Toronto Jazz Festival

5 must-see concerts at the 2013 Toronto Jazz Festival

The Toronto Jazz Festival is back for its 2013 edition. Besides skyscrapers and traffic jams, one of the things that turns a town into a big city is a jazz festival, and even if you're as likely to hear blues or soul or salsa or zydeco at such an event these days, it's the sort of thing that's guaranteed to be almost wholly free of greasy kid stuff. Our own TD Toronto Jazz Festival has been bringing name acts to the city since 1987, locked in a bitter rivalry with its older Montreal rival that's probably sharpened both of their games.

This year's festival boasts over 350 concerts, from the big showcase free events at Nathan Phillips Square to venues like The Rex, Lula and Harlem Underground that do this all year, to unique venues like Musideum, the Old Mill and Christ Church Deer Park. The festival has booked jazz legends like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Sun Ra, but with living legends thin on the ground nowadays, jazz fests like Toronto have broadened their horizons, as a pick through the highlights of this year's schedule proves.

Mary Margaret O'HaraMusideum, June 21st, 7pm & 9:30pm
Famous for a single album released at the end of the '80s, O'Hara's reputation as a recluse and eccentric is undercut by the fact that Torontonians can spy her downtown walking the streets almost any day. Picking her projects carefully, O'Hara is more often found on soundtrack albums or guesting on records by her legions of admirers, but she promises to showcase tracks from Miss America alongside the rest of her eclectic work at this intimate pair of concerts at Musideum.

Mavis Staples/Dr. JohnNathan Phillips Square, Sat. June 22, 8pm
Mavis was the voice of gospel legends The Staple Singers, while Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack is probably the voice of New Orleans these days, and the pair of them sharing a stage will probably invite some kind of musical singularity event. With her father and sisters, Staples was a gospel star in the '60s, a soul superstar in the '70s, and spent the '80s covering the Talking Heads and working with Prince. Dr. John's reputation would still be guaranteed if he had only released one album - 1968's eerie Gris-Gris - but he made himself almost ubiquitous in the next four decades, touring, performing and arranging on everything from Rolling Stones albums to Popeye's Chicken commercials. There's no one like him, and the possibility of what he and Staples could come up with live is heady stuff.

John McLaughlin and the Fourth DimensionNathan Phillips Square, Sun. June 23rd, 8pm
When you think of jazz fusion, whether as pioneering and groundbreaking or as maddeningly complex noodling, chances are you're thinking of McLaughlin, the British guitarist who's defined its sound from his days with Miles Davis to the Mahivishnu Orchestra to his latest quartet. He has a reputation for an earnest, eastern-inflected spirituality, but make no mistake - he's as likely to break into a face-ripping, metallic roar as any serene raga.

Fred HerschEnwave Theatre, Harbourfront, Mon. June 24, 7pm
A jazz festival is still about jazz, and you probably won't find a better example than a solo piano gig by Fred Hersch. Without his usual trio backing, you'll get to hear the sort of ravishing and lyrical work that's made Hersch's impeccable reputation, which builds upon what seminal pianists like Bill Evans and Paul Bley began in the early '60s. An immensely learned and inventive pianist, he's the sort of player you'll want to hear if the rest of the festival has you primed for something deeper.

Bettye LaVetteNathan Phillips Square, Thurs. June 27, 8pm
The last decade has been rich with rediscoveries, one of whom was LaVette, a full-throated soul diva who had fallen into obscurity despite having hits in the '60s and '70s. Child of the Seventies, the unreleased and once-lost 1972 album that was supposed to be her debut, was rediscovered and released in 2006, and by 2009 she was playing Barack Obama's inauguration. She's still as good as her fiery early singles, but just because her richly-deserved stardom has been four decades in the making doesn't give you an excuse to wait till next time she comes around.

Lead photo of Mavis Staples

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