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TD Toronto Jazz Festival 2011: To Jazz or Not to Jazz?

Christopher Loudon reports on performances from the recent jazz festival in Toronto, which featured plenty of jazz artists, along with a smattering of high-profile non-jazz performers

Aretha Franklin in performance at TD Toronto Jazz Festival 2011

The puzzle may be as indecipherable as the one about angels and pinheads, but how many non-jazz performers does it take to officially blur a festival’s jazz status? The Toronto fest, admirably a longtime holdout, chose a rather auspicious occasion – its 25th anniversary – to venture farther than ever down that path.

True, of the more than 1,500 artists who descended on Toronto between June 24 and July 3, the vast majority were bona fide jazz players. But on the festival’s mainstage, this year moved to freshly minted David Pecaut Square (named for a former Ohioan whose immense affection for his adopted hometown resulted in widespread civic betterment), nearly half of the 10-night schedule was filled with such names as Aretha Franklin, the Average White Band, Bootsy Collins, Los Lonely Boys and The Roots. As with any major festival, the mainstage acts are the principal calling cards, the headliners meant to shape its programming nexus and frontload the advance publicity. Of course, such programming egalitarianism has influenced the concurrent Montreal fest for years and is also creeping in everywhere from Rochester to Monterey and Cape Town to Curacao.

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