Popular jazz fest back again

[attach]4556[/attach]Christmas is coming to the Beaches.

There won’t be any snow or pine trees — but the Jazz Festival evokes a similar level of people, sales and excitement to the area as the wintry holiday, says festival president and founder Lido Chilelli.

From July 15 to 24, the area will be essentially converted into a giant concert area for the 23rd annual Beaches International Jazz Festival.

“Some people get so excited, they come up to me all the time (saying) ‘I can’t wait, I can’t wait,’ ” says Bill King, who’s been the festival’s artistic director since day one.

“This sort of thing gives people who do not have the money (to travel) the opportunity to go and enjoy an area of the city that is lovely,” he says, noting it doesn’t cost anything to go.

The Beaches festival was named one of the top 10 in the world by MSN Entertainment’s Canadian website in June, alongside places like Montreal, New Orleans and St. Lucia.

Chilelli says he considers that a great accomplishment.

“It’s the little festival that grew,” he says. “We still have that Beach community flavour, but on a national or international level now.”

Throughout the event’s 10-day stretch, each location will host musicians for a certain period. Woodbine Park will feature multiple stages along with the main stage at Kew Gardens.

The traditional StreetFest will close down Queen Street East from Woodbine Avenue to Beech Avenue from July 21–23, when more than 50 Canadian bands perform nightly along the two-kilometre stretch.

Again this year the Latin Square will be next to the Leuty Lifeguard Station on the boardwalk, which King says reflects the increasing diversity of the city.

“With the change in population, so does the music,” he says.

Last year’s response to the Latino vibe showed how much of an impact that could have.

“It was taken by storm,” says Chilelli. “People flocked there.”

This year’s larger-than-life addition is the Big Band Stage on the boardwalk, which is designed to replicate the Hollywood glamour of 1930s, ’40s and ’50s jazz.

“That was always a crowd favourite,” says Chilelli.

The list of up-and-coming Canadian artists numbers too many to name says King who emphasizes that he tries to use the festival as a place for young musicians to perform.

“We have been the one festival that went right up from the beginning and gave people an opportunity to really push their careers,” he says.

Nothing in Toronto except the Pride Parade and Caribana can touch the numbers that come to the festival — more than half a million people, Chilelli says — so the publicity puts the artists’ names out there, King says.

“You kind of develop a relationship with them,” he says.

Guitarist Pavlo, who is performing this year, gained fame from the jazz festival.

“We put him on the street and now (he) plays big concert halls everywhere,” says King.

Others, like guitarist Jesse Cook, have done so well afterward they’ve never been back.

The global audience the event now attracts is a far cry from the approximately 12,000 people who came to the first weekend festival on a rickety stage years ago.

“But the fact that people showed up told us that we should try it again,” King says.

Despite the city’s past resistance to closing streets and elected officials’ tendency to use the festival as a political football, it continued to grow, he says.

“It kind of wrote its own script.”