Beaches Jazz Festival Celebrates 25 Years

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Submitted by Don Graham

Summer’s Here and the Time is Right For Dancing in the Street ! We who live in this little piece of heaven known as The Beach in Toronto know it’s summer not just by the calendar, the warm sun and the crowded beach but by the annual arrival of The Beaches International Jazz Festival.

For 25 years the Beach has been opening its heart and closing down Queen Street East to make way for the Street fest portion of our version of Mardi Gras, as well the main stage events in both Woodbine Park and the original home of the BJF in Kew Gardens.

25 years is a long time and a lot has changed since 1989:

  • The average house price in Toronto in ’89 was about $275,000 - now in 2013 close to $500,000
  • Paula Abdul had a chart topper with ‘Straight Up’
  • The New Kids on the Block were ‘Hangin’ Tough’
  • Don Henley was singing about  ‘The End of the Innocence’

Tens of thousands of Chinese students take over Beijing’s Tianamen Square, a rally for democracy and in Canada in hockey, Calgary beat Montreal to win its first Stanley Cup and Toronto’s baseball Blue Jays won the American League East Division title for the first time in their 13 year history.

A lot has changed in those 25 years and the Beaches Jazz Festival is no exception. Artistic Director and co-founder of the event Bill King says, “It is now really a MUSIC festival, not solely a jazz festival.. We’ll be featuring jazz, blues, latin music and more. I’m really excited about the lineup this year and some of the new features.”  The festival’s first ever Taste of Jazz event will take place from Tuesday July 23rd to Wednesday the 24th at Woodbine Park from 5 pm  to 10 pm with food trucks, beer and wine tents and of course great live music.

Years Gone By!Years Gone By!There will be the usual workshops and the ever popular 2 km street fest from Thursday the 25th to Saturday the 27th featuring some of the ever present and in demand acts like Samba Squad, God Made Me Funky, The Toronto All-Star Big Band, Neil Chapman and the king of blue eyed soul, George Olliver. The pedestrian only Queen Street East will be rocking with music on every corner and tasty food vendors galore.

The Festival offers concerts at six stage locations: Kew Gardens Main Stage; the Latin Square and Big Band Stages (also located in Kew Gardens Park); the Woodbine Park Main Stage and the New Generation and Youth stages also at Woodbine Park. The Festival holds a Workshop and Lecture Series which varies each year and is programmed to appeal to both professional musicians and to the general jazz loving public. The Festival will also sponsor a "Jazz in Motion" Juried Photography Exhibition.

Bill KingBill KingThe Jazz Festival gets a lot of community support because of the community events that it supports. These include: a "Jazz-Up Your Windows" Beach BIA - BIJF jointly sponsored contest for local retailers; and multiple fundraising opportunities for local charities such as the "Beaches Jazz Tune-Up Run" on behalf of the Beach  Rotary Club What makes the Festival unique is its longevity, its grass-roots ambience, the fact that its totally free and accessible to a wide spectrum of people (locals and visitors alike); and the scope, magnitude and dynamic nauture of its over 1,000 hours of live programming. The Festival attracts around one million attendees per Festival season. The Jazz Fest is also great for the local economy, injecting over $30 million into the GTA.

25th Beaches Jazz Festival25th Beaches Jazz Festival

As an added bonus for co-founder Bill King this year he will be working with his son Jesse, a four time Juno nominee and one time winner. Bill King went on to say “Our set is a homage to early ska and reggae. In 1972, I began playing reggae with drummer Everton Pablo Paul and other players from Jamaica. We moved reggae from black Caribbean clubs into the downstairs of the El Mocambo, Jarvis House and the college circuits all through Ontario. My son, Jesse used to hang onto Pablo's kit and grab his drumsticks when he was three years old. This is where it all began. Eventually Pablo gave him his Ludwig drum set and moved away from music to be successful in building and home renovations. Jesse was possessed. When Pablo returned a few years back (from  Jamaica to Toronto) Jesse fixed up that old set polished and put new skins on thirty years later and returned. We will be playing together as a rhythm section with Jesse on bass for the first time. We've never played a concert or in the same band until now. We will be joined by Gavin Hope of The Nylons, Stacey Kay and Selena Evangeline, vocals and guitar, Bobby Hsu tenor sax, Christopher Butcher on trombone, Jorge Luis Torres, congas.
It's the music of the Skatellites, The Specials, the Pioneers and others”.

So do yourself a favour if your close enough to make and come to the 25th Annual Beaches Jazz Festival from July 19th to 28th and create some memories that will last a lifetime.

See you there!