Beaches International Jazz Festival Celebrates 26 Years of Community Goodwill

Cashbox Canada July 11 BIJF.png

Submitted by Bill King
Author of Bill King’s “In Concert!” Essays, Images and Interviews
Photo Credits: Bill King

Every season I’m asked, “So what’s new this year with Beaches Jazz?” My response, “Come and visit!”

The most compelling reason I love planning a good portion of the music side of Beaches Jazz is the opportunity to address our local community of artists. We are so unlike most music festivals that have ticketed acts. We understand serving our community means an open door to all. There are hundreds of thousands who can’t afford a Lady GaGa, a Tony Bennett, a Michael Buble but they can savor for free the fresh faces and talent that engage this community year round and a few acts beyond our borders that give big bang for the buck. So if you’re expecting Willie Nelson or Wynton Marsalis, you won’t find them here. In fact, just one of those acts would account for our entire budget.

The Beaches International Jazz Festival is that unique moment in the summer when we pause for two weeks and experience that much needed vacation within the perimeter of the East End Beach area. A TTC ride with family gets you to one of Toronto’s most exquisite regions. The nights on the street are a time of social gathering – food, music and a long stroll through humanity. They come to dance, they laugh they participate in the big spirit of a city just on the cusp of being the most desirable place to live on planet earth.

The Beach community is a land of strollers, children, young professionals and big, hairy dogs. For two weeks, under the banner of jazz, the streets expand with families bearing similar aspirations - love of kids, friendship and life -  to celebrate individual uniqueness and differences in a city that speaks to two hundred plus nationalities. Faces come in many colors and shades yet it is our schools, neighborhoods and playgrounds that bring this new generation together in one long parade of cultural diversity and tolerance. The BIJF is always embracing and in the heart of sweeping change.

Jazz on Queen StreetFestJazz on Queen StreetFestThe 2014 line-up:
The first act I booked – Kansas City’s award winning blues trio – Trampled Under Foot. The unit won the 2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Canada’s most popular reggae band of all time; Messenjah. Many times over blues music award nominee Teeny Tucker. From New Orleans, one of the Crescent City’s most popular funk bands, Dumpstafunk. How about reggae from China, Long Shen Dao. More blues from evil gal, Michelle Wilson. Toronto’s own Shakura S’Aida is back after the past half decade traveling the international blues highway.

We love the newcomers and this year some truly talented rising stars. Jazz singer Barbara Lica, gospel singer Amoy Levy, soul singer Andrea Simone bring something new and exciting in play. Tower of Power cover band led by Michael Buble’s arranger Lou Pomonti – Oakland Stroke revisits a deep catalog of popping funk classics. Toronto’s long-serving club ensemble and disciples of rhythm & blues, Soul Stew plays the festival for the first time. Canada’s prime jazz players under the direction of South African/Canadian Bruce Cassidy come together in a large fusion-jazz collective – the Hot Foot Orchestra. The big gospel sound of the Toronto Mass Choir will liberate the soul and uplift the down-spirited.

BIJF, in conjunction with Toronto Port Authority, is presenting some of our finest “up and coming” jazz musicians at our Youth Stage. There will be student combos from Discovery Through the Arts Music School the first weekend in which students perform with their mentors.

It’s year five for our Latin Square Stage manned by the talented Jazz Meets Salsa; Wilson Acevedo. Valeria Matzner, Max Senitt’s Latin Jazz, Jorge Sanchez y Los Inovidables, Son Cubano Orchestra, Los Hijos de Tuta, Javier Rivera and Esencia Latina, Juan Henriquez and his Bachata Band – music from Cuba, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, all in the mix.

Park LivePark LiveIt’s also year five for the Big Band Stage. It’s the favourites – Big City Big Band, George Lake Big Band, Swing Shift Band, Mississauga Big Band and the Jazz Mechanics.
Keyboardist and producer Eddie Bullen will host the Party Island Stage with special guests.

Then it’s the 2.5 kilometers of Streetfest – three nights of big fun, party music, great food, plenty shopping and slow walking under a moonlit sky. Many of the bands have held a small arena for years like long term family members. This is where players and close friends and hundreds of thousands of music fans visit rub shoulders after a long winter’s chill.

The Taste of Jazz Gourmet Food Trucks return for a second season. The two day event will feature the sounds of Irene Torres and the Sugar Devils and the Toronto All-Star Big Band.

One of the most popular week to week events is the BIJF workshops held at the Mennonite New Life Centre. This year: Cabaret with Chris Tsujuchi, Concert Photography with Joanna Katchutas, Second City Comedy Improv with Kevin Frank, Ukelele Jam – Steve McNie, Latin Percussion- Joaquin Nunez Hildago and New Orleans Brass Studies with Christopher Butcher.

Queen StreetQueen StreetThe BIJF Festival runs July 18-27 with main stage activities centered in Woodbine Park. If you fancy running, there’s a 5K, 10K, 20K run July 27th 8AM starting at the Beaches Boardwalk near the Leuty Life Guard Station organized by Canada Running Series.

This will be my 26th year performing and as always I come with something that excites my interest from year to year. We are back again – that being The Rhythm Express with vocalists Selena Evangeline (guitar), Gavin Hope, Stacy Kay, with additional voices Amoy Levy and Anna Daisy Paul. The band – Colin Barrett bass, Everton Paul drums, Nathan Hiltz guitar, Jorge Luis Torres percussion and the big guy – I-man on keyboards. It’s classic reggae and ska time.

To my great friends and co-workers – Executive Director Lido Chilelli, stage manager/blues booker; Rico Ferrara, Youth Initiatives; Julie Christian, publicity; Martine Levy and DDB, program book associate producer Joey Cee, ; Jazz Photography in the Park & Multi-Arts Project Coordinator; Joanna Katchutas, grants Helen Bulat , Director of Operations & On-Site Vending; Pat Carpignano; all staff and volunteers a big hug and thank you.

You can get all information by visiting

Editor’s Note: Bill King has been Artistic Director for 24 years of the festival and emcee all twenty six years.
He’s played with his own bands featuring Liberty Silver, Shakura S’Aida, Sophie Milman, Selena Evangeline, Stacy Kay through all the years.