Here are 20 of our favourite Canadian jazz songs

Canada sure has done a pretty great job at this whole jazz thing.

While the origins of jazz are to be found way south of the Great White North, the artists here have been honouring, adapting and innovating the style for many decades. From early luminaries like Oscar Peterson and Rob McConnell to modern superstars like Diana Krall and Michael Bublé and the many, many others in between, the country has produced some serious jazz talent. Mix in blues, funk, soul and other crossovers within the broader musical family to which jazz belongs, and you’ll find a nearly endless mine of true Canadian gems. And with young and aspiring artists cropping up year after year, that tradition remains strong.

At Canada’s jazz station, we wanted to come together and give praise to our favourite jazz and blues tunes by artists from our homeland. It certainly doesn’t have everyone — there are too many to be able to do that! — but what you’ll find is an eclectic, multigenerational mix of songs, one that reflects the strength and diversity of Canada and its music scene.

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Oscar Peterson – Wheatland (1964)

The beauty of Oscar Peterson’s Canadiana Suite is undeniable, and his tribute to the Prairies is a big favourite here at JAZZ.FM91. If you’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country, you’ll see many of the places the music is about and revel in the scenery to be found all across the land.

— Brad Barker and John Devenish

The Ed Bickert Trio – Deep in a Dream (2008)

Ed Bickert’s guitar playing is as breezy as a summer afternoon in the Manitoba, and Deep in a Dream is as expansive and haunting as the big sky of the Prairies. The late guitarist’s work resonates with a reserved grandeur that’s very Canadian.

— John Devenish

Holly Cole Trio – Blame It On My Youth (1993)

Holly Cole’s take on this jazz standard is beautifully and spaciously arranged, with a classic sound, lush string arrangements and plenty of room for Cole to fill with her haunting, melting voice. And her vocal control is just stellar.

— Glenn Crosse

Alex Pangman – Sweethearts on Parade (2017)

In 2017, Canada’s sweetheart of swing Alex Pangman went on a journey down to New Orleans. With local musicians, she recorded Alex Pangman’s Hot Three live to a 78-rpm acetate disc. She wanted to “explore the roots of the recording medium and experience how and why early recordings have the energy they do.” The result literally crackles with excitement. You can hear the sound of the needle cutting through the acetate. For authenticity, they used only one microphone. Pangman’s voice soars in this magical recording — she is a gift to the Canadian jazz community.

— Ronnie Littlejohn

Oliver Jones Trio feat. Clark Terry – Canadian Sunset (1989)

This is a beautiful tune with music by pianist Eddie Heywood and lyrics by Norman Gimbel. It was a hit for Andy Williams and it’s
been covered by everyone from Sam Cooke to Wes Montgomery, but I’ll take Oliver Jones’s version with Clark Terry over all the rest.

— Brad Barker

Laila Biali – Let Go (2010)

Laila Biali’s take on this Imogen Heap composition is simply fantastic. I never get tired of it! There’s enough of a nod to the original to retain respect for the composition itself, but enough inventiveness in the arrangement to breathe new life into it. The drive of the chorus is simply electrifying, and Larnell Lewis’s playing is ridiculously great. I can still recall putting this song on repeat in my headphones as I walked the streets of Manhattan during a trip to New York — an experience made even more thrilling with Bialia singing this tune as the soundtrack.

— Heather Bambrick

Bobby Rice Latin Jazz Big Band – Canadian Cha-Cha-Chá (2015)

This song is from the Juno-nominated album X-Treme Latin Jazz by bandleader, composer, arranger and trumpeter Bobby Rice. It features some of the greatest Latin jazz artists in Canada, including Hilario Durán, David Virelles, Mark Kelso, Paco Luviano, Luis Orbegoso, Bill McBirnie and Phil Dwyer. This fabulous arrangement is really energetic and very Canadian.

— Laura Fernandez

Toronto Jazz Orchestra – 20 (2018)

This album celebrates the Toronto Jazz Orchestra’s 20th anniversary. For the project, artistic director and conductor Josh Grossman wrote a four-part suite in honour of his old jazz mentor, Phil Nimmons. It’s called 4PN and the opening movement, The Land of 2 and 4, is brilliant, modern writing and playing in a big-band setting.

— Glen Woodcock

Barbra Lica – The Birds and the Bees (2018)

Just when I thought she couldn’t get better — her 2016 album I’m Still Learning is a favourite of mine — Barbra Lica goes to Nashville to write and record a crossover album that features many great jazz musicians but has more of a singer-songwriter bent. You’re Fine is a beautiful recording with remarkable artistry in her compositions, and The Birds and the Bees is one of the jazzier tracks that our listeners ought to recognize.

— Jaymz Bee

Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues (2014)

This song puts the poet’s life in the context of history, with an eye to liberation of the spirit and an end to oppression. From the opening notes and percussion, you know something important is about to take place. Cohen paints pictures that embrace a myriad of feelings of victory and defeat. This recording provokes repeat listens, and reveals more each time.

— Danny Marks

Diana Krall – The Look of Love (2001)

The words say it all — this one is for all you romantics out there. The song, and especially Krall’s version of it, fully engage you to the point that you remember the feeling of that first look, where you were, and who you were with. It’s a memory never lost.

— Lorie Russell

The Shuffle Demons – Spadina Bus (1986)

The classic by the Shuffle Demons reminds us that songs about public transit (looking at you, Take the “A” Train) can come from right here in Toronto or anywhere else, not just New York.

— Brad Barker

Samba Squad – É Pra Valer (2006)

This is a favourite in my family. The energy and freedom of the Brazilian samba sound captured perfectly by the Samba Squad will keep the party going long after the fireworks of July 1 are over.

— Sarah Stewart

Heilig Manoueuvre – Ladybug Waltz (2015)

Warning: You will feel joyful after listening to this song. It’s one of my favourite recordings, Canadian or otherwise.

— Walter Venafro

JV’s Boogaloo Squad – Capybara Walk (2019)

It’s probably not possible for a tune to more perfectly accompany the mental image of a pair of fugitive capybaras on the lam after escaping from the High Park Zoo. This Toronto trio will always put some pep in your step, with a bouncy, soul-jazz sound straight from the ’70s. If Sanford and Son were to get a 2019 reboot, you could pluck just about any JV’s Boogaloo Squad track to be the new theme song.

— Adam Feibel

Diana Panton – Moon River (2007)

Diana Panton sings with the detailed attention that instantly identifies her sound and artistry as deeply Canadian. With delicate charm, it’s clear and articulate, strong and lilting, just like the infectious spirit of the country.

— John Devenish

Denielle Bassels – Cool Cool Water (2017)

She’s won songwriting contests around the world. Cool Cool Water is a hit if I ever heard one — but the album, What About Wool Wishbags, is so much more than just a great collection of original songs. The production is seamless and it’s one of those rare modern recordings that you want to listen to from beginning to end.

— Jaymz Bee

Ivana Santilli feat. Glenn Lewis – If I Ever Fall (Part 2) [1999]

This is more of a fusion record incorporating R&B and jazz, which really opened my palette to music outside of hip hop. I knew Ivanna Santilli from the group Bass is Base, and Glenn Lewis was on the map as one of the most talented up-and-coming singers in Toronto. The vibe of this record is awesome and the drum breakdown with the horns remains one of my favourites to this day.

— David McTeague

BadBadNotGood – Confessions (2014)

In what’s one of the country’s more remarkable success stories, this band of Canadian kids who got together at Humber College to make jazz interpretations of Odd Future and MF Doom songs quickly became an internationally renowned leader in jazzy hip-hop collaborations. They’ve been tapped by some of the biggest rappers in the world, including Kendrick Lamar, Ghostface Killah, Denzel Curry and Tyler, the Creator. From the group’s first album of completely original material, this track is sly and groovy with a neo-noir feel — like Taxi Driver, but even more ominous. Not bad at all.

— Adam Feibel

The Jay Danley Band – Mulatu (2018)

Toronto is becoming obsessed with African-influenced jazz, and that’s a very good thing. Named for Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu Astatke, this is a song I play regularly on my show.

— Jaymz Bee

Jordan John – Get in the Groove (2019)

I so love this track. It says so much about Toronto’s history of soul and funk, dating back to Club Blue Note, Le Coq d’Or, El Mocambo and the many other pockets of rhythm-based music that gave Toronto such a vivid night life through the decades. John sings and plays every instrument but bass — that duty falls to his celebrated dad, Prakash John. With history behind it, this track is a symbol of Toronto as we are now.

— Bill King