20 Years of the Toronto Jazz Festival

25.6.06

Toronto City Hall, hub of the fest.

My earliest memories of the "TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival" stem all the way back to the summer of 1989 when it was still known as the "DuMaurier Downtown Jazz Fest". I was working my very first summer job at the age of 14, pouring coffee at the Second Cup downtown. I saw a poster for the fest which had happened a week earlier. I'd missed all the fun. Booooo. And hiss. Boooo Hisss! This incident leads to a life-long fascination with incorrect signage.

Little jazz birds at the tent.

The next year, in 1990 I managed to get out to the fest for the first time. Caught a bunch of acts at Berczy Park, including a Duke Ellington tribute concert. My mind was blown. The summer of 1990 also found me with an even better summer job, selling soap at Crabtree & Evelyn. After the fest that year, I saved up all my soap money to buy a box set of Duke Ellington's RCA Victor recordings, "Black, Brown & Beige". Listened to the cassettes till they wore out.

The next couple of years found me dragging high school friends out to free shows at the parking lot at Queen and Soho and College Park. It was a great way to spend time in the summer. The Spanky Davis show alone was a great character study for a young drama student.

1993 was the year I came of age. I had graduated high school, had a larger disposable income and could now drink legally. I'd also discovered Coltrane. Safe to say, my world had changed...Considerably. I did the festival full-out. Saw this kid named Roy Hargrove play at City Hall. The Young Lion's thing was in full swing. This kid could play! And he was just my age. Saw him play three different shows that year, at Top o the Senator and at Judy Jazz in the Holiday Inn where the after hours jam session took place. Hargrove held court at the after hours jam that night. It was as if the entire room was holding its breath. Something special was happening. Boys in colourful suits were making waves.

Chandeliers lend a sense of class to the proceedings in the tent.

The years between 1994-1999 were really glory years for the Toronto Fest. The tent at King & John had lunchtime shows, after work shows, mainstage shows and midnight shows. Harbourfront Centre was home to a bunch of great shows by the lake. There was a tent in Yorkville and shows at Nathan Phillips Square at City Hall. You could go all day and all night if you wanted to, and I often did. Those were the years that I showed Jay McShann how to find the porta-pottie behind the tent, that Doc Cheatham bought me a drink, and that Ray Brown flirted shamelessly with me through his entire set at Top o the Senator. I'm not going to say that was one of my proudest moments. I won't admit to that. You can't make me.

2000 was a difficult year for the fest. Nearly cancelled because of lost backing from DuMaurier, they managed to pull of a fest with a big street party on University Avenue over Canada Day Weekend. It was an experiment that just didn't work. The next year was a year of transition with TD Canada Trust stepped in with funding. Things have settled in nicely the last few years with Nathan Phillips Square becoming the official hub of the fest. These years have brought shows from The RH Factor, Roberta Gamberini and Ed Thigpen along with a host of other greats.

Artistic Director Jim Galloway welcomes the audience to the 20th Annual Toronto Jazz Fest.

At opening night of the fest, Mayor David Miller, jazz fan, waits to go on and proclaim this "jazz week" in Toronto.

That brings us here, to 2006, and the 20th anniversary of the fest. 16 years of attending for me...half my lifetime, in fact. There's no way I'd rather spend my summer in TO. Stay tuned for reviews and photos from all the shows and workshops that I get to take in all this week!

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