The city has been buzzing over the past few days and it seems as though I am just catching my breath now. Amazing the endless fun one can find in Toronto as the summer gets rolling. It’s hard to choose just what to do with Luminato, Pride, Canada Day, Digital Dreams and Toronto Jazz Festival all spilling into our calendars.
Exactly a year ago I found myself sitting on a Porter flight with my mother bound for the Mont Tremblant International Blues Festival. I had good fun eating and drinking the hot summer days away while spending the evening dancing to the best Blues in the heart of the Laurentian’s. So this Spring when I saw an ad for Toronto’s very own Jazz Festival I made a point of checking out their schedule and sussing out a few of their shows.
My calendar was completely rammed (but I’m starting to think I subconsciously like it that way). After studying the lineup I found three concerts that showcased a different music genre worth tapping in to. I’m no jazz expert, so made a point of sitting down at each show with the intention of arriving as a newbie and discovering the personalities and melodies on stage for the first time.
I was fortunate enough to take my dad (a Fathers Day treat) to the opening night big deal with opener Martha Reeves and The Vandellas followed by Motown crooner Smokey Robinson. We arrived an hour before the show and were so pleased to see Nathan Philip Square buzzing. The concert that evening was free to the public and it seemed like thousands of people had been lined up all day in the hot hot heat in hopes of having an opportunity to sit under a big white tent for one of America’s most famous musicians. Once pronounced by Bob Dylan as America’s “greatest living poet,” acclaimed singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson’s career spans over 4 decades of hits. Both Martha Reeves and Smokey did an exceptional job at smacking smug mugs on an ecstatic audience. The tent was rammed and it seemed like hundreds of fans were outside on their tip toes in hopes of getting a wee peak of the legend on stage. I certainly walked home with a lil kick in my step.
I met my cousin Christopher the following evening at the same big white tent for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Chris studied Jazz at Toronto’s acclaimed Humber College and currently gigs around the city on his big fat bass.
I will never forget how hot and humid that evening was: t-shirt sticking to your back, glasses fogging up, beer cans pilling with sweat. We started off with a big box of pulled pork poutine and tall cans from Mill Street. The evening concluded with lively trombone and trumpet infused beats from New Orleans complimented by a Pralines and Cream cone dribbling down my arm. Quintessential summer.
For my final show I headed out west to The Great Hall with an old friend I hadn’t seen Will in ages (we worked at a summer camp together way back when) but after recently chatting discovered he was a big fan of The Herbaliser so our date night would be a match made in heaven. The Toronto Jazz Festival experience was an eye opener. From Smokey Robinson’s classic Motown hits to Trombone Shorty’s New Orleans brass blasts, audiences are always entertained by the best. The Herbaliser ended on my festival experience on a perfect note. Formed in the early 1990’s in London England, this jazz rap band entertained by redefining the very essence of the genre. Combining deft midtempo beats, well-chosen jazz and funk figures, sparse scratching, and even the odd rap, Herabliser bridge the gap between instrumental hip hop and jazz/funk. Special thanks to the programmers at Toronto Jazz Fest for showcasing the evolution of these rhythms.
Now let me see your Jazz Hands!