Toronto Jazz Festival

Preview – Toronto Jazz Festival 2009

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 3 Comments


Toronto – Good weather is kind of sort of almost upon us and it’s time for a summer filled with fantastic live music! The Toronto Jazz Festival (sponsored by TD Canada Trust) runs from Friday June 26th till Sunday July 5th. That’s 10 straight days of amazing music at over 40 different venues for your sonic enjoyment! Can you tell that I’m excited?

I’ve been attending the downtown jazz fest for a number years now, and I have to stay that it remains one of my favourite jazz festivals (I have to go to Newport, perhaps I’ll take this cause up with our Editor?)  In any case, there are many amazing acts coming to the city. But I’ll highlight a few of the choiciest shows:

June 26 – Sonny Rollins – Four Seasons

Sonny Rollins has been a grandmaster since the late-50’s with his seminal work Saxophone Collossus.  He is a collossus, and his sense of rythm and phrasing is simply unmatched even today. Toronto has been happy to have him play Massey Hall on on quasi-annual residency. As this grandmaster approaches octagenarian status, I wonder how much longer we will be gifted with his unique talent?

June 26 – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Nathan Phillips

Sharon Jones is a modern day Soul Queen.  Here’s a review of her playing in Toronto last October.

June 27 – Medeski, Martin & Wood – Nathan Philips

MMW sits on the edge of jazz and electronic music. They produce an atmospheric electronic sound. For you electronic lovers looking at jazz from the outside, MMW is a fantastic gateway drug.

June 29-30 – Chris Potter – The Pilot

Chris Potter is one of the brightest of the avant-guarde saxophonists around. I’ve seen him live twice before and both times I walked away with brain aneurysms. Warning: Chris Potter can get crazy (read: crazy jazzy). It’s worth the effort though. Chris Potter will kick your ass. The first time I saw him live in 2004 ranks in my books as “2nd best live jazz show I have seen”.

June 30 – Madeleine Peyroux – Danforth Music Hall

Now I’m not a big jazz vocal kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong, I really do appreciate some of the late great jazz-singers: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan. But there’s just something about the modern day jazz vocal aesthetic that just isn’t my cup of tea. Sometimes it strikes me as the type of bubblegum that gets thrown on a compilation called “Jazz by Candlelight on the Beach by The Fire” and purchased at a Starbucks near you.

But Madeleine Peyroux is no bublegum jazz. Hers is a serious and legitimate voice that is as commanding as it is genuine.

July 3 – Branford Marsalis – Nathan Phillips

Branford Marsalis has been playing with his quarter for almost 10 years now. That is an eternity in the jazz scene. He’s assembled a top-notch cast: Joey Calderazzo on keys, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums and the bassist Eric Reeves. They’ve spent the last decade learning to read each others minds and I kid you not that seeing them live still commands the exalted position of “Best Live Jazz Show I Have Seen”.

Now there are many other artist playing at the festival. The big hitters that I have’t yet mentioned are: Dave Brubeck, Gary Burton & Pat Metheny, Jamie Cullum, Kenny Garret, and Tony Bennett.  While the big boys will certainly be fantastic, it may be worth your while to get off the beaten path and check out:

Chucho Valdés – Cuban pianist playing at the Enwave Theatre (one of the best sounding accoustic venues in the city) on July 1st.

José González – Also playing at the Enwave Theatre. Jose has been gaining critical acclaim for his latest album, In our Nature. Jose is certainly more accoustic folk rock than jazz. Think upbeat Great Lake Swimmers. So for the non-jazz fans out there, this will be an amazing show.  His accoustic sensibilities will sound ridiculously good at the Enwave Theatre.

Check out the full lineup TO jazz central.

Toronto Jazz Festival – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, June 24th, 2008

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Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

TorontoBig Bad Voodoo Daddy was formed in 1989 by singer/guitarist Scotty Morris. It started as a three-piece, but quickly grew into its current big band lineup. They were at the forefront of the swing-craze of the mid-90’s, and were popularized by their appearance in the movie Swingers with songs like “You and me and the bottle makes 3 tonight (baby)” and “Go daddy-o”. You’d recognized them if you heard ‘em.

They appeared at the Nathan Phillips Square main stage, and the result was a high-energy show. People who were in their late-teens and early twenties during the 90’s swing-craze were dusting off those swing dance-moves that they paid good money for and thought they’d never get to use. The band was tight, and provided all the ingredients for a good time. They all wore cool cat jazz suits, and the brass played in front of 30’s style jazz stands. Classy.

The music was good. It wasn’t inspiring, but it was solid, tight, and full of energy. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is still at it, cranking out the big band and doing what they do best: saluting and re-creating the old-school dance jazz that was so popular in the 30’s and 40’s. There were two highlights for me. The first was Scotty giving the crowd a history lesson about the Cotton Club, a famous prohibition-era NYC jazz club, with a salute to the late great Cab Calloway. The second was the bassist Dirk Schumaker. He looked like he was having so much fun spinning that stand-up bass of his and playing music that he loves. I was thoroughly envious of the man’s joie de vivre.

If I could have bottled some of it, I’d be set for life. 4/5.

Toronto Jazz Festival – Ahmad Jamal, June 23 2008

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[Note: this review was written by Brian, an avid Ahmad Jamal enthusiast well acquainted with Ahmad’s discography.]

Toronto – Even if you haven’t heard of legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, you’ve definitely heard the unmistakable sound he popularized.

In late fifties, Jamal’s understated, eloquent style influenced scores of other artists, famously inspiring Miles Davis’ during his First Great Quintet period. In more recent years, Jamal has been rediscovered by a new generation of artists: he’s been sampled on countless hip-hop records (Nas’ “The World is Yours”, Common’s “Resurrection”).

At his packed Festival Mainstage show earlier this week, the legendary Jamal put on a mesmerizing performance that found the 78-year old pianist still pushing his delicate, thoughtful sound into new directions.

He was accompanied by a stellar rhythm section consisting of his longtime bassist James Cammack, drummer James Johnson, and the odd-haired percussionist Manolo Badrena. The interplay between the latter two stole the show for me; it was exhilarating to watch them gradually evolve their patterns together into complex, crowd-rocking grooves.

I’ve been waiting for years to see Jamal perform, and his sparse, dynamic piano play was captivating to hear in person. The audience agreed with me, bringing the band back out for three standing-ovation encores. It was a treat to see Jamal continue to push his artistic boundaries well after his status as a jazz legend has been cemented.


Toronto Jazz Festival – Renaud Garcia-Fons, Enwave Theatre, June 22 2008

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 3 Comments

Renaud Garcia-Fons (Picture by Mark)

TorontoRenaud Garcia-Fons hails from a small Parisian suburb and is a double-bassist par excellence who fuses the very best elements of jazz, flamenco, and classical music. He played last Sunday at the Enwave Theatre (Harbourfront). It was a perfect combination of venue and performer; the end-result was nothing short of enchanting.

The Enwave Theatre has a maximum capacity of 420 people and has now become one of my favourite concert halls for live music. The acoustics are absolutely fantastic. In short, a great place for a vivid music listening experience. I’ve heard good things about this hall before, but after hearing some top brass musicians stretch their legs there, I now understand what the buzz is about. I can only struggle to describe how good they sounded in this hall.

Renaud Garcia-Fons was accompanied by flamenco guitarist Antonio Ruiz and percussionist Pascal Rollando. Together, they produced a well-rounded sound that was meticulously assembled. Renaud is a virtuoso and I mean this in the best meaning of the term. Sometimes “virtuoso” is synonym for “technical mastery”. That is to say the ability to play really technically challenging things effortlessly, but robotically. Renaud has the chops, but he’s a consummate musician capable of playing with feeling. He’s got full command of his instrument, and uses it to effortlessly fuse musical styles.

This was a perfect combination of beautiful music in a venue where listeners could really appreciate how damn good this trio sounds. A highlight of the jazz festival for me this year.

Renaud Garcia-Fons: 4.8/5.0

Note: The attached song (from his latest CD Arcoluz) is an instrumental that fuses jazz and flamenco.