble which performs on the album: David on piano along with Mike Murley on sax, from Sweden Johnny Åman (bass), and from Denmark Anders Mogensen (Drums).
OKAN: Saturday June 23, 1:00 pm, OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue
One of Toronto's most exciting acts in any style. OKAN, under the direction of Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne, seeks to preserve traditional Cuban musical forms while reflecting the music's development - a great way to kick off the Festival's first Saturday.
Moon Hooch: Saturday June 23, 7:30 pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland Street
Two saxes and a drum set - this unique trio, whose New York subway busking became a viral sensation, is the real deal: great playing, creative compositions, and always high energy.
Toronto Poetry Slam / d'bi and the 333: Saturday June 23, 9:00 pm, Pilot Tavern
Combining music and slam poetry, see the poets selected to represent Toronto at the National Poetry Slam in Chicago later this summer, along with Afro-Dub-Fusion band d'bi and the 333 headed up by acclaimed poet, playwright and performer d’bi.young anitafrika. (Please note - $10 cover for all Pilot Tavern shows.)
Pan Fantasy: Sunday June 24, 1:00 pm, OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue
Okay I'm pretty excited about this one: 8 players, 15 steel pans, and a total party. Start your Sunday with some calypso, performed by one of Toronto's most rousing steel pan ensembles.
Reg Schwager - Songbook: Sunday June 24, 7:00 pm, Heliconian Hall
A chance to see one of Canada's top jazz musicians, in an intimate setting, along with three outstanding vocalists: John Alcorn, Luanda Jones and Jeannette Lambert.
Russell Malone Quartet: Sunday June 24, 7:30 pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland
One of the international jazz scene's great guitarists. Russell's approach is always swinging, whether he's playing jazz standards or original compositions - which is why he was a long-time member of Diana Krall's ensemble.
John MacLeod Rex Hotel Orchestra: Monday June 25, 7:00 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Carrying on the tradition established by Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, John MacLeod's Rex Hotel Orchestra features Canada's top jazz musicians performing what has come to be known as the Toronto Sound.
Lydia Persaud: Tuesday June 26, 12:00 pm, OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue
A co-founding member of outstanding vocal trio The O'Pears, Lydia Persaud is now blazing a path as a solo artist. She is one of Toronto's most well-respected emerging vocalists who is quickly earning acclaim from musicians and presenters throughout North America.
Shake Stew: Tuesday June 26, 8:30 pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland Street
Three horns, two bassists, and two drummers - this unique ensemble from Austria mashes up Afrobeat and jazz into a giant party. If you caught Mario Rom's Interzone last year, you'll want to see him this year in a very different context!
Joe Sullivan Big Band: Wednesday June 27, 12:30 pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland Street
Representing Montreal, trumpeter and composer Joe Sullivan has earned a solid reputation as a writer and band leader. Combining forces from Toronto and Montreal, hear an important contributor to Canada's big band scene.
Francois Bourassa Quartet: Wednesday June 27, 7:00 pm, Heliconian Hall
Francois Bourassa's quartet has consistently produced some of the most exciting jazz coming out of Montreal. He performs with André Leroux (reeds), Guy Boisvert (bass) and Greg Ritchie (drums).
JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band & Bundesjazzorchester: Wednesday June 27, 7:00 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Two great big bands on one bill. The playing of the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band will impress; then Germany's official Youth Jazz Orchestra takes the stage for a music and film performance celebrating filmmaker László Moholy-Nagy.
Zara MacFarlane: Wednesday June 27, 8:30 pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland Street
Vocalist Zara MacFarlane is part of an exciting and growing underground jazz scene in London, UK, which has seen musicians combine the traditions of jazz, soul, r&b and hip hop to great effect. An important voice on the international jazz scene.
Freestyle Hustle Jam: Thursday June 28, 8:30 pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland Street
Come shake your thang - jazz/soul/hip hop trio re.verse lays down the gooves while dancers from Toronto's hustle scene freestyle...and invite you to participate.
Jim Galloway - a journey in jazz: Thursday June 28, 7:00 pm, Church of the Redeemer
A special night celebrating Jim Galloway's legacy - a film screening of the documentary Jim Galloway - a journey in jazz by James Cullingham, followed by a duo performance by Mike Murley and Mark Eisenman.
Guillaume Perret: Friday June 29, 7:00 pm, Church of the Redeemer
From France, Guillaume Perret plays solo - saxophone and effects - to create a unique sound which should be enhanced by Church of the Redeemer's acoustics.
The Festival celebrates the JUNOs: Saturday June 30 between 12:00 pm and 9:45 pm, OLG Stage on Cumberland Street and OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue
For this special collaboration with CBC Music, past JUNO Award winners and nominees take over our two outdoor stages. Eight performances over the course of the day demonstrate the variety of music being created by some of Canada’s most exciting musicians: Shirantha Beddage’s quartet, Autorickshaw, Brandi Disterheft’s quartet, Okavango African Orchestra, Allison Au’s quartet, Mike Downes’ quartet, New Tradition Music and Hilario Duran’s “Contumbao”.
Jazz Musician Intensive Ensemble: Sunday July 1, 5:15 pm, OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue
A new initiative for 2018, the Jazz Musician Intensive Ensemble is made up of 8 students carefully selected by faculty at the four main post-secondary jazz programs in the Greater Toronto Area (Univeristy of Toronto, Humber College, York University and Mohawk College). Come see what the next generation has in store.
Soren Nissen Departures: Sunday July 1, 7:00 pm, Heliconian Hall
Catch one of Toronto's fast rising jazz stars. Soren's Departures is a unique ensemble featuring his original compositions performed by piano, sax, tabla, bass and drums.
Of course, that's just a taste of what's in store over the ten days. I'll endeavour to cover most of the rest of the free shows over the next week, but you can always go to torontojazz.com to do your own exploring (and get full details on all of the shows listed here).