Catch the rhythm at these local-fave Toronto jazz festivals, live music bars and nightclubs.
Sunny days and sultry summer nights call for a cool jazz soundtrack. And as one of the best cities for live music, Toronto delivers. From jazz brunch with the fam to music festivals with friends or date night in a sophisticated club, here are 11 exciting ways to experience jazz in Toronto.
Build a weekend getaway around a Toronto jazz festival
Toronto Jazz Festival
Celebrating 36 years of performances in 2023, the Toronto Jazz Festival (June 23–July 2, 2023) is a heavy hitter in the local festival scene. With four outdoor stages in Yorkville, as well as performances slated in various venues across the downtown core, it’s fair to say the 10-day event is one of the city’s top music festivals.
From well-known Canadian performers like Jully Black and Molly Johnson to established international performers like Herbie Hancock and George Benson, jazz lovers are sure to find music legends as well as up-and-comers from around the world.
Beaches International Jazz Festival
Music lovers are spoiled for choice with the wide range of free events at Beaches International Jazz Festival (July 6–30, 2023), one of Canada’s largest jazz festivals. Be sure to check out its themed weekends all month long.
Soak up swing and funk at Sounds of Leslieville & Riverside (July 6-9, 2023). Dance to Latin merengue and cumbia at Salsa on the Beach (July 14–16, 2023). And catch the good vibes at the closing weekend’s StreetFest (July 27–29, 2023), when Queen Street East transforms into a lively street party of musical performances, vendors and food.
Raise a toast at Toronto live jazz clubs and bars
As Toronto’s longest-running jazz club, The Rex is a historic live music bar that has welcomed an endless array of local and touring performers. With more than 60 shows per month on their calendar, this Queen Street West haunt regularly hosts two performances every night of the week. Arrive early to guarantee a seat, as it’s first come, first served!
Poetry Jazz Café
Thriving since 2011, Poetry Jazz Café is an intimate venue on Parkdale’s Queen West strip. It welcomes a regular rotation of up-and-coming singers and bands, channelling the passionate sounds of blues, soul, RNB and Nu Jazz. The café is a regular Canadian Music Week and Toronto Jazz Festival venue with cocktails and mocktails.
The Reservoir Lounge
For those who love swing, jump blues and boogie woogie, this lively speakeasy is open Wednesday to Saturday with young performers who may be the next Michael Bublé or Tyler Yarema. The Reservoir is locally loved for its bespoke martinis, globally inspired tapas and lively dance floor (bring your dancing shoes!).
The Emmet Ray
With a nightly lineup of vocalists and quartets, guests can pair their Emmet Ray listening session while sampling from one of the city’s most comprehensive collections of whiskeys. Make Sunday afternoon memorable by heading to this Little Italy club, where you can bring and play your own board game while listening to up-and-coming performers during pay-what-you-can performances.
Located around the corner from the Yonge Street theatre district, it’s easy to enjoy a pre- or post-theatre meal with a side of classic standards at Jazz Bistro. Night owls take note: the bistro hosts a late-night jazz jam Friday and Saturday nights from 11:30 p.m. until 2:00 a.m.
A mainstay of Toronto’s live music scene since the 1940s, Grossmans is a Chinatown tavern known for showcasing a wide array of blues, rock, folk, roots and jazz acts. With nightly shows and Saturday matinees, plan a group outing, as there’s never a cover charge.
Feed your soul at these Toronto jazz brunch restaurants
Sunday brunch always hits the right note at HotHouse, located in the heart of the Old Town neighbourhood near St. Lawrence Market. Live jazz is the perfect accompaniment to the restaurant’s expansive buffet of hot, cold, savoury and sweet options. Served from 10 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., this local standby works equally well for early risers and those who prefer to start their day after noon.
Families are welcome at this modern French bistro’s popular Jazz Sundays brunch, in session from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Enjoy classic brunch dishes from Ricarda’s Executive Chef Julien Laffargue (lemon ricotta pancakes, anyone?) alongside the sweet sounds of a smooth jazz duo. The littlest hepcats can tuck into the children’s menu.
A multistory hangout in the upscale Yorkville nabe, this bar/restaurant’s Saturday afternoon Jazz Matinée draws music lovers from across town. Choose a table or a stool at the long bar spanning The Pilot’s main floor and sip on a brunchy Caesar while noshing on eggs Benny and listening to mid-century standards from locally known quartets.