Beaches Jazz Festival

Beaches Jazz Festival 2009 Preview

The Beaches International Jazz Festival kicks off on Friday. If you're not into traditional jazz music, don't fret. There are plenty of other musicians performing in the festival that don't fit into the strict definition of jazz.

I think that expanding the loose term of jazz to incorporate other forms of music is a good thing - especially in a festival setting like this. Seeing as they're playing at the festival on opening night, I thought I'd ask a member of one of Toronto's finest funk ensembles, God Made Me Funky (GMMF), to give us his top picks at this year's festival. Phatt Al, who's the MC of GMMF, tends to agree that bringing in diverse styles is a plus.

"It's weird, because I think, 'What is Jazz?' It's the forefather of funk, r 'n' b, disco, rock 'n' roll and so on. They'd be doing themselves a disservice if they didn't broaden their scope and bring in music that are the children of jazz. Jazz isn't just for clapping during solos. It's music to get your ass up to dance to as well."

Sean Jones

With that in mind, you might want to check out GMMF, along with some of the other non-traditional jazz-inspired live music happening on the Nu-Funk Corner, part of Streetfest along a closed two km stretch of Queen St. E., where there will be three sets of music from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. nightly during the jazz festival. It's here you'll get to hear and see some of the diversity that this festival has to offer.

"For us, it's all about the live experience," says Phatt Al. "It's always good to play on the street and interact with the crowd while we're playing. Thursday and Friday, it's us on the corner and on Saturday it's King Sunshine. They may not be widely known to the general public, but they're all over.

"Ninja Funk Orchestra are another group of amazing musicians. They're all prodigies. There's also a great singer named Maya Chilton (playing with Mint) who you really ought to check out."

The Nu-Funk Corner is at the Starbucks (1982 Queen St. E.), named out of deference to GMMF. As Phatt Al explains, "Nu-Funk is the next step to funk. It's such an analogous word and means everything and nothing at the same time. Funk is the quintessential Canadian thing: Always a stew, a mish-mash, greater than the sum of our own parts."

There's also the Woodbine Park at Lakeshore Blvd. E. at Coxwell Ave., featuring the New Generation and Youth stages. And the Main Stage at Kew Gardens, where you'll find artists such as Hal Linton, Junior Watson and Jimmy Hall on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday night's performances start with r 'n' b/soul fusion singer Sean Jones (pictured above), whom I caught last March, opening for Mishka. He's got a smooth voice and an engaging stage presence.

The Beaches Jazz Festival is free and runs from July 17 to 26. Bring a hat, a blanket or folding chair and enjoy the tunes.

Photos by Roger Cullman.

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