So who knew planning a jazz festival could involve so much last-minute running around? (Yes, rhetorical.) I'm a bit later than I had hoped with this post, but it's my pleasure to round out this mini-series of AD's Guide entries by listing some of the outstanding Toronto jazz veterans performing free concerts at this year's TD Toronto Jazz Festival. There will be lots of names here you recognize, and maybe even some you don't. All are outstanding - these really are some of the best musicians in Canada (if not further afield). Here we go...
Humber Faculty Quintet: Friday Jun 23, 5:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Humber’s world-renowned jazz program has 17 full-time professors, and another 80 part-time instructors. This particular faculty ensemble features Pat LaBarbera on tenor sax, Al Kay on trombone, Brian Dickinson on piano, Mike Downes on bass, and alumnus Fabio Ragnelli on drums. Between them they have 6 Junos and multiple nominations, and have played with a who’s who of jazz legends! A great opportunity to hear that local jazz students are in good hands.
Mill Street Late Night Jam with the Humber Faculty Trio: nightly, June 23 to July 2, 10 pm at Proof Vodka Bar in the Intercontinental Toronto Yorkville Hotel. Humber Music is providing the Festival with what can only be described as an incredible house band for this year's jam session. Robi Botos, Mike Downes and Fabio Ragnelli will host the jam every night (except June 30, when Jason Palmer's Berklee Sextet hosts). It will be worth dropping by just to hear them play...and who knows which other musicians might stop in to jam?
Dave Young / Terry Promane Octet: Saturday June 24, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Ave. So let's see - eight of the best jazz musicians in Canada, playing swinging arrangements and originals, all on stage at the same time? Not a bad way to start a Saturday!
Blackburn: Saturday June 24, 4:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue. While they operate more in the blues world that the jazz world, Blackburn features three brothers who are carrying on the tradition of organ-based blues, funk, soul and R&B. They had the unenviable task of filling in last-minute for a show a few years back, so I'm glad to have them featured this year.
Maneli Jamal Trio: Sunday June 25, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Last year, a trusted friend said, "hey - have you checked out Maneli Jamal?" I hadn't...but within just a few minutes I was a big fan. His technique on the acoustic guitar is impressive - even when playing solo he sounds like a full band. His compositions draw on musical traditions from around the world - I encourage you to get acquainted with his playing!
Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats: Sunday June 25, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue. Alex has rightly been called "Canada's Sweetheart of Swing." She takes early swing and makes it sound fresh and fun; along with her Alleycats, she authentically presents music from an important - and underrepresented - era of jazz.
Ken Whiteley & Freedom Blues: Sunday June 25, 2:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue. Ken Whiteley is a Canadian roots music legend, whose music ranges from jug band, folk and swing to blues, gospel and children's music. His Freedom Blues project, steeped in African American blues and gospel music, features a three-piece horn section and the fantastic Levy sisters handling the vocal harmonies.
Autorickshaw: Sunday June 25, 2:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Autorickshaw has been one of my favourites since I first received a submission as Artistic Director for the Markham Jazz Festival many years ago. I enjoy the way they mix jazz, funk and folk with the classical and popular music of India; to me, every new album they produce sounds fresh and different from the last.
Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble: Sunday June 25, 4:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue. Another new name for me - this time a recommendation from Peter Toh at Music Africa - and another group which grabbed my attention on first listen. Led by Nigerian Foly Kolade, this is driving afrobeat featuring musicians from the jazz, reggae, funk and Brazilian scenes - a uniquely Toronto ensemble.
Sean Bellaviti & Conjunto Lacalu: Sunday June 25, 6:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue. Toronto is home to one of the world's biggest Cuban communities outside of Cuba, and some of the world's best Cuban musicians. And a slew of them play in this group. Three trumpets, a full rhythm section and powerhouse vocals perform high energy salsa.
Eric St-Laurent Sextet: Sunday June 25, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Guitarist Eric St-Laurent sounds better every time I see him play. His unique compositions - which mix jazz with African, Brazilian and Spanish musical traditions (among others) - are always refreshening; his soloing melodic and exciting. This will be a special show as he expands his usual quartet to a sextet, adding percussion and flute.
Rick Shadrach Lazar & Montuno Police: Monday June 26, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. I've been listening to the Montuno Police for as long as I've been attending Toronto's jazz festival. After what felt like an extended hiatus I saw the band perform last fall and they sounded as tight as ever - new compositions, new sounds, and even better playing. This one will be fun.
Mark Kelso & the Jazz Exiles: Monday June 26, 8:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. I'm not sure how you could go wrong with Mark Kelso on drums, Rich Brown on bass, Jeremy Ledbetter on keyboards, Luis Deniz on saxophone and Joey Martel on guitar. Formed to continue on in the tradition of the jazz/funk and fusion groups of yesteryear, this will get you grooving.
Slocan Ramblers: Wednesday June 28, 5:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. We first brought this group to the Festival several years ago, and I'm always glad to have them back. More bluegrass than jazz, it's first-rate playing, incredible vocal harmonies - just a feel-good vibe.
La Trace De Satyr - O’Callaghan, Lerner, Downing: Wednesday June 28, 7:00 pm at Church of The Redeemer. I heard this group - Patricia O'Callaghan (vocals), Marilyn Lerner (piano), Andrew Downing (bass) - just recently in a concert at Alliance Francaise. I was taken by their mix of repertoire - classical, cabaret, jazz - and the quality of the playing: they worked well together as an ensemble and seemed to be having a blast. The trio should sound excellent in the church acoustic.
Sambacana with special guest Babi Mendes from São Paulo: Wednesday June 28, 8:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. A couple of Brazilian heavy-hitters - Babi Mendes and Filo Machado - team up with some local jazz stalwarts for an authentic taste of Brazil. Expect a mix of repertoire in English and Portuguese, and some deep-in-the-pocket samba and bossa grooves.
Alexis Baro & Pueblo Nuevo Jazz Project: Wednesday June 28, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Alexis is one of Toronto's most exciting trumpet players. Whether playing screaming lead trumpet or dizzying solo lines, he lights up the bandstand. For his Pueblo Nuevo Jazz Project, he is taking inspiration from his roots in Cuba - Pueblo Nuevo is the tight-knit barrio where he grew up, and which has been home to some of the most important musicians to come out of Havana.
Brian Barlow Big Band w/ Heather Bambrick Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald: Thursday June 29, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. As you may know, I'm a big band fan...I'm not sure what could be much better than 18 of Ontario's top musicians, performing with one of Canada's top vocalists, paying tribute to the singer who, for me, sets the bar for all other jazz singers. This is going to be swinging.
Filó Machado: Thursday June 29, 2:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Outstanding Brazilian guitarist Filo Machado joins a trio of Toronto musicians - Alan Hetherington (percussion), Tico Souza (piano) and Ross MacIntyre (bass) - to show off why he's earned international acclaim as a singer, songwriter and producer.
Swamperella: Thursday June 29, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Swamperella was formed to honour the Cajun music tradition, and whether they are sticking to that tradition, touching on Zydeco or playing original compositions, they have gained a reputation as a fantastic party band. They call it old time flavour stirred up in a brand new pot; I call it fun.
Dave Restivo Quintet: Friday June 30, 7:00 pm at Heliconian Hall. This one has me excited. I don't get to hear pianist Dave Restivo play often in an intimate space like Heliconian Hall - and it should be a treat. He's one of Canada's very best, having played with some of the biggest names in jazz at home and abroad; here in a quintet setting his trio will be augmented by two horns to play his creative original compositions.
Jorge Miguel Flamenco Ensemble: Saturday July 1, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. I first heard guitarist Jorge Miguel many years ago when my band played opposite his at the Beaches Jazz Festival. I knew right away I was hearing the real deal; he has spent time in Spain honing his craft with flamenco masters. He'll be joined by Eliana Cuevas on voice, Luis Orbegoso on percussion, Justin Gray on bass and flamenco dancer Ilse Gudiño.
Canadian Jazz Quartet: Saturday July 1, 1:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. This group has been making music together since 1987. And while the personnel has at times changed, their swinging approach to jazz standards has not. Frank Wright (vibraphone), Ted Quinlan (guitar), Pat Collins (bass) and Don Vickery (drums).
John MacMurchy's Art of Breath: Saturday July 1, 4:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. Saxophonist John MacMurchy's Art of Breath goes for a feeling as much as a sound: with deep grooves, Brazilian rhythms, and straight-ahead jazz, their music will draw you in and leave you with a smile.
Shuffle Demons: Saturday July 1, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Everyone should see at least one Shuffle Demons show. A Canadian institution, they've toured across Canada and around the world, bringing to the masses their exciting, no holds barred performances, featuring wild romps in the crowd, free jazz moments, danceable funk, poetry, killer solos and more. A great way to celebrate Canada Day!
Roberto Occhipinti New Quintet featuring Manuel Valera: Sunday July 2, 5:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. An acclaimed bassist and producer, Roberto Occhipinti also takes seriously his role as a mentor. Seeking to foster a new generation of musicians, he's assembled here Andrew McAnsh (trumpet), Jeff La Rochelle (saxophone) and Ian Wright (drums) who, along with special guest pianist Manuel Valera, will perform original compositions submitted by the band's musicians.
Michael Occhipinti Quartet featuring Pilar: Sunday July 2, 7:00 pm at Heliconian Hall. Versatile, sound-scultping guitarist and composer/arranger Michael Occhipinti has been responsible for some of my favourite music: his "Creation Dream" (the music of Bruce Cockburn) and work with NOJO especially stick out. Here his quartet of local musicians is augmented by Italian singer Pilar, whose mix of Italian singer-songwriter tradition with jazz, folk, pop and theatrical elements recently wowed the audience at Koerner Hall.
And that covers off the main free stages. There are also some fantastic musicians, not mentioned elsewhere, performing at various times on the three stages in Yorkville Village (formerly Hazelton Lanes).
Yorkville Village Laneway (all shows 6:30 pm)
Lester McLean Band: Friday June 23
Nathan Hiltz Trio: Saturday June 24
George Grosman Trio: Sunday Jun 25
Bill McBirnie's Find Your Place Band: Monday June 26
The Lesters: Tuesday June 27
Yorkville Village Oval (all shows 1:00 pm, all solo piano or solo piano/voice)
Roberta Hunt: Saturday June 24
Julian Fauth: Monday June 26
Bill King: Tuesday June 27
Stacie McGregor: Wednesday June 28
Steve Amirault: Thursday June 29
Yorkville Village TNT Lounge (all shows 3:00 pm)
PerlHaze: Saturday June 24
Andrew Scott Trio: Monday June 26
Brian Blain: Wednesday June 28
KatzTollar: Thursday June 29
Alright - that's it - I'm all typed out. In just a few short hours the Festival will be officially underway. After so many months of preparations, I can't wait to get the ball rolling. No doubt it will be a bit of a rollercoaster, but here's hoping for more highs than lows.
AND NO RAIN.
For daily listings - along with full bios - click here. We'll also have daily listings posted in Yorkville, and an information booth each day in Village of Yorkville Park. So drop by for a jazz adventure - this year, more than ever, there's a ton of music to see and hear.
See you in Yorkville!