by Bill King

Nearly thirty years have passed since I took a bike ride along the Martin Goodman trail in search of a suitable location for a potential new jazz festival. It was co-producer Bruce Davidson of my nationally syndicated Jazz Report Radio Network who suggested Amstel Beer was looking to back a festival. It just happened I found myself in Kew Gardens, just east of Woodbine Avenue, down front a rickety bandstand and an all-women trad-band playing under a hot July sun. I notified Bruce of my discovery and he took it from there.

The Amstel thing never panned out but a chance meeting with Beaches International Jazz Festival founder Lido Chilelli, who had already obtained permits to stage a jazz festival in Kew, has led to a long, professional, hugely popular community summer event destination and working relationship. A few summers back MSNBC ranked us seventh in the world – top jazz events.

The years between have been a rollicking ride. The BIJF has served as a blue-print for many a community festival the past twenty-nine years. Yes, it’s never been a jazz purist dream; it was never meant to be! It’s about music – the roots of popular culture – the sounds that bind us together and speaks of our city and our diversity. We come from away – far away and all over. Look at the faces of those who attend and their children. Many have played – now play and will perform in the future. How about a couple of current Grammy Award recipients – drummer Larnell Lewis of Snarky Puppy and Alex Cuba – both played the street scene – Larnell on many occasions as he worked his way through high school.

What’s it like to serve as artistic director? Pretty fine! I love listening to music and assembling the big picture – that complex puzzle of bands and personalities. Much has to do with working with a small budget and painting the event as if it’s a sky- high canvas. It’s always been about our community of talent with a few international acts to sweeten the pot.

…many have played – now play and will perform in the future…

The Fabulous Thunderbirds, New York Voices, Matt Dusk, Jesse Cooke, Trombone Shorty, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Johnny Pacheco, – big bold blues, jazz orchestras, roots reggae, smokin’ salsa, jump blues, gospel, and that funky soul music. That’s who we are! We always remind those jazz-heads who want an intimate encounter, – we’re outdoors and must book sounds that translate and reflect summer fun. Clubs are where it’s at for serious listening – parks are about entertainment and activity.

The year’s event is shaping up to be one of our finest. We caught a break landing Indo/American Red Baraat – described as a “gut-busting fusion of jazz, hip-hop beats, rock muscle, funky go-go, and scalding hot bhangra.” To commemorate Canada 150 – The Last Waltz – a celebration of the Band, Canada’s greatest gift to the world of music, led by keyboardist and music archivist Lance Anderson. Read bandleader’s Robbie Robertson’s great recollections – Testimony – of Toronto in the late 50s’ and 60s’ – at least a hundred pages of detailed history of nightlife and playing downtown clubs.

Award winning blues from Monkey Junk – some barrelhouse piano from Jeni Thai – young seventeen- year-old guitar sensation – Niagara’s, Spencer MacKenzie, ska from the Arsenals, Son De Cuba Orchestra, Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, Cuban quartet OKAN, five-time Juno winner – reggae, EXCO LEVI – African sounds from Montreal’s Lorraine Klaasen, jump blues with the Saturday Nite Fish Fry. Forty bands covering a 2.5 km stretch of Queen Street East located between Woodbine Avenue to the west and Beech Avenue to the east – July 27 – 29. TD Mainstage in Woodbine Park, A Cappella Stage and Urban Stage.

It all kicks off July 7, 8, 9 – Sounds of Leslieville and Riverside in Jimmy Simpson Park – July 7, 8, 9 – Beaches Jazz Latin Carnival in Woodbine Park, then the big shows – TD Mainstage July 21, 22 and 23 in Woodbine Park, then Streetfest – July 27, 28, 29 and OLG presents – July 28, 29, and 30th in Woodbine. There are workshops, food, and big fun in store. Reserve your spot now – it’s all free!

Bill King is Artistic Director of the Beaches Jazz Festival.