Forget all that jazz, street festival a blast for all music lovers

If you wanted to listen this past weekend to jazz in all its variety —trad, swing, bebop, cool, smooth, Latin, fusion and more — well, you should probably have downloaded it.

Beaches Jazz Festival crowds
STREETFUL OF NOISE: Crowds filled Queen Street East for the Beaches Jazz Festival.

You couldn’t find it on the two-kilometre stretch of Queen Street East closed off for three evenings of the Beaches Jazz Festival.

About 45 bands played the street party, alternating 30-minute sets. But a stroll along three-quarters of the crowded avenue Saturday evening found only one band performing what could be termed jazz.

The remaining 20 or so bands playing at that time covered rhythm and blues, hard rock (Led Zeppelin songs), folk (“I’se The B’y”), funk, country, R&B, show tunes and movie themes (“Ghostbusters”).

The lone jazz highlight was the Toronto All-Star Big Band, a 15-piece ensemble that swung and backed vocalists doing standards like “All of Me” and “Mack the Knife.”

Beaches Jazz Festival big band
SWINGING: The Metro Big Band backs singer performing “All of Me.”

To be fair, there were other jazz performers set up but not “on stage” at the moment. (There were no real stages, of course— everyone was set up on the street and sidewalks.)

And to be more than fair, the crowds of music fans seemed to love what was being offered.

And why not? The popular music genres were being performed energetically by some of the best bands available in the city and country.

Turbo street Funk Beaches Jazz Festival
TURBO-CHARGED: The colourful and exuberant perforrmance of Turbo Street Funk, a five-man band including tuba and French horn players, revved up the audience on Queen Street East.

Every musical group, from four-member combos to small orchestras, drew hordes of people clapping along, shaking their hips, whooping, and of course holding the ubiquitous cell phones aloft to take pictures, shoot videos and record performances.

For many, quite rightly, it was a great family night out. Couples pushed strollers and carried kids on their backs. At least one performer in a band carried her child on her chest in a Snuggie while she sang.

People of all ages lined up in droves at the food trucks and stands set up along the side of the road, and patronized local businesses prepared to cater to the jazzfest crowd.

The street fest, running July 26–28, was only one part — perhaps the most high-profile part — of this year’s Beaches Jazz Festival. About 18 groups, including a handful of big band ensembles, played over the three days at Woodbine Park.

Performances, including some of the same groups as on Queen Street, were also presented earlier in July at Woodbine Park and in Jimmie Simpson Park in Leslieville.

Jerome Tucker at Beaches Jazz Festival
ART OF THE BLUES: The Jerome Tucker Band, headed by blues, soul and Cajun music bassist Jerome Tucker, plays in front of the Arts on Queen window.