To find Poetry, Kensington Market’s new jazz cafe, follow Miles Davis’ hand
By Sarah Parniak
Jazz in the market (Image: Jon Sufrin)
Kensington Market is no stranger to experimental music, so it’s fitting that Poetry Jazz Café, a new bar dedicated entirely to live jazz, has set up shop on the market’s arterial avenue at 224 Augusta. Its outer facade emblazoned with a dynamic mural of Miles Davis’ hand, Poetry now opens its doors five nights a week —Wednesday to Sunday — to house an eclectic melange of young jazz musicians and soulful, jazz-oriented, vinyl-spinning DJs.
Owner Sean Pascalle is passionate about his cause, citing Poetry as a hopeful hub for reacquainting Toronto’s youth with jazz music. “I wanted to create a home for young jazz musicians to come and mess around, and to help young people realize how hip jazz actually is,” he says. Growing up in Trinidad, the soulful strains of Miles and Betty Davis were a household staple for Pascalle, and he fondly recalls childhood visits to New York City, where trendy youth would be dolled up and lined up, clamoring for entrance into the city’s hottest jazz clubs.
Pascalle’s unshakable belief is that jazz needn’t be shoved into a mothball-eaten era and regarded in the past tense, and Poetry's resident trio, lead by sax player Chris Chekan, eloquently demonstrates the ongoing connection between youth and jazz. Alongside percussionist Zach Sutton and Paul Crocker on the keys, Chekan represents a sweeping new wave of formally trained, professional young musicians happy to be given a chance to experiment in a sultry, relaxed setting that is ultimately, Pascalle stresses, “all about the music.” Chekan’s trio plays Thursday to Saturday between 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., often challenging themselves to enter improvisational territory by performing without the foundational heartbeat of a double bass. The latest addition to Poetry’s resident roster is jazz pianist Carmen Spada Jr., who plays on Wednesday nights.
The courtyard patio — a zen-like space complete with a burbling fountain, potted evergreens and inviting lounge chairs — is a good spot to sip something refreshing under the stars while soft jazz drifts out the back door and into the night air. Try the Bitches Brew ($9.50), a spicy signature mixture of vodka, tequila, lime, fresh mint and bitters, named after Miles Davis’ pivotal album. A bare bones selection of munchies including popcorn, wasabe peas, sunflower seeds and occasionally cupcakes (all served free during live performances) is currently available, while a simple tapas menu is in the works.
With a warm atmosphere devoid of pretension and an unwavering focus on creative expression, Poetry feels like the kind of place where anything might happen. While renovating, Pascalle discovered one of local artist Gregory Alan Elliott’s installations hidden amidst debris in the basement: a crude wooden plaque inscribed “Honesty is the best poetry,” a serendipitous testament to a space where art and sincerity now abound.
Poetry Jazz Café, 224 Augusta Ave., 416-599-5299