Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival at various venues from Friday (June 25) to July 4. Ten-day festival pass $290, any four mainstage shows $110, opening weekend pass $70. 416-870-8000, www.torontojazz.com. Rating: NNNNN
You might not be able to afford Oscar Peterson's pre-festival performance on June 23, but when it comes to the Toronto Jazz Festival, just feed your disc-man Night Train and start cruising the streets. It often pays to look in the smaller clubs, where lineups are peppered with hungry young musicians and more eclectic urban stuff. On day one (Friday, June 25), I'd head over to the Silver Dollar to hear the Silver Hearts perform their unique brand of boozy brothel blues. How often do you see a theremin solo at a jazz festival?
Check out Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday (June 26) for more opening-weekend festivities. If you're not over the late-90s swing dancing revival, dust off your two-tone shoes for the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert at midnight.
Wonderfully lyrical Cuban combo Habana Sax , performing at the Lula Lounge , might prove a better choice for Saturday night. Or for something even more chill, head over to Sage , where DJ Cruz spins his own brand of contemporary jazz almost every night of the festival.
Tuesday night (June 29), a good bet is monster funk band Afrodizz at Revival (see Vibes feature, page 86). And on June 30, we'll assume you couldn't get into the Bela Fleck show at Nathan Phillips Square and ended up at the Rex for Wednesday-night regulars Exitman . Their traditional jazz structures hide a love of pop music that's every music geek's dream to pick out. Listen for their cover of Alanis Morissette's Uninvited.
On Canada Day, the Groove and Graffiti crew create art in Nathan Phillips Square (on canvas, not city walls) to the sounds of jazz. The urban theme continues at 8 pm with local groove merchants the New Deal . This is their first show in over six months, so come out before they scurry off to the States again.
On July 3, don't miss Bad Plus , opening for Gary Burton at Nathan Phillips Square. They reinterpret contemporary songs; see their devastating piano/bass/drum version of Iron Man. Later on, swing over to the Rex to check out local bass monster Andrew Downing with the Great Uncles of the Revolution .
If that's not your bag, then papa's got the brand new Funk Brothers , Motown's famed backing band, who remained largely anonymous until the film Standing In The Shadows Of Motown gave them their due. See them in person at the Kool Haus .
On the fest's final day, July 4, plant yourself at the Rex in the afternoon to see the Club Django Traditional Sextet and hear the instrumentation that helped make Reinhardt a superstar.
For a last blowout, head over to the Esplanade Bier Markt for the explosive power of Trinidad-born Nick Ali & Cruzao . Their sound is firmly rooted in salsa, funk and jazz, and they show it off with original compositions, improv and a wall of awards that would put Peter Jackson to shame.
Full information on venues, artists and tickets at www.torontojazz.com ; or call 416-870-8000 for tickets.