The pullout of Big Tobacco hasn't stopped the Downtown Jazz Festival (June 23 to July 2) after all, and the event is now celebrating 20 years of showcasing big-name acts past their prime. Those running the show evidently feel that saxophonists Yusef Lateef , Pharoah Sanders , Paquito D'Rivera and John Zorn , trumpeters Marcus Belgrave and George Coleman , singers Etta James and Andy Bey along with pianists Dave Brubeck and Cedar Walton have sufficiently matured to fit comfortably alongside Rob McConnell and the rest of the veterans at the 2006 festival. As usual, there are a few head-scratching anomalies scheduled for Harbourfront Centre , like De La Soul (June 23), the Neville Brothers (June 28), the Original Superstars of Jazz Fusion with Roy Ayers , Jon Lucien , Wayne Henderson , Lonnie Liston Smith , Jean Carne , Ronnie Laws and Bobbi Humphrey (June 29) and Seu Jorge (June 30), and at the Opera House with hiphop artists Kardinal Offishall (June 28) and Buck 65 (June 30).
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings ' connection to jazz may be tenuous, but they'll still tear the roof off the Phoenix June 29. For more info, see www.tojazz.com.
As a warm-up to June's Downtown Jazz extravaganza, the Distillery District 's Art Of Jazz Celebration (May 17 to 21) offers a smaller but more imaginatively assembled program presenting unique creative interactions between talented artists. The festival, spearheaded by Jane Bunnett , launches with a gala concert hosted by Ranee Lee and headlined by the Kevin Dean Quintet and special guests at the Distillery's Fermenting Cellar Wednesday (May 17).
The two big draws are the tribute concerts at the Distillery's Young Centre , with Hank Jones , Jimmy Slyde , Charles McPherson , Earl May and Leroy Williams honouring bebop piano supremo Barry Harris on May 18 at 7 and 9:30 pm, while bass boss Don Thompson gets an all-star salute the next evening (May 19) from guitar great Jim Hall , John Handy , Dave Holland , Terry Clarke and Phil Dwyer followed, by jam sessions each night at the Boiler House .
Harris will also be joining Bunnett for her Afro Cuban Jazz and Dance Party Saturday (May 20) featuring the 14-piece Ricky Franco Salsa Orchestra with guests Howard Johnson , Ray Vega and Hilario Duran .
The most intriguing portion of the festival, with real potential for fireworks, are the afternoon Duo Series at the Young Centre with Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali , and Sheila Jordan and Cameron Brown throwing down Saturday (May 20), while the Sunday (May 21) matinee boasts Kenny Barron and Eddie Henderson followed by Ravi Coltrane and Luis Perdomo . For more info, check out www.artofjazz.org or call 416-866-8666.