Cool Jazz – Hot City

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With over 40 decent music venues (not counting live pub music) you’d be hard pushed to find a city anywhere in the world that has such a vibrant and diverse music scene as Toronto

The following focuses purely on the Jazz/Blues scene and includes two mainstream “Ronnie Scott” type dinner-jazz  set-ups for the mainly international acts; venues that schedule feature jazz/blues almost every night of the week and those that consistently schedule jazz/blues on one or two particular nights of the week.
And yes it’s official:  it really is possible to visit one or more Jazz/Blues clubs in Toronto every single day of the week

Starting with the dinner jazz clubs:

#1 Jazz Bistro
As the newest addition to the Toronto jazz scene, the reborn Jazz Bistro is at the high end of the club spectrum.
Swanky New York meets elegant under-stated Toronto decor – huge chandelier, standard black and red jazz colour scheme with glitzy gold webbed table settings and a shiny red Steinway stage centrepiece. On three floors the open concept design ensures that diners on the second floor balcony also get a view of the stage.
Fabulous food and always a great line up of both local and international performers.
Appropriate attire a must here with cover for Nightly Entertainment

#2 Hugh’s Room
The novel (in Toronto at least) concept of a dinner/music venue or “Room” where diners could sit in a concert hall setting at intimate  formally dressed and candlelit  tables,  enjoying great music and performances was the brainchild of brothers Hugh and Richard Carson in the late 1990’s. Sadly Hugh never got to see the realization of their dream but his name and reputation as a music lover and bon vivant live on through his brother’s creation of Hugh’s Room which opened in 2001.
Dinner reservations and performance ticket requests have to be completed on line

#3 The Rex

Every Day of the week  
The Rex is the “rufty-tufty” workhorse that has dominated Toronto’s Jazz landscape for over 40 years. Showcasing around 19 bands a week it definitely earns its slogan –
“More Great Jazz than anywhere else, all the time!”
The casual atmosphere, good pub scram (some of the best nachos in town), beer and always exciting mix of incredible music talent (Harry Conick Jr. Kurt Elling, Wynton Marsalis have all played here) make it the perfect place to just walk in off the street and hang out anytime of the week. Generally cost involves a donation to the tip jar and a drink, though some performances do attract a cover charge.

#4 Gate 403
Every night of the week
A tad smarter than The Rex Hotel and a little out of downtown is the iconic Gate 403 Bar & Grill in trendy Roncesvalles.
A natty blend of upmarket pub (be warned – the food exceeds expectation) and shabby chic piano bar, the venue is known for its daily menu of live jazz and blues. There is the “pub” end (just walk in) and the more intimate “candlelit cavern end” for which a reservation is needed. The actual performance space is quirkily sited in the centre of these two areas.

#5 The Reservoir Lounge
Tuesday through Saturday
Their tagline “Cool jazz. Hot Swing. Great people. Smart Cocktails. Good eats”.
Says it all: tucked away in the cellar of a stone building in Toronto’s historic Front Street area (Wellington Street), the Reservoir Lounge is a mix of Paris Jazz cavern and supper club, hosting a different genre of jazz 5 nights a week. Cocktail and dress-up friendly (but casual is okay too) with excellent house- made pizza.
Best for jazz on Tuesday and Saturdays when the lounge hosts jazz pianist Tyler Yarema and his cohorts – almost permanent fixtures on stage here for at least the last 5 years.
Claim to fame – it launched the career of Michael Bublé

#6 The Monarch Pub in Delta Chelsea

Jazz Wednesdays and Delta Blues Thursdays
Inside the Downtown Delta Chelsea Hotel, it turns out that the Monarch Pub is a haven of excellent live jazz and blues performances. Initially it presents as just a Hotel Pub but venture past the huge TV screens; past the bar populated by the Business overnighters and head towards the stage, the pocket sized dance floor and the surprisingly restful pastel coloured lounge area. Be prepared for an evening (9-1am) of great music with an eclectic crowd of jazz/blues groupies who trickle in from 10 pm onwards to support the regular acts and to practice their  dance moves. Surprisingly good food and a hotel standard drinks/cocktail menu available.

#7 The Homesmith Bar at the Old Mill

Friday/Saturday evening
This is performance so close-up and personal it’s like watching a live band in your own living room.
The room design is a shout to cosy and intimate with a whisper of the masculine refinement of a private Gentleman’s club. A respectable sized bar and a tiny performance area dominated by a grand piano leads you through to the long narrow stone lined lounge stuffed with inviting armchairs, playing footsy with rug covered flagstone floors and large coffee tables.
Performance range from solo to group with a particular speciality being the Jazz Party idea hosted by a specific Performer with others simply turning up and joining in.
See website for Reservation details

#8 Orbit Room


Founded by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, this minuscule quirky venue in vibrant Little Italy schedules a mix of Rock, Blues and Jazz several nights a week. Especially  worth a visit on Friday nights when the ex backing band of the legendary and much missed Jeff Healy – now called the Dave Murphy band – set the planets spinning with their inspired mix of Jazz, Blues and Rock.

#9 Cherry Street Restaurant

Varying nights of the week
The Cherry Street Restaurant is a bit of a Toronto anomaly in terms location in the Portland’s area. Originally built in 1907 as a branch of the Dominion Bank, it transitioned to a restaurant in the 1940’s – a reminder of Toronto Docklands more vibrant history. It is now nicely positioned in the “flight path” of the gaggles of cyclists and skaters that zoom past on their way to the Martin Goodman cycle path that skirts Lake Ontario
Nicely refurbished in 2010 to incorporate an intimate performance space (with great acoustics), some exposed  brick walls and the Bank’s original art deco exterior. A little bit different from your average jazz venue – the music programme varies from week to week but always features artists like the incomparable Alex Samaras and Sophia Perlman – who also pop up at other clubs all over the city – plus other superb mainstays of the Toronto jazz scene.

#10 The Pilot Tavern

Saturday afternoon
This gets onto their list because of its Saturday afternoon jazz status.
Need a break from shopping or dining in Toronto’s mink mile?  Make it a musical break. From 3.30-6.30 you can listen to jazz in this fun and happening Yorkville bar/restaurant. Check out the riveted metal decor (pilot: plane connection maybe?) and its rooftop patio


Toronto Jazz Festival – George Benson

The incomparable George Benson

It was a perfect summers evening 25c with velvet soft summer air sort of “breezin” through the main stage marquee at Nathan Phillips Square. slanting sunset rays bathed the normally strident concrete arcs and walkways in a soft filtered light that blurred all the nasty seventies angles.
People were sitting around the marquee area at sun umbrella’d tables drinking wine, craft beer and half decent fast food courtesy of Mill Street Brewery. No buzzing queues, just a laid back civilized very Canadian drift into the venue. Very “cool jazz”

Introduced by Brad Barker, of Jazz FM fame, the whole shebang kicked off with a support act in the shape of Treasa Levasseur & The Daily Special
A sassy white soul singer with a huge funky Memphis sound. Nice start.

So even though I was right at the front – but side, thanks to the last-minute urge to buy a hotdog which cost me my original supposedly “saved” front of stage seat – I didn’t see as clearly as I’d have liked because one of my contact lenses broke in my eye. However whilst his features were a blur to me, I could certainly feel the charisma of the this ten time Grammy award-winning artist whose career spans over four decades. The living legend that is George Benson.
Here is another performer whose timeless songs have formed the backing track to some my most memorable years.

You gotta be kidding – whilst he didn’t look like the guy on the front of the eighties cover of the LP I had been playing all week to get me in the mood, I didn’t expect 70 years old, the spritely vibrant figure that strode onto the stage looking not a day over fifty-five (ok I wasn’t wearing lenses).
He doesn’t appear to have been afflicted with any obvious age related arthritis as he careened around the stage; his fingers still able to perform digital acrobatics on the guitar strings during his particular brand of guitar playing and scat interspersed with the evocative melodies.
The sound was amazing, his silky chocolate croiquant voice as clear as ever, I just closed my eyes and let the years roll away.

There is always a reason why these aged musicians roll out tours and it’s usually to promote a new album!!
George was here to promote his new mainly instrumental album – “Guitar Man”
I probably won’t be purchasing this as I am living in the past with this guy’s music. I just love that eighties dreamy keyboard sound dancing around his distinctive guitar playing and trademark voice/guitar dueting.

He played a lot of his old stuff including:
Love times Love
Turn your Love around
Nothing’s gonna change my love for you – cried during this one
That’s What the people say
A cracking version of Give me the night
A Michael Jackson number that he played as an instrumental thereby “George Bensonizing” it almost out of recognition (recorded for his new album)
Call me miserable but I could have done without his version of “Tequila” which irritates me at the best of times (also on the new album)
An instrumental cover of Norah Jones “Don’t know why”
An elaborate instrumental of “Sonny Boy”

He then appeared to leave the stage; his band were introduced – presumably giving George time to change and have quick gargle.
He finished up with an extended version of ” On Broadway”

Magnificent show!

A word about Jazz FM – this is a public radio station totally funded by sponsors and members of the public. It is one of the largest jazz stations in the world with full 24 hour programming; commercial free Sundays and the wonderful BBC Radio 2’s “Jamie Culham show all the way from London”
This is one of my favourite things about living in Toronto and well worth a few bucks a month to ensure it keeps going

Over and Out



Jazz Thursdays at Cherry Street Cafe

中文: 樱桃

中文: 樱桃 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have passed this cafe by so many times on the way to Cherry Beach and used to wonder about the business model of something stuck in the middle if the Port Lands like this. The only decent building left on this road, it stands out like a sore rhumb – an art deco beacon of commerce amongst the Rufty -Tufty dock lands neighbourhood. It is however right on the spring/summer “flight path” of the gaggles of cyclists that zoom past on their way to the Martin Goodman cycle path that skirts the Lake shore, I was certain that winter heralded a downturn in footfall but the cafe always wore an open sign – a blue and red beacon of promised hospitality amid a pretty bleak neck if the woods.
And so it was with curiosity that we arrived one Thursday night in March, having heard a promo on Jazz FM radio about their Thursday jazz evenings. Ordinarily if we were to have a “school night” out on a Thursday then we would meet a bunch of friends at the Monarch Pub in the Delta Chelsea to watch the superb Jerome Godboo and his blues band. So what to do!
What a great evening upom which to visit. We were treated to a stunning and intimate performance by the Alex Samaras quartet. We had seen Alex perform with the Toronto Jazz orchestra at the Rex Hotel last autumn during their homage to Radiohead
Alex is not your average jazz vocalist – he approaches all his material with the air of one who has studied all the nuances of jazz performing at an academic level with spot- on perfect phrasing and tone. Just looked him up and sure enough he studied vocal performance on the Jazz program at the University of Toronto!
Incredibly versatile, it was obvious from his choice of music for the Cherry Street set that he was very at home with the “musical” numbers from all the great shows of yesteryear.
His 3 piece band who were all playing together with Alex for the first time were consummate professionals who no matter what was requested if them didn’t miss a beat.

Food – this is no gourmet eating venue – burgers and standard cafe fayre; small nicely laid out space with the original brick walls exposed and original deco exterior. A little bit different from your average jazz venue – definitely worth a visit.

Over & Out