The Toronto Jazz Festival

The Toronto Jazz Festival

The Toronto Jazz Festival has taken over various venues across the city until July 4, offering up lunchtime gigs, early afternoon workshops, evening concerts and late-night jam sessions for fans of every possible genre of music.

As always, the festival features a broad range of performers - from jazz and blues luminaries and hip hop supergroups to vintage soul singers and country & folk acts, there's a little bit of something for everyone. Headlining performers for the 24th annual Jazz Fest include Harry Connick Jr., Maceo Parker, Herbie Hancock's Imagine Project, The Roots, Mavis Staples, Angelique Kidjo, John Scofield, Macy Gray & Chaka Khan.

Check out my picks for each day of the festival:

Saturday June 26

Juno Award winning saxophonist Mike Murley will try his hand at the Blindfold Test, during which a moderator plays tracks of historical importance and current jazz recordings and Mike must identify the artists behind the music. The workshop is part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Series, taking place at the HMV Store at Nathan Phillips Square at 2pm.

At 5pm today, gypsy-swing and Django Reinhardt enthusiasts The Club Django Sextet of Toronto takeover the Primus Stage at Nathan Phillips Square for a free afternoon concert. Later in the evening (8pm), the legendary Herbie Hancock plays the Toronto Star Stage, also located at Nathan Phillips Square, alongside bassist and composer Brandi Disterheft and The Imagine Project (Vinnie Colaiuta, Lionel Loueke, Greg Phillinganes and Tal Wilkenfeld). Tickets for the show are $55, and the concert is a seated event in an enclosed space.

Head to Harlem around 7:30pm if you're in the mood for some latin jazz, as Quique Escamilla will be playing a free club series gig. For those up late, Dominion On Queen (500 Queen St. E.) will host a late night jazz jam kicking off at 12:30am.

Sunday June 27

If you happen to miss Club Django's free 5pm set on Saturday, they'll be playing yet another free set at The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar (194 Queen St. W.) at noon on Sunday. As the evening rolls in, attention will shift to the ticketed Harry Connick, Jr. show ($55 - $150) at the Canon Theatre, where he'll be accompanied by an orchestra. Not in the mood for a night of crooning? Check out The Toronto Star Stage, where James Hunter, Taj Mahal & The Trio ($35) will showcase their suitcase of worldly musical treasures.

For those looking for something with a little more pop flair, Esthero will play an intimate gig at Lee's Palace after an opening set from Maylee Todd on Sunday night ($24.50).

Night owls can again head to Dominion On Queen (500 Queen St. E.) for another late night jazz jam, kicking off at 12:30am.

Monday June 28

A great cure for the Monday (and post-G20) blues - a free lunchtime concert at the Toronto Star Stage (Nathan Phillips Square) featuring a performance from Montreal based composer Christine Jensen and her Jazz Orchestra, with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. For those not working during the afternoon, The Rex is hosting a Big Band Slam workshop at 2pm on Monday, where big bands from high schools across the GTA will "duke it out in an afternoon of trumpet blasting, trombone sliding, sax squealing excitement," moderated by brass player, arranger and U of T jazz professor Terry Promane.

Monday evening's Toronto Star mainstage event at NPS features the Stanley Clarke Band with renowned Japanese pianist Hiromi accompanying - tickets are $40 in advance. Instrumental performer Jaron Freeman-Fox celebrates the release of his new album Manic Almanac: Slow Mobius with an 8pm set at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas St. W.), accompanied by "his mad-house gypsy band The Opposite of Everything." Tickets $15 in advance.

Tuesday June 29

Head to the Toronto Star Stage at noon for a free lunchtime set from the Jazz Ambassadors of the US Army Field Band - a 19-member ensemble formed over forty years ago, that has since solidified itself as one of America's premier touring big bands. If you find yourself free from the confines of work after the Jazz Ambassadors, The Rex is hosting a 2pm workshop entitled Youth Jazz in the City, in which talented young musicians (ages 14-18) are paired with professional jazz musicians to study, rehearse and perform from some of the finest talent our country has to offer.

They've been keeping busy performing as Jimmy Fallon's house band on late-night TV, but hip-hop legends The Roots will take some time off for what's sure to be a crazy party at the Toronto Star Stage on Tuesday night. ?uestlove and company are on the road in support of their eleventh studio album How I Got Over, which features guest contributions from the likes of Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, John Legend and members of Dirty Projectors - just to name a few. After seeing them in Montreal last summer, I can see why they're known as one of the best live hip hop acts on the planet. Tickets for the show are $45 in advance, and considering how packed their schedule is, you'd be crazy to miss out on a chance to catch The Roots live.

If hip hop just isn't your thing, another option for Tuesday night is a rare Toronto appearance from celebrated American pianist Dave Brubeck at the Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory. Known for jazz and classical experimentation, Brubeck's work with odd time signatures, polyrhythm and polytonality long ago established him as a musical innovator. ($50-75, 8pm)

For those looking for a little more country and folk on Tuesday evening, Serena Ryder and Cuff The Duke play a ticketed event ($34.50) at the Sirius Stage at Harbourfront Centre at 8pm sharp.

In the mood for soul? Detroit star Bettye Lavette takes over the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne St.) with the help of acid/funk/jazz experimentalists Planet Earth. Lavette's 2007 album The Scene of The Crime was released by ANTI Records and featured the Drive-By Truckers as her backing band, while her latest release offers up her unique interpretations of classic British rock songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Animals and more. Expect a healthy mix of all musical genres coming together for this show. ($25, 8pm)

The Hard Rock Cafe will host a late-night jazz jam session with the Jake Langley Trio, commencing at 12:30am - tickets $10 at the door.

Wednesday June 30

Wednesday's lunchtime gig at the Toronto Star Stage features Ricochet - a sextet led by pianist and composer Adrean Farrugia, and kicks off at noon at Nathan Phillips Square.

Gospel legend Mavis Staples and prolific New Orleans' jazz man Allen Toussaint will play the same stage later on Wednesday night, where Mavis will showcase songs from her forthcoming album You Are Not Alone, produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and his band's Chicago-based studio The Loft.

Head to the Hard Rock Cafe for your late-night jazz jam fix - tonight featuring Montreal-based organist Vanessa Rodrigues and Chris Gale. ($10, 12:30am)

Thursday July 1

What better way to celebrate Canada's birthday than with some great live jazz music? Thursday's lunchtime gig at the Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square features PRO (Paul Read Orchestra), whose first recording Arc-en-ciel (working title) is due for release later this summer.

At 5pm, Nova Scotian hip hop experimentalist Buck 65 takes over the Primus Stage at Nathan Phillips for a free set, presented by Citytv.

Angelique Kidjo and Souljazz play a $30 seated show at the Toronto Star Stage at 8pm, while Dominion on Queen hosts a late-night jazz jam for the night owls.

Friday July 2

Closing weekend for the 2010 edition of the Toronto Jazz Fest kicks off at noon on Friday with another free lunchtime concert at the Toronto Star Stage - this one presented by JAZZ.FM and featuring performances from Youth Band and the Monterey Jazz Festival Next Generation Orchestra. At 5pm on the Primus Stage Juno-nominated vocalist Yvette Tollar plays a free set, accompanied by Don Rooke, Robi Botos, Rich Brown and Larnell Lewis.

Friday night's mainstage concert at Nathan Phillips Square features alive set from one of the most prolific and respected jazz guitarists of all time - the legendary John Scofield. He'll be accompanied by vocalist Shakura S'aida and his latest project The Piety Street Band, and together they'll be offering up a unique blend of jazz, gospel and blues sounds. ($35, 8pm)

Again, Dominion on Queen is the place to go for your free late-night jazz jam.

Saturday July 3

On Saturday night Jazz Fest brings the party to Yonge Dundas Square for a massive free gig featuring legendary R&B vocalist Chaka Khan, Grammy-winner Macy Gray and Quebec-based acoustic trio Lost Fingers, starting at 6pm sharp.

For those in the mood for something with a bit of a psychedelic rock edge, The Music Gallery (197 John St.) hosts Doran-Stucky-Studer & Tacuma as they play the songs of Jimi Hendrix. Get there early for an opening set from NKLS4tet - an "eclectic group of characters whose music is sometimes catchy, sometimes chaotic." ($25, 8pm)

Sunday July 4

Close out your 2010 Jazz Fest with a boisterous and upbeat concert at the Sound Academy (11 Polson St.) on Sunday night, where DJ Miro will open up for Emir Kusturica & the No Smoking Orchestra. Perhaps better known for his work as a filmmaker, Kusturica joined the No Smoking Orchestra in the late 1990's as their guitarist and hasn't looked back since. Don't miss your chance to catch them on their first ever North American tour, which promises to deliver "high-energy, eclectic performances with unadulterated, unpredictable showmanship." ($40-$65, 10pm).

Check out the full schedule for complete Toronto Jazz Festival listings, including all of the smaller club shows, workshops and mainstage concerts.

See also: The best Jazz bars in Toronto

Lead Photo: "Playing Large" by torontostreet, member of the BlogTO Flickr Pool.

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