By Andy Lee

Ah, summertime in the city… pool parties, barbecues with vegan options, fizzy drinks with trace amounts of artificial fruit flavours, and the time-honoured tradition of listening to jazz music more than one normally does. 

The 35th annual Toronto Jazz Festival provided plenty of opportunities to do just that with 10 days of free and ticketed shows. The impressive roster of international and domestic artists included Smokey Robinson, Gregory Porter, Jane Bunnett, Michael Kaeshammer and Jocelyn Gould.

  • Black man singing into a microphone inside a tent with purple light. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A Black man points while singing to a crowd from a festival tent. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A Black man cups his ear to the crowd from inside a festival tent. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A blonde woman, a man with a violin and fellow bandmates sing inside a festival tent. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • Two white men playing violin with a sousaphone player and trumpet players behind them. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A man plays trumpet directly in front of a crowd at the Toronto Jazz Festival. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A band holds up a sousaphone, hand drum, trumpets, guitar and violin in the middle of a crowd with trees above at night. © Andy Lee, 2022.

On Saturday night, the Cory Henry Trio headlined the festival “Grove” main stage, nestled in the University of Toronto’s Victoria College quad. The Brooklyn singer and multi-instrumentalist flexed his virtuosic keyboard skills, delivering an electrifying performance of soulful jazz and R&B that compelled audience members to get off their butts and onto their feet.  

The high vibes returned to the Grove for Sunday’s finale by last minute fill-in Lemon Bucket Orkestra. The local ensemble upheld its reputation for frenetic shows as its 11 members stormed the stage at full force and kept the outdoor party going strong. 
They concluded their set in characteristic form by marching straight into the heart of the audience. Their rousing rendition of Reel 2 Real’s 1993 ragga house classic “I Like to Move It” proved that occasionally, under just the right conditions, Torontonians do indeed like to move during concerts.

  • A brunette woman sings while a brown man plays soprano sax. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A brown man plays tabla on an outdoor concert stage. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A Black woman in a white shirt dress smiles while looking at a male pianist dressed in white. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • Two men and a women play saxophone as part of a big jazz band. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A Black woman in a white shirt dress crouches while singing to a man dressed in white. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • A Black woman in a white shirt dress sings to a man dressed in white raising his hands above his head. © Andy Lee, 2022.
  • Orange and purple sunset above a white jazz festival tent. © Andy Lee, 2022.

Such was not the case earlier that evening during Avataar’s performance at the festival “Festival Village” in Yorkville, led by saxophonist and composer Sundar Viswanathan. Despite obvious technical proficiency and critical accolades, like their recent Juno for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, the Toronto world-jazz group lacked the aforementioned headliners’ visceral energy, notwithstanding Ravi Naimpally’s rhythmic fingerwork on tabla. And while whimsical at first, Felicity Williams’ continuous vocal mirroring of Viswanathan’s soprano and alto sax melodies eventually became too much of a good thing. 

Meanwhile, the Hilario Durán Big Band struck a good balance between musical prowess and passion when they headlined the Grove on Friday night. The Cuban-Canadian pianist led his 18-piece Latin-jazz Big Band through a series of grooving numbers rooted in traditional Cuban music, as a magenta summer sunset cast a magical glow over diehard and casual jazz fans alike.

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All images © 2022, Andy Lee.

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