It seems the secret of a successful jazz festival is booking music that’s not jazz. The organizers of the Montreal Jazz Festival have known this for a long time. This week of of their headline acts is Leonard Cohen, who wraps up a three-night stand at Place des Art tonight. Leonard has been called many things, but even though he has a song called Jazz Police it would stretching it to call him a jazz singer.
Though still much smaller than its Montreal counterpart, The Toronto Jazz Festival (June 20-29) seems to understand the importance of stretching the definition of jazz. Soul legend Al Green was one of the early headliners. And last Saturday night under a big white tent in Nathan Phillips Square, I had the pleasure of catching a Toronto Jazz Festival concert by the legendary Dr. John.
I’ve been a big fan of the Doctor, aka Mac Rebennack Jr., for many years. And although he hails from the jazz heartland of New Orleans, I’ve never really thought of his music as jazz. More like Cajun funk and R & B. The Mardi Gras party band that opened for Dr. John—The Wild Magnolias—seemed even less of a jazz band. But who cares? If jazz wants to embrace Dr. John and bring his music to Toronto, I’m all for it. I never really understood what jazz is anyway. That’s Paul Wells’ job.
It was a terrific show. The Wild Magnolias fulfilled their mandate as a warm up band in literal terms, commanding the audience to its feet with the first song, and keeping us there with an infectious dance groove, illustrated by a Mardi Gras blaze of feathered headdresses. By the time the Wild Magnolias were through with us, we were in a mood to settle down for the more subdued Dr. John, who played a serious, thoughtful set, highlighting material from his new album about post-Katrina New Orleans, The City That Care Forgot.
But he did play his biggest hit, The Right Time, and above is a brief video snippet that I shot, along with a glimpse of the The Wild Magnolias. Please forgive the distorted bass—I never got around to adjusting the audio levels on the camcorder.