May 15, 1953. Massey Hall, Toronto, ON. Five seminal bebop giants take the stage in “The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever.” Charlie Parker. Dizzy Gillespie. Bud Powell. Charles Mingus. Max Roach.
Ever since that day, Toronto’s kept its ID as Canada's Big Apple for jazz, says Jim Galloway. The soprano saxophonist famous for his inimitable swing style has worked here with the greats in the earlier styles of jazz.
Few cities can boast live jazz 365 days a year, not to mention four annual jazz festivals. Toronto’s live music in clubs, concert halls and main stages has thrived since the historic day when the city’s jazz scene vaulted to international status.
Like all celebrated music cities, Toronto has cultivated its own stars: the late flutist Moe Koffman, vibraphonist Peter Appleyard, flugelhornist Guido Basso, composer Phil Nimmons, guitarist Ed Bickert, multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson and saxophonist Galloway. Though jazz here tends to be mainstream—Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass Band—the traditionalist Climax Jazz band has pleased crowds for 38 years.
As the culturally diverse city blossomed into a place of pilgrimage for the world's best jazz musicians, the downtown core incubated a multicultural mix of styles. Toronto cultivated an eclectic genre of jazz musicians, drawing from Canadian, American, European, African and blues music from traditional to swing, bebop, sultry smooth and rousing klezmer jazz. The new breed of talents includes soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett, known for her distinctive hybrid of jazz and Afro-Cuban music, and guitarist Kevin Breit, who mixes jazz with the folksy twang of country.
Today, Toronto is an essential stop on the world tours of most notable jazz bands. Here’s your hit list:
- The retro-style Rex Hotel Jazz and Blues Bar is famed as much for its huge variety of draught beer as for its incredible volume of acts (some 18 a week!), running from locals to legends.
- Hooch, a quirky lounge-cum-dance club known for cutting-edge styles, dedicates Thursday nights to swing, with big band, jazz and blues numbers that invite dancing.
- AlleyCatz Live Jazz Bar for a martini at the bar or dinner during sets of smooth jazz.
- For really classy performances, check out the Art Gallery of Ontario: some nights, it hosts the city’s hottest talents.
- Every second Saturday afternoon, C’est What serves up traditional New Orleans jazz with comfort food.
- And since Toronto is one of a few cities with an internationally acclaimed jazz-only radio station, tune in to what’s happenin’ at Jazz FM 91. Want to hear about jazz in Toronto? Just listen!
The CTC produced a version of this story for its GoMedia website.
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