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Beaches 23rd International Jazz Fest

The Beaches International Jazz Fest's 23rd Anniversary began its blockbuster live shows this year, with three stellar days and nights of entertainment outdoors at Toronto's Woodbine Park. This huge, man-made park on the edge of the Beach and Queen St. E. in Toronto, is a musical highlight for all die-hard jazz, blues, soul and R&B fans who converged here for the inaugural concerts that launched the 23rd Annual Beaches Jazz Fest. It was founded by Lido Chilelli, with Artistic Director Bill King, one of Canada’s most respected blues and jazz piano players.

Woodbine Park is also the site for the Waterfront Blues Fest every June, put on by blues promoter extraordinaire Rico Ferrara, with assistance from Beaches Jazz Fest co-founder Chilelli. Ferrara was the charismatic host for all three days and nights of blues, jazz and R&B at the Beaches 23rd Jazz Fest outdoor kickoff at Woodbine Park, Friday July 15th, to Sunday July 17th, 2011.

The first night of Beaches Jazz at Woodbine Park, Friday, June 15th, featured soul and blues legend The Mighty Pope. Next up on the same night was rock, blues and jazz legend Carole Pope, whose stellar career has spanned more than three decades and countless awards for her music. Both Popes put on amazing performances, getting the crowd to eat out of their hand, musically speaking.

On the second day and night at Woodbine Park, Saturday, July 16th, three incredibly gifted acts hit the stage … with ease and self-assurance, despite the 80-plus F temperature, with the sun beating down.

Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley hit the stage in the afternoon, to cheers from their many avid fans in the audience. They delivered song after song to thunderous applause, and well deserved to say the least. Downchild bassman Gary Kendall (of the Gary Kendall Band), played his heart with Braithwaite and Whiteley, and was totally in the groove all the way! Downchild’s drummer Mike Fitzpatrick was also part of the lineup, and really helped take the band over the top with precision and finesse.

Multiple Maple Blues Award winning blues band Raoul & the Big Time, hit the stage next. These guys are always super-enjoyable to see live. Bandleader and lead singer/blues harp player Raoul Bhaneja was the quintessential blues front man/host to these very bluesy proceedings. He sang and played one song after another, with ease and flair, as only a seasoned pro can. He’s also an accomplished actor and writer; featuring weekly on TV, as well as in his many live blues shows per year. Raoul is also the founder of the Little Walter Tribute which played Toronto’s premier blues club the Silver Dollar, back in 2010, coinciding with the Little Walter Tribute CD which featured most of Canada’s top blues harp players in a blues harp extravaganza tribute to blues harp legend Little Walter.

Saturday’s show was no disappointment. How could it be? The Downchild Blues Band’s tenor sax man Pat Carey (who himself has won numerous blues awards over the years), was wailing away like no tomorrow in backup and some incredibly impressive tenor sax solos. Over the years I’ve seen Carey playing with some amazing legends including Johnny Pennino, the ‘Tenor Sax King of New Orleans’, and rock ‘n’ roll tenor sax legend Jimmy Cavallo. Cavallo’s roots go all the way back to playing the title tune on the 1956 rock & roll movie extravaganza ‘Rock, Rock, Rock’, with Alan Freed … and right up to showcasing with Carey’s and Pennino’s unbelievable sax playing on their ‘Three Tenors’ CD at the annual Southside Shuffle Blues & Jazz Fest every September in Port Credit, Ontario.

Alison Young was also on tenor sax, accompanying and soloing with Carey and Raoul at various times in the show. Jake Wilkinson’s trumpet playing really helped complete this great horns section. He also did a few mesmerizing solos as well.

Raoul’s numero uno man on drums, Tom Bona, was in the groove all the way, through the entire show, as was blues guitar great Darren Gallen … with his mouthwatering lead guitar solos, perfectly accompanying Raoul’s impressive vocals and very cool blues harp playing.

Legendary bassman, Terry Wilkins, did it all on upright bass this day, as only he can. I’m sure the musical confidence he exuded, helped the whole band play at the top of their game, throughout their invigorating 90-minute set this day. Added to this was Tyler Yarema’s amazing talent on the ivories, including some great piano solos. Yarema had his own stage showcase at the recent TD Jazz Fest, following R&B diva Aretha Franklin's blockbluster soul and R&B musical extravaganza outdoors, next to modern musical landmark Roy Thomson Hall in downtown Toronto.

Another thing besides music, which the thousands of fans come out for each year, is the awesome Ribfest sellers, who set up their outdoor BBQ booths along the perimeter of the open field where the music is happening. One of my favorites each year, is Hank Daddy’s BBQ. Hank came up with a very desert-looking parfait made up of layers of mashed potatoes and pulled pork covered in BBQ sauce and baked beans. This is one of favorites I look forward to quench my appetite every time I go to Woodbine, and this year was no exception. The following afternoon, Hank Daddy’s melt-in-your-mouth boneless BBQ chicken sandwich, along with pulled pork and mashed potatoes as a side, did the trick just right. Another treat was the cob corn dipped in butter, and the old-fashioned lemonade stand. With my hunger and thirst thoroughly quenched, I was able to concentrate in full force on the musical proceedings onstage.

After Raoul’s crowd-pleasing set ended, blues, funk and R&B band Planet Earth took the stage. Their deeply soulful deliveries of classic soul and R&B tunes of yesteryear, always touch the heart and soul of their audiences. I’ve seen them perform many times over the years … including with blues, jazz and rock icon guitarist Domenic Troiano, and R&B soul and Gospel singer George Olliver … at events like the 10th Anniversary of the Orbit Room, at Toronto’s Capitol Theatre a few years ago. Lead singer Ron Littlejohn really knows how to deliver a naturally soulful sound in his vocals. Ben Riley is on drums. Ben is the son of jazz legend B-3 player, the late Doug Riley of Dr. Music fame.

Planet Earth’s repertoire at Woodbine, ranged from the upbeat and funky, to the slow, romantic, and jazzy vocalizing that won over many hearts this day. I can’t say enough about their totally natural soulful and bluesy delivery on every tune they play. They don’t just perform soulfully … they live the music from their hearts as they play and sing it out to their many fans. This could explain why they’ve had a weekly gig at Toronto’s Orbit Room for over a decade now … where they can be found oozing their R&B, soul and blues every Saturday night, to a packed house of eager fans, who need their ‘soul fix’.

The finale to Saturday night’s musical festivities was New Orleans soul, blues, funk and jazz artists, Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Big Sam’s rousing vocals, really got the crowd going. He can really play the trombone too, and showed of in lively fashion, along with musical sidekick Andrew Baham on funky. bluesy, jazzy trumpet solos. At times they were almost falling over themselves with dance routines, vocals and brass solos, that got the crowd going with great eye appeal and stage presence.

Their rhythm section never let up for a moment. Their energy on stage, fused with Sam and Andrew to a ‘T’, like a musical dynamo.

The crowd in attendance, who avidly watched and listened to their every talented move onstage, also seemed to be at one with the band … making this a ‘Funky Nation’ of artists and fans alike.

The Cobra Kings are an amazingly talented blues and R&B band, who played the Beaches ‘after party’ at Boston Pizza, across from Woodbine Park, after Woodbine winded down on Saturday night.

Their talent onstage, included some exhilirating blues shuffles, as well as some jazz-inspired Carlos Santana compositions among others. Their excellent show really helped to fuel this writer’s need for phenomenal blues, jazz and R&B, to really top off this first weekend of the 23rd Annual Beaches Jazz Fest, like there was no tomorrow.

For this writer, Sunday afternoon’s highlight was watching singer Andy Kim sing his many hits from the late ‘60s to to ‘70s, live outdoors on Woodbine’s huge stage.

The many favorites Kim’s fans came out to see, were sung with the energy of a teenager, but the flair of a seasoned Las Vegas or jazz supper club performer, by Andy Kim this day. His phenomenal lady bass player really played some incredibly imaginative and musical bass lines, to go along with the other super-talented individuals Kim assembled onstage to help showcase his many radio hits. One of those was his "Sugar, Sugar", which was The Archies TV show theme song, from the late ‘60s. He also sang "Rock Me Gently", which until I saw him do it live, I always thought was a Neil Diamond tune when I heard it on the radio. Kim’s songs have been covered by some of the greats in the biz in including the late, great Wilson Pickett, and Ike and Tina Turner, to name a few.

One of the new tunes Kim sang, is simply called "Judy Garland" from his current CD, I Forgot to Mention. It’s a beautiful, romantic, whimsical tune, and very well orchestrated with strong jazz influences heard throughout.

As a composer, Andy Kim is extraordinary. As a performer, superlatives don’t really do him justice. He really makes his audience feel at home and happy to be there, when he’s onstage singing, and engaging in friendly conversation with them.

With talent like this onstage all weekend long, it’s no wonder there were so many music fans there, on a natural high after all this spectacular weekend’s outdoor live entertainment and mouthwatering Ribfest BBQ’d food.

Additional information can be found at the Beaches International Jazz Fest’s very informative website: http://www.beachesjazz.com/

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