Dancing in the Streets: Beaches International Jazz Festival hits the asphalt this week with StreetFest


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Image: Beaches International Jazz Festival

Last weekend, Woodbine Park was more or less transformed overnight—again. 

Now in its twenty-sixth year, the Beaches International Jazz Festival is a huge, gleaming highlight of Toronto's annual cultural radar. Since 1989, when it was held at Kew Beach, the event has bopped and swung its way into something unique on the global stage, drawing a cross-section of the world to T.O.—both audiences and performers alike. Eventually, Kew Beach proved too small, and the larger open-air venue of Woodbine Park was chosen as the new setting. 

But it's not the only place to enjoy the festival. 

As yearly followers—pilgrims, in some cases—are keenly aware, Beaches Jazzfest isn't just a single-night affair or even the feature of a weekend. It's a sprawling, thirteen-day celebration of what moves and grooves, with drums, woodwinds and brass lighting up the night(s) throughout east Toronto. Part of that broad presence is thanks to Streetfest, a high point of the festival that sees performers returning to their roots as street-corner buskers. 

This year, the jazzy soundtrack of a Toronto summer gets the asphalt dancing on Thursday, July 24th, wrapping up on Saturday night. Each of those nights, the public party starts at 7 pm and ends at 11. Here's a look at a few of those acts, with location information to help you plan your hep summer nights. And if you miss a performance? Stay cool; the same bands will be playing the same street corners throughout Streetfest. 

 

Who: Neil Chapman

Where: 2233 Queen Street East

One of the busiest session guitarists in North America, Neil Chapman has certainly gotten around during his career. The list of musical heavyweights that have featured him include Leonard Cohen, Randy Bachman, Toots and the Maytals, and yes, even Maestro Fresh Wes. He's also a founding member of The Pukka Orchestra, and has released two solo albums: 2003's "Hope in Hell," and "Happy Everything," a holiday-themed assortment of guitar work. 

 

Who: Samba Squad

Where: Southeast corner of Queen Street East & Woodbine

In a word, Samba Squad is enormous—both in terms of its members and its sound. Comprised of more than sixteen musicians, the self-described "percussion posse" takes global beats drawn from roots like Afro-Brazil and Afro-Cuba, then whips up an infectiously-appealing concoction of funk, jazz, and hip hop stylings from a wide assortment of ingredients. Embodying the sound of so many different cultures, it's anything but surprising to hear them described as a "microcosm of cosmopolitan Toronto." What will be surprising is if they can all fit on the same sidewalk. 

 

Who: Paul James

Where: 2175 Queen Street East

You've probably heard Paul James at some point in your life. The pompadour-sporting, cucumber-cool bluesman was recognized in 2012 with the Maple Blues Award for lifetime achievement, and for good reason, too. His sizzling licks and smooth vocals have been heard alongside greats like Bo Diddley, Lightning Hopkins, the Downchild Blues Band, and even Bob Dylan. Locally, he's been heard at the Junction Arts Festival in 2009; nationally, he won a Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Music. This local boy, it seems, has made good several times over. 

 

Who: KC Roberts

Where: 2066 Queen Street East

KC Roberts and the Live Revolution haven't just been burning up the stage the last few years, they've also been celebrated with a ticker-tape parade of good reviews. Calling them "scary good," artistic director Josh Grossman of the 2012 TD Toronto Jazz Festival noted how much fun this band is to watch as it is to hear. They've been described as one of the top 10 local bands ready to explode in the next few years. And with four albums under its belt, this Tower of Power-influenced constellation of huge, blasting horns and an incredible stage presence isn't just a sight to behold. They're an experience. This year, the pride of Parkdale jazz heats up the east end with a set outside My Place in the Beach. 

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