Canadian rapper Shad, gospel singer Shirley Caesar and the legendary Downchild Blues Band with special guest Dan Aykroyd are headlining the TD Toronto Jazz Festival‘s opening weekend as Bloor Street closes down for two days of free concerts.
Those big names are just part of a lineup of more than 175 free shows taking place in the Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood throughout the festival, which runs from June 21 to 30.
The free concerts add a lot to a festival lineup that already includes main headliners Diana Ross, Norah Jones, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Omara Portuondo and Tower of Power.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Downchild Blues Band, which inspired the famed SNL skit and feature film The Blues Brothers with Aykroyd and John Belushi. The legendary group will be playing a free concert on the TD Mainstage on Saturday, June 22, joined by Aykroyd along with David Wilcox, Paul Shaffer, Gene Taylor and Kenny Neal.
The next day, widely admired Canadian recording artist and broadcaster Shad has specially curated a show that merges jazz and hip-hop, featuring unique acts Oddisee & Good Compny and Elaquent. Shad will also close out the evening with a headlining performance of his own.
American singer Shirley Caesar, known as “The Queen of Gospel Music,” has recorded more than 40 albums and won 12 Grammy Awards during a career spanning six decades. This gospel legend will take Toronto to church that Sunday, June 23, with an opening set of Caribbean-influenced gospel by the Toronto Mass Choir and special guest Renee Rowe.
The festival’s opening night on Friday, June 21, will bring the bold brass sounds of New Orleans to Toronto, with The Heavyweights Brass Band and guest vocalist Jay Douglas kicking things off, followed by the street parade of the Magnolia Brass Band and the funky styles of the Hot 8 Brass Band.
Student group The Berklee Quintet will perform alongside Chilean saxophonist and composer Melissa Aldana as part of the Youth Jazz Showcase on Tuesday, June 25, and Canadian jazz icon Norman Marshall Villeneuve will perform a centennial celebration of Art Blakey on Friday, June 28. Other free performances include Tia Brazda, JV’s Boogaloo Squad, Laila Biali, Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats, Larnell Lewis, Gordon Sheard and Sinal Aberto, and Curtis Nowosad.
The celebration on Bloor Street will also include family fun with Cirque du Soleil hula-hoop workshops, a musical instrument “petting zoo,” arts and crafts and more.
Go to torontojazz.com to see the full lineup and buy tickets.