Beaches International Jazz Festival Celebrates Year 30

Let the season begin!

I have yet to assess the longevity of the Beaches International Jazz Festival (BIJF) or what to compare it against other than my dad’s retirement from the Colgate Palmolive Company in the late '70s after thirty years of faithful service with full benefits. I’d been travelling and living like a young musician in search of a gig, and the epic event passed without notification. Pops then went bass fishing the next twenty-five years in the Everglades and never gave the past much thought. It was all about leisure time. We have other plans!

I know plenty of start-up festivals that failed to cross the five-year divide, most of them dead on arrival.

Then again, I look at Quebec City Summer Festival’s 50 plus-year run, Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (38), Toronto’s Caribbean (Caribana) Festival (51), Pride Festival Toronto(38), TD Jazz (32) and others that have woven themselves into the fabric of their respective communities and are still vibrant and as relevant today and breathe a sigh of relief. Bonding long-term with an everchanging and evolving populace is possible.

I must admit feeling incredibly nostalgic at this moment; something I rarely entertain. What happens on stage is logged in memory through sounds and performances, the entertainers and musicians. All arrive to give their best. It’s what happens back-stage and along the perimeter that stays with me, and tugs at the heart.

A good fifteen seasons I pulled out a plastic white lawn chair for journalist Geoff Chapman of the Toronto Star. Geoff would inhabit a seat side-stage the entire weekend at Kew Gardens and diligently chew on his beloved cigar, jot down a few thoughts, and casually wipe the sweat from his brow then lower the brim of his Tilly hat – turn and smile. It wasn’t all about jazz or anything in particular with Geoff. It wasn’t just the magic of music, but more the close proximity to people, that festival vibe, the green outdoors, the breeze cutting through the shade and chilling the VIP crowd. He loved it all.

Geoff would script a few complimentary and insightful paragraphs the following morning in his Toronto Star column. Chapman got it. It’s a people’s festival. Nothing glamorous or showy. No high-priced entertainment, or hype, just a modest mix of up-and-coming Canadian artists who deserve a first-rate performance venue and some exceptional mid-level international talent of big entertainment value.

“What’s the theme this year?

Who’s the big act?

These are the two media questions I address each summer. That takes a lot of imagination and quick thinking to properly respond to, in as much as we’ve always operated on a paper-thin budget. No ticketed events, no opportunities to spring a Tony Bennett or Diana Krall on anyone. One of their paydays could have covered the entire weekend of festival expenses back then.

BIJF has mostly been an ongoing conversation amongst the four of us core team members since the early years; festival founder and CEO Lido Chilelli, associate producer Joey Cee, DDB Public Relations MD Martine Levy and myself, artistic director. The first decade and a half, we huddled together at city hall and battled the demons of an uncooperative system bent on making staging an event of this magnitude difficult, and near impossible. We’ve crossed many of those hurdles together and witnessed the expansion of the once two-weekend event, into a month-long celebration of our music community.

A good portion of those early years Lido and I wrestled over the word ‘jazz’ in our billing. I wanted to keep it jazz; Lido wanted to sound the ‘party’ alarm. I absorbed the grief from the ‘jazzheads’ and took it personally; Lido just pushed it aside. Rather than go at this butting heads, we let time decide for us. Jazz lost a chunk of its summer audience appeal when those crossover bands that played a bit of smooth and fusion jazz all but bit the dust. Mainstream jazz was too intimate for an outdoor setting in a multi-cultural city where a good portion of the residents have no connection or interest in the genre. But what they did love was music connected to their heritage; Latin, calypso, blues, reggae, Celtic, folk, African, Punjabi, middle eastern; mixed in with soul and funk and jazz. 

Through the years we’ve brought in from Puerto Rican Latin giant, Johnny Pacheco; from New Orleans Trombone Shorty; from Montreal, Quartango; from NYC, Steps Ahead, New York Voices, Red Baarat; hardcore rocking blues with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Byron Lee; from California, Robben Ford & the Blue Line; from Chicago, bluesman Duke Robillard, another from the Crescent City, Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers, Dumpstaphunk. We've brought in big bold jazz with Joey DeFrancesco, Thelonious Monk Jr., Brian Blade, Ernie Andrews - on our soil, Monkey Junk, Marc Jordan & Amy Sky, Sultans of String, Pavlo, Carol Welsman, Emilie-Clarie Barlow, Heather Bambrick,  etc..

I’m now going for the heartstrings. I genuinely miss Doug Riley, Jeff Healey, Moe Koffman, Bobbi Sherron, Jody Drake, Archie Alleyne, Dr Kira Payne, Dave McMurdo, John Mays of blues band Fathead, drummer Jerry Fuller, saxophonist, Earl Seymour, and beloved others who’ve passed over the years.

Each brought something to the park beyond the music that roared. A grand sense of humour and unwavering support for the fledgeling festival. Hanging near the B-3 organ listening to Doug ignite the stage, or Jeff Healey pop off a few Louis Armstrong style phrases or Moe Koffman run at a blistering solo up and down the length of his instrument and throw off some impossible bebop riffs, are scenes forever etched in memory.

For me, the number of times I played with drummer Archie Alleyne through the decades beginning with singer Liberty Silver in 1991, my jazz trio, then Archie’s unit Kollage, and the energy and goodwill that sprung up around him, causes me to pause and never forget. These missing folks and their music still light the skies around the Beaches.

The first twenty years my partner Kristine and I would cycle from St. Clair and Bathurst area day and night to the Beaches. The ride along Martin Goodman Trail, down Commissioners, and through the lakefront greenery was exhilarating. On occasion, we’d spend Saturday nights sleeping at Lido’s house only a block or two from Kew Gardens. These were big family get-togethers.

Two or three years in, it was imperative to find a dedicated public relations person, and I remembered the terrific work publicist Martine Levy was doing for Club Blue Note and asked her to join our team. Martine has risen to the top of the PR world serving as vice president at DDB, one of the world’s most celebrated and historic firms.

I’ve known Joey Cee a good 48 years, and he’s always been there for the good fight and creating the colour saturated posters and programs and handling community liaison.

There are many others. Julie Christian brings a wealth of knowledge, two sons who are working professionals in the music industry and tireless conviction and support.

Then there’s stage manager Rico Ferrara who between Martine and PR crew and myself have shared the most time on the ground and on stage. I’ve been emcee since day one and when not, it falls to Rico and on occasion Julie Christian. It’s a brother/sisterhood backstage. It keeps the peace, spread goodwill and makes sure everyone gets what they need in the mix. Rico is indispensable.

The big workload falls on the shoulders of festival CEO Lido Chilelli and operations on-site manager, Pat Carpignano. This is the heavy-lifting work; the nuts and bolts of the festival on many levels. Every location, the staging, security, groundskeeping is their domain, and they do it brilliantly!

With that in mind, the summer of 2018 is near and here’s just a few of the performers you don’t want to miss at BIJF: Jully Black, Five Alarm Funk, Corey Henry and The Treme Funktet, Laila Biali, Heavyweights Brass Band, Jeni Thai Nolan, Quincy Bullen, Hilario Duran, Funk Frequency, Crack of Dawn, the Uprising, KC Roberts 14-piece Revolution, Yani Borrell &Orquesta, Changui Havana Pilon, The Arsenals, Digging Roots, The Willows, Countermeasure, Timeless, Ryan Langdon, Liam Russell.

Here’s what’s in store.

Sounds of Leslieville/Riverside with block party July 6,7,8. Beaches Jazz Latin Carnival July 13, 14, 15, TD mainstage presents July 20, 21, 22, Beach Village Music Series July 8 – August 26, Street fest July 26-28, OLG Mainstage presents July 27, 28, 29, Workshops July 23, 25, Beaches Jazz Fun Run, Sunday, July 29.

Bike Racks set up in the vicinity of the main stage area at Woodbine Park – across from the backstage entry and facing north towards the parking lot.

Our big team:

Operations & On-Site Vending: Pat Carpignano

Sponsorship & Marketing Initiatives: Lido Chilelli, Helen Bulat

Public Relations & Media Liaison: Martine Levy, DDB PR

Creative Art Director & Program Publisher: Joey Cee / JCO Communications

Stage Management & Artists Co-ordination: Rico Ferrara

Latin Carnival Artistic Coordinator: Wilson Accevdo

Big Band Artistic Coordinator: Jim John

A Cappella Artistic Coordinator: Pat Silver

Urban Stage Artistic & Youth Programming Coordinator: Julie Christian

Workshop Coordination: Camillie Leung, Julie Christian

Volunteer Coordinators: Camillie Leung, Daniel Masters

Assistant to Executive Director: Claire Chilelli

Stage Manager & Artistic Co-ordinator: Rico Ferrara

Social Media: Master Management

2017 Festival Photographer: Randall Stafford Cook

Website Photography (acknowledgement): Joanna Katchutas

Website Homepage Photos (acknowledgement): Summer Leigh

Webmaster: Mediavandals

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