Gearing up for Beaches Jazz Fest

Welcome to the 24th annual Beaches International Jazz Festival. Yes…24th annual! What began in 1989 as a two-day community music fest when president and producer Lido Chilelli launched it, the Beaches International Jazz Festival has grown into one of Toronto’s premiere summer music festivals, spanning ten days from July 20 to 29 in Woodbine Park, along Queen Street, and in Kew Gardens, and featuring an almost countless number of musicians.

The Jazz Festival kicks off with a series of concerts in Woodbine Park, July 20 to 22, featuring three stages of music, and 14 bands and musicians over the opening weekend. On the main stage you can catch Beach a capella group Countermeasure, Afroteque, singer Alex Pangman and pianist extraordinaire Tyler Yarema as well as Chloe Charles, Suzanna D’Amour, and David Rotundo.

That same weekend there is the popular youth stage where you get a glimpse of future greatness as young jazz musicians strut their stuff. Catch Gavin McLeod, only 12 years old!, the Humber Community School Combo, and GTA Honours Combos.

Also in Woodbine Park is the New Generation stage where you can find newcomers who haven’t yet gained the mass popularity…but you can say you saw them when. There will be performances by Saluki Music, Amy Hunter, Robyn Hayle, Rob Christian, JP Saxe and My Son the Hurricane.

During the following week there will be plenty of interactive workshops you can attend, including Jazz FM’s Heather Bambrick conducting a jazz vocal bootcamp, improv comedy with Kevin Frank of Second City, a ukelele workshop with Steve McNie, songwriting with Amy Sky,  concert photography with Igor Vidyashev and more. To register email

Beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday evening, July 26, Queen Street will be closed from Woodbine all the way to Beech for the ever-popular Jazz StreetFest. Thousands crowd the temporary pedestrian mall to hear jazz, funk and blues bands on just about every street corner. Along the way you can buy t-shirts, souvenirs, food, and drink from street vendors, or stop in to many of the Queen Street merchants who will be staying open to serve the throngs.

Sultans of String

Some of the bands include popular regulars such as the Sultans of String, Dr. Draw, Mae Cromwell, Jeanine Mackie,  the Seagull All Stars, Gone Fission and The Paul James Band. The party continues until 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

If Latin music is your thing, then you’ll want to drift down to the boardwalk – right beside the Leuty Lifeguard Station – and catch a few of the Latin Square concerts. The Latin Jazz Ensemble, Conjunto Tropical de Cuba, the salsa dance rhythms of Miko Sobreira, or the Latin fusion sounds of Lucho de Sedas y Los Selectos are just a few of the bands appearing there starting at 3 p.m. on Friday, and noon Saturday and Sunday.

If you prefer the more traditional sounds of the big bands, just wander a little further along the boardwalk to the Big Band Stage where you can catch Bees Knees Dance, The George Lake Big Band, the Big Smoke Big Band, or the Jazz Mechanics to name a few.

East of the Boardwalk Café will be the World Beat Stage featuring music from Joaquin Hidalgo, Imbayakunas, Party Island, Puente del Diablo, the Samba Squad and more, starting from noon each day and going on till 9.

But the big gig is always the Main Stage in Kew Gardens, where from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday you will hear some of the finest in jazz and blues that you can find. Starting Saturday the Julia Cleveland Quintet kicks things off. Cleveland is a hot young drummer with a band to match.

Then the Robert Scott Power Trio rocks the stage. The Heavyweights Brass Band showcase their brand of jazz funk just before guitar great Liona Boyd  brings her new guitar sound – and singing – to the stage. Sharrie Williams, who has been called a galactic vocal force to be reckoned with, wraps up the day’s Main Stage concerts with a show beginning at 5 p.m., before the final night of the Streetfest.

Sunday starts off with  Lou Pomanti. Pomanti has conducted orchestras for the likes of Michael Bublé, James Taylor, Herbie Hancock and David Clayton Thomas. Next on stage is the Lemon Bucket Orchestra whose live viral in-flight performance  is on their website. You’ll wonder how the plane stays aloft with all the dancing!

No festival  would be complete without Beaches International Jazz Festival Music Director Bill King taking the Sunday stage. This year his trio has Pomanti and Stacy Bulmer as special guests. Johnny Rawls brings his soulful Mississippi ballads and blues to the Beach at 3:30 Sunday.

Wrapping up the concert portion of the Jazz Festival is The LMT Connection (photo) at 5 p.m. Leroy Emmanuel was raised in Detroit and has been playing his own brand of funk and jazz for years. He has appeared with Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Al Green and John Lee Hooker to name a few, so you know you are going to be treated to some fine stuff to finish the afternoon.

The Beaches International Jazz Festival is a week-long opportunity to hear great music, interact with jazz musicians, stroll Queen Street with friends, hang out on the boardwalk, and generally soak up the vibes in the Beach. For more information, and a complete line-up with times and dates, visit

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