TO Jazz 2012 Preview: June 22 to July 1

Another summer is in full swing and that means festival season! The Toronto Jazz Festival is almost upon us, and this year marks the return of the main stage to Nathan Phillips Square’ renovated digs. I haven’t had a chance to check out the renovation, but my understanding is that it’s pretty awesome. More greenery, multiple viewing balconies, the flame in the Peace Garden will now burn 20 feet high, and free hoverboards are available to cross that pesky fountain! A welcome upgrade to the grey slabs of concrete, no doubt.

It’s time to reflect on the line-up. I would be remiss to mention that a great guide to the music featured is Artistic Director’s Josh Grossman’s own blog. He’s got all sorts of great articles like, “What’s so great about X” with a deep musical dive into the merits of the respective artists. It’s a great read for novice and pro alike to get a better understanding of the music coming to the city, and also get some reflections on jazz in today’s musical landscape.

That being said, this is my post, so now I’m going to give you my two cents on some of the notable acts, in order of appearance:

Janelle Monae – For those of you have grown accustomed to the absolutely ridiculous shows put on by the Roots in the last two years, might I suggest Janelle Monae? She’s an exciting young funk diva-to-be that has elements of pop and elements of fun (June 22).

Kurt Rosenwinkel – A lot of people think of jazz as music that was prominent in the 60’s and maybe just kind of stayed there. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, and you have only look to the new guard who have taken up the torch to see some truly amazing stuff happening. Names like Brad Mehldau, Roy Hargrove, and Kurt Rosenwinkel come to mind. Kurt is a guitarist par-exellence, and if you want to get a taste of what modern jazz guitar can do, go see this guy (June 22).

Hiromi – To establish her credentials, it’s enough to know that Hiromi has played with the likes of jazz legends Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. Hiromi is one of the most exciting of the contemporary jazz pianists. Supremely talented with fire in reserve. She’s quick and thoughtful.¬†Unfortunately I couldn’t catch her last jazz festival experience. This will not happen again.¬†This time around, she’s playing with rock-jazz trio The Bad Plus and saxophonist Joshua Redman. I believe everyone on stage will be in flames from the start to the finish of this show (June 24).

Natalie Cole – Most people know her as the daughter of the late, great, Nat Cole. Her 1991 posthumous duet Unforgettable with her father put her on the musical map. From there, she’s continued to cement her place as a fantastic songstress in her own right. Her voice is captivating. Natalie is the real deal (June 25).

George Benson – A number of years ago, I discovered my old man’s collection of George Benson LP’s. I had always reached for the likes of Wes Montgomery when I wanted some jazz guitar; you like what you know. When I finally decided to reach for George, I was rewarded with some amazing soul jazz guitar that could swing like nobody’s business. This will be a fantastic and easy-to-enjoy show for old and new fans alike (June 26).

Esperanza Spalding – This young bassist has been garnering some serious attention since winning a Grammy for Best New Artist. That she clinched this award proves that she’s been able to make a mark on the music scene at large. This will be a fantastic opportunity to see this bright new star.

And there you have it, but there’s so much more. There are plenty of free shows, and venues throughout the city. I highly recommend exploring some of the smaller venues; it’s great way to discover new music in a more intimate experience. Check out the entire line-up here.

The Toronto Jazz Festival runs from June 22 – July 1.
Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival