Jazz is often referred to as the music of cities. Diverse and sophisticated, but not without a sense of fun, it’s perfectly suited to today’s cosmopolitan metropolis. As Canada’s largest city, Toronto naturally has a long history as a hotbed for jazz: summer jazz festivals thrive here; knowledgeable audiences pack concerts by many of the world’s top musicians; and jazz students fill the clubs to learn from the city’s excellent stable of local pros. Though two top-tier performance venues recently closed, new clubs and old favourites have stepped up to ensure that jazz music continues to flourish as a vital part of the city’s cultural fabric.
THE REX HOTEL JAZZ & BLUES BAR
TUNES Easily the city’s busiest jazz venue, this downtown bar hosts almost 20 performances a week. Since the late 1980s, The Rex has welcomed such top international musicians as Roy Hargrove and Harry Connick Jr., but has built its reputation as a stage for the best local talent: young musicians get their start here, and established local players continue to thrill the bar’s appreciative audiences.
VIBE A casual and relaxed atmosphere pervades; the outdoor patio is a popular people-watching spot on bustling Queen West.
SNACKS Typical of its comfortable environs, The Rex’s menu emphasizes pub-style dishes and quality brews.
HIGHLIGHT The all-star Davidson Murley Braid Quintet features Tara Davidson on alto sax, veteran tenor player Mike Murley and pianist David Braid, with muscular backing by Jim Vivian and Ian Froman on bass and drums. July 12 and 13, 9:30 p.m.; $6 to $9 cover charge at the door. 194 Queen St. W., 416-598-2475.
TUNES Though barely three months old, Live@Courthouse is already at the top of many jazz-lovers’ lists. Local and out-of-town musicians represent jazz and its myriad sub-genres with five shows a week. Last month the club hosted TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival concerts by the likes of Don Byron and the Rob McConnell Tentet.
VIBE Art deco details (balconies, fireplaces, a large chandelier) are testament to the club’s historic location, while a 25-foot-high ceiling lets the air and music circulate.
SNACKS A small menu offers a seasonal selection of appetizer-style dishes; classic cocktails are your best friends at the bar.
HIGHLIGHT Acclaimed guitarist Bill Frisell is sure to pack the house. July 7, 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. $35; call 416-870-8000 for tickets. 57 Adelaide St. E., 416-214-9379.
THE PILOT TAVERN
TUNES An after-work watering hole becomes one of the city’s most reliable jazz joints on weekends: Saturday- and Sunday-afternoon sessions often feature local heroes like saxophonist Mike Murley and drummer Barry Elmes.
VIBE In business for more than 60 years, The Pilot is an unpretentious haven of bare wood and airline-chic stainless steel. Rooftop patio The Flight Deck is one of the area’s largest.
SNACKS There are few better options than the famous Pilot Burger; chicken wings are a staple, too.
HIGHLIGHT Robi Botos shows why he was the 2007 National Jazz Award-winner for keyboardist of the year. July 22, 3:30 p.m.; no cover. 22 Cumberland St., 416-923-5716.
OPAL JAZZ LOUNGE
TUNES Another recent addition to the Toronto scene, where an upscale atmosphere is the setting for elegant performances by a distinguished roster of artists. A house pianist tickles the ivories Tuesday through Saturday evenings.
VIBE If the lipstick-red piano doesn’t catch your eye, the wall-sized mural of Miles Davis surely will. Black and tan leather seating adds comfort in the lounge and intimate dining area.
SNACKS Chef Fawzi Kotb brings modern flair to a menu of French cuisine. A fashionable clientele sips premium martinis and mojitos at the steel-topped bar.
HIGHLIGHT Alberta-based hard-bop altoist P.J. Perry blows into town. July 5 to 7, three sets starting at 8 p.m.; $12 at the door. 472 Queen St. W., 416-646-6725.
TUNES Named for jazz legend John Coltrane, Trane Studio embraces the master horn player’s progressive approach to the genre. The music here is vibrant and contemporary, with performers who explore the boundaries of jazz through African, Latin, urban and world music styles.
VIBE Exposed brick, unobtrusive lighting and ever-changing art on the walls create a sophisticated and intimate environment for the resto-lounge’s eclectic music offerings.
SNACKS A Louisiana- and Caribbean-inspired menu includes sea scallops and shrimp in a coconut cream sauce.
HIGHLIGHT Juno-nominated vocalist Elizabeth Shepherd performs as part of a month-long, all-female concert schedule. July 28, 8 p.m. $15. 964 Bathurst St., 416-913-8197.
THE BOILER HOUSE
TUNES Trumpeter Kevin Clark is the restaurant’s musical director, and his fine taste is evident in its performance calendar. Diners on the patio are treated to R&B grooves on Saturday nights, while Clark’s band plays New Orleans standards to accompany the well-loved Sunday brunch.
VIBE Ensconced in a spacious building in the Distillery Historic District, the tony interior features handcrafted timber tables and a 22-foot wine rack.
SNACKS A New Orleans-style chophouse menu features succulently roasted meats and fresh fish.
HIGHLIGHT On Friday nights, Clark’s trio backs a featured “jazz master”—Canadian jazz icon Don Thompson was a recent guest. Call for July’s lineup. Distillery Historic District, 55 Mill St., 416-203-2121.
For even more clubs that offer on-going or occasional live jazz, try these venues.
The Central, 603 Markham St., 416-913-4586
Dominion on Queen, 500 Queen St. E., 416-368-6893
Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St. W., 416-588-0307
Olivia’s at 53, 53 Clinton St., 416-533-3989
Reservoir Lounge, 52 Wellington St. E., 416-955-0887
Jazz descends upon Toronto this month at The Beaches International Jazz Festival.
To hear more great jazz in the city, see 10 Jazz Venues.