Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Preview: Tips, Tricks, and Tomfoolery

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Everything, Toronto Jazz Festival | 7 Comments

Toronto – The Toronto Jazz Festival starts this Friday with musicians all over the city getting ready to serenade our world leaders. Like so many Toronto festivals, it can be overwhelming to try and decide what shows too see. Thankfully, we’ve compiled this handy dandy guide to help you navigate through all the music that will be playing from June 25 through July 4.

1 – There Be Riches Off The Beaten Path

There are some amazing acts that will be appearing on the main stage at Nathan Phillips Square. While this is a good go to option when it comes to choosing a show, there are definitely many benefits to be had for those willing to wander from the road well-traveled. Great musicians will be playing at all sorts of fun venues. In addition to better sound and a more intimate experience, it will also be cheaper than those main stage acts. Consider:

  • Martha Wainwright (June 25, The Great Hall)
  • Lady Son (June 26, Lula Lounge)
  • Esthero (June 27, Lee’s Palace)
  • Grace Kelly (June 29, Trane Studio)

2 – Find The Free

With most of the tickets for the headliners in the $30-40 price range, going all out at the jazz fest can be an expensive proposition. It’s comforting to know that there are free shows all over the city. Pretty much everything at the main stage that happens before 8 pm is free admission. Furthermore, the main stage at Nathan Phillips Square is basically an open air tent, and there are plastic chairs just on the other side of the tent in the Peace Garden.  Wink wink. Here are some worthwhile free shows:

  • Brandi Disterheft (June 26, Jazz FM Broadcast Centre)
  • Jaffa Road (June 27, Mainstage) – NXNE Review
  • Lost Fingers, Chaka Khan, Macy Gray (July 3, Yonge & Dundas)

3 – The Grandmasters Can Turn It On Like A Switch

With so many great musicians playing at the festival, it can be difficult to choose which shows to attend. Thankfully you’ve already taken some of my penny saving advice to heart and have some leftover funds to splurge on the musical equivalent of fine cognac. The people at the top of their game in the jazz world have a mastery of music that can be turned on like a switch. They’re Jedi masters that communicate with each other and with you using only the force.

  • Herbie Hancock (Jun 26, Mainstage)
  • Stanley Clarke featuring Hiromi (June 28, Mainstage)
  • Dave Brubeck (June 29, Koerner Hall)
  • Keith Jarrett (June 30, Four Seasons)

4 – Jazz Fuses With Everything

At the heart of it, jazz is an improvisational music. Under the right hands it can fuse with pretty much anything. For hip-hop with jazz elements, you can see Andy Milne & Dapp Theory, or the Roots. For soul and African influences, there is Angelique Kidjo. For some soul and funk, check out Mavis Staples or Maceo Parker. There’s amazing music for all stripes, so get out there and soak it in!

  • The Roots (June 29, Mainstage)
  • Angelique Kidjo (July 1, Mainstage)
  • Andy Milne & Dapp Theory (July 3, Trane Studio)

NXNE Review: Jaffa Road, Kobo Town, June 17, Bread & Circus

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, North By Northeast | 2 Comments

Toronto – Now in its 16th year, it’s clear that NXNE has become an increasingly important landmark on the musical calendar. Just trying to decide what shows to go to on any given night is a daunting task. This year it was important for me to make sure that I not only checked out bands I had never heard before, but preferably at venues I had never seen before. As great as the old stomping grounds are, it’s nice to check out what the other Toronto spots have to offer.

This made it a natural fit for me to check out a bit of the world music line-up at Bread & Circus. As someone who regularly frequents Kensington Market, I’m sadly unfamiliar with many of their night spots. The Bread & Circus is the kind of cozy place that immediately resonates with me. There’s a small but well put together bar in the front, and at the back there is a separate room with a stage. The seating at the back allows people to get their dance-in-the-chair groove on, and there’s enough standing room in front of the stage for others to get their dance-in-their-shoes groove on.

Jaffa Road is world music that fuses poetry in Hebrew, Spanish, and English. They’re sound is an eclectic one that draws upon Indian, Arabic, and Jewish themes. The band has been garnering a lot of attention lately with the release of their debut album Sunplace receiving a Juno nomination for world music album of the year. It certainly felt like lead singer Aviva Chernick was letting her hair down after these recent successes and just enjoying playing a low-key community venue. As eclectic as their musical influences are, it all just seemed to work. The blend of instruments like the stringed Middle-Eastern Ud combined with some Indian-inspired flute made for a fun and exploratory set of music.

Jaffa Road will be playing a free concert at Nathan Phillips Square at 5 pm on Sunday June 27 as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

The next band was Kobo Town, fronted by Trinidadian-Canadian Drew Gonsalves. This band draws its influences from traditional calypso, roots reggae, and dub poetry. As a Canadian with Trini roots myself, it was absolutely essential that I check this show out. I love calypso music, and am still figuring out how exactly I’m going to get plugged into the West Indian community in Toronto. Checking out this show seemed like a pretty good start.

The music that Kobo Town creates is both fun and dance-friendly. It’s got the syncopated beats of Caribbean music, combined with some tasteful brass that warms up the sound. The lead singer is an easily likeable musician with a good sense of ukulele rhythm. After dancing for the entire set, the crowd was more than a little disappointed with the strict 40 minute time limit imposed by these types of showcases. Like the rest of the crowd, I was hoping for some more of this Island music. I look forward to seeing Kobo Town play a proper set where they can stretch their legs.

TO Jazz: 2010 Lineup Announced

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 1 Comment

Toronto – The Toronto Jazz Festival lineup has been announced and its solid. This year blends exciting young talent with a number of old masters. It’s interesting is to see some acts combining the old guard with the new generation. Jazz is a music built on tradition and continuity. The music of today is built by standing on the shoulders of the giants of yesterday. It’s cool to see the baton being passed. Here’s a sneak-peak:

Stanley Clark Band featuring Hiromi – June 28

There is little doubt that bassist Stanley Clark is a huge name in the jazz world. His work in the 70’s with Return To Forever helped pioneer the rock-fusion movement in jazz. He’s pairing up with 30 year old Hiromi Uehara, one of the most inventive young pianists around. Hiromi’s style is rooted in blues and jazz, but she uses those roots to explore the music of her generation on her own terms.

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette – June 30

Now Keith Jarrett is no longer a member of the young up-and-comers club. He’s one of the most celebrated pianists in the world. But the important thing to remember is that he used to be. There are very few child prodigies in any given field (music, mathematics, celebrity chefs) that grow up and actually fulfill the expectations heaped upon them. Keith Jarrett is one of those rare cats that not only met, but blew away all expectations. He’s playing with long-time collaborators Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette at the Four Seasons Centre.

The Roots – June 29

The jazz festival serves up more than just straight-ahead jazz. Years past have included performances from soul Queen Sharon Jones, and funk legend Maceo Parker (also playing this summer). This year hip hop band The Roots will be bringing their influential music to the mainstage at Nathan Phillips Square.

There’s so much more to talk about: Taj Mahal, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, and African Guitar Summit. Stay tuned for more previews as the summer heats up.

The Toronto Jazz Festival runs from June 25 to July 4. Check out the full lineup here.

TO Jazz Review: Waleed Kush & The African Jazz Ensemble, July 4, Trane Studio

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 1 Comment


Toronto – I really need to start bringing a notebook or something to shows I’m reviewing (I should get a better camera too, the photo above was the only one even close to usable and it’s not especially good, but I digress). I say that because I really liked Waleed Kush and the African Jazz Ensemble, but other than Kush, seen above playing the marimba, percussionist Derek Thorne, seen far right, and violinist Laurence Stevenson, who’s off-camera in this shot, I don’t remember and can’t find the names online of more than half the players in Kush’s ensemble: the saxaphonist, drummer, keyboardist, and bassist on songs when Kush was playing marimba.

This is a shame because, along with Kush and Thorne, the star of this show was the guy on saxaphone and clarinet, and I’d like to give him his due regard, but I don’t remember his name. I overheard him saying to someone at the bar he plays sax at Ryerson, but that’s all I know.

It’s interesting to see an ensemble group after spending the week seeing so many jazz quartets who’ve been together for a long time and read each other effortlessly. Here, it was very obvious just who the band leader was. Not only was Kush giving orders, telling guys when to jump in and even giving them a rhythm or melody to play, he looked to have a real mentor/student relationship with the younger guys on stage. It’s fascinating to watch, even if sometimes an ensemble doesn’t have quite as tight a sound as a veteran quartet, with this one no exception.

In addition to leading the band, Kush tends to draw the eye with his energetic playing. A multi-instrumentalist who can, according to his MySpace page, play a ridiculously long list of instruments, Kush limited himself this night merely to vocals, bass guitar, flute, marimba and hand drums. Kush moved to Toronto from Sudan in the early 90’s, and his African roots are very evident in his playing, singing and songwriting. His saxaphonist, whatever his name is, is definitely a talent, even if he could use a bit of seasoning and experience. Thorne’s hands were a blur during a couple of extended bongo/conga solos. Stevenson and the unnamed keyboardist, drummer, and second bassist were all good players, even if they didn’t shine quite as brightly as Kush, Thorne or the saxaphonist. All in all, a solid set, great music for a soundtrack if you’re, say, riding a caravan to Marrakesh or something, but thoroughly enjoyable in other situations as well. Unfortunately, my companion and I had to leave a bit early in order to make an appearance at “Panic at the Boat 2: Electric Boogaloo”, or whatever it was called, but at least we stayed long enough to see Kush play his marimba, which was a great deal of fun; Kush would beat out tunes with his mallets as he practically danced up and down the length of the instrument.

Kush is a Toronto local, so keep an eye out for his shows around town if you’re looking for a fun night of upbeat African-tinged tunes.

Also, this was the first time I’d ever been to Trane Studio, and it’s a great venue, just a little ways up Bathurst from Bloor. We didn’t partake in the food, but it looked good, and the room has a terrific sound and the staff were really nice; the jazz fest was nice enough to call ahead and put me on the guest list, and the Trane Studio people put me up front real close to the stage at the makeshift “media table.” They’ve got shows almost every night this month too. Next time I’ll try the food.