Tenth Annual Beaches International Jazz Festival
Another hot July has descended upon Toronto, reminding its denizens that the Beaches International Jazz Festival is near. For the creative organizing team and tireless volunteers, though, the festival is a year-round project. More energy than meets the eye goes into staging the city’s internationally acclaimed jazz spectacle, a cultural event that draws crowds from around the world, and all for a worthy cause — proceeds are donated to local charities.
Those who have never attended the Beaches Jazz Festival are missing out on one of Toronto’s most exciting annual events. A stroll through the heart of the Queen Street East community during festival time is like ambling down Bourbon Street in the French quarter of New Orleans. The jazz is hot, the cafes are cool and the air is super-charged with the enthusiasm of thousands of tourists from all walks of life.
The festival offers musicians a unique environment for creative expression, resulting in a delightfully diverse repertoire. This year’s Streetfest will feature a lineup of forty-nine bands scattered throughout the neighbourhood, jamming into the wee hours of night in a variety of venues, from cafes and pubs to lawns and rooftops, while the main stage on Alex Christie Gazebo in Kew Gardens Park will showcase a weekend of truly stellar open air concerts.
Fans are in for a special treat with an exciting roster of big name headliners, including three sensational Canadian jazz queens: Ingrid Jensen, Lorraine Klassen and Carol Welsman. In 1995, Vancouver-born Ingrid Jensen won “Best Newcomer” at the Cork Jazz Festival in Ireland, and the Carmine Caruso Solo Trumpet Competition in Kalamazoo, and her album, Vernal Fields, took the Juno for “Best Mainstream Artist of the Year.” Down Beat magazine gave her a four-star rating and she’s been ranked as the freshest hot trumpet player on the world jazz scene.
Exotic Montreal-born jazz diva Lorraine Klassen, daughter of acclaimed blues-jazz singer Thandi Klassen, sings in Zulu, Xhosa, Swahili, French and English while performing dynamic dance numbers. Klassen was all the rave of last year’s concert. Her recent release of a new CD, Free at Last, “a flamboyant collection of rousing instrumentation and song,” proves that Klassen has a whole new bag of jazz tricks up her sleeve.
Internationally acclaimed jazz singer/pianist Carol Welsman (granddaughter of T oronto Symphony Orchestra founder Frank S. Welsman) received a 1996 Juno nomination for “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” and was voted “Best Female Jazz Vocalist” by the Jazz Report. Welsman spices up old favourites and original jazz numbers with her warm, sensuous vocals in English, French, Italian, Brazilian and Spanish.
The male talents in the concert include such top performers as East Coast piano man Joe Sealy, Aussie guitar sensation Dave Hole, Toronto’s award-winning guitarist Don Ross and piano virtuoso Hilario Duran. Rated alongside Gonzalo Rubacaba as one of Cuba’s greatest jazz pianists and composers and master of sensuous Afro-Cuban rhythms, Duran is at the forefront of the contemporary Latin jazz scene.
Don Ross is the first Canadian to win the U.S. National guitar Championship and was hailed by the Montreal Gazette as “Canada’s best acoustic guitarist.” Son of a Scottish immigrant father and a Mikm’aq mother, Ross grew up in a musical home. His innovative composition and flat picking technique has earned him world renown and five critically acclaimed CDs.
Described as a slide guitar maverick, Dave Hole became an overnight sensation when he sent his self-produced CD Short Fuse Blues across the world. After a football accident that damaged his baby finger, Hole developed a unique and vibrant slide guitar technique that has rocketed him to the top, starting with two European tours with blues guitarist Gary Moore, the release of Working Overtime in 1993, followed by a North American tour and two more albums, Steel on Steel and his most successful CD, Ticket to Chicago, recorded with some of Chicago’s greatest blues musicians.
Joe Sealy trained under Daisy Sweeny, former teacher of Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, and has performed with Sammy Davis Jr., Carol Channing, Zoot Simms and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Sealy’s latest CD, Africville Suite, a deeply moving and beautifully performed tribute to the first black community in Halifax, won a 1997 Juno Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. Sealy was living and working in Halifax during the demise of Africville and began composing the suite in memory of his father, who was born there. The Joe Sealy Quartet is an extremely tight and exquisitely bodacious jazz band.
In this year’s Streetfest, one of T.O.’s old favourites, the Climax Jazz Band, will be creating a storm in front of Pet Value. The Not Affiliated Big Band will be blowing their classical jazz horns on the Beaches Art Centre lawn, Swing Shift will be swinging outside the Tribute Home Sales Office and Bellefair United Ensemble and the Mississauga Not so Big Band will be amusing the masses at Bellefair United Church.
Stix will be rockin’ the Beach Dental crowd while the Confederacy of Dunces will be playing like fools at Stoney’s. The Blackboard Blues Band will be chalkin’ up dust at the Fire Hall, the Crocodiles’ll be snappin’ at the Roastery and Captain Jack’s, while the Steve Sherman Project conducts jazz experiments by Pizza Hut. For something completely different, catch the funky Celtic band Enter the Haggis piping it up with Craig Downie and fiddlin’ around with Duncan Cameron and at Gallagher’s Irish pub.
For the young at heart, the Etobicoke Youth Ensemble will be groovin’ at Tejas and the Thornhill High School Big Band will be swingin’ by Beach BMW. Fathers and Sons will be hanging out together at the Wave Zone while the Fundamentals are pressing mint by the Bank of Montreal. Those seeking southern comfort will dig Dee Sly & the Crawdads at Lion on the Beach…and the list goes on.
With so many marvelous jazz mavens to take in, the Beaches International Jazz Festival is worth taking time out to enjoy. There’ll be live jazz in the cafes and pubs, quaint little shops along Queen to browse, and a cacophony of street vendors hawking everything from refreshments to arts & crafts and festival t-shirts and programmes to raise funds for local charities. The warmth and hospitality proffered by local merchants is added incentive to return year after year to one of the most happening jazz festivals in the world.
What’s On Queen, July 1997