There’s only a few weeks until the premiere of the 27th annual Beaches International Jazz Festival (July 10-26) – as verified by the clock counting down the days on the festival’s website. Torontonians would be hard-pressed to not have heard of the popular music festival, especially East-end residents or businesses.
For founder Lido Chilelli and his three-person team, it’s no small feat to plan and produce the internationally-renowned fete. Chilelli recognizes the positive impact that music has on the community, its people and businesses. As a small business owner in the early ‘70s, he operated a popular bar on Queen Street East called Lido’s on the Beach, located directly across from Kew Gardens, now home to the festival’s World Beat Stage.
“Music was a natural fit for the setting on Queen Street East” – Lido Chilelli, founder of the Beaches International Jazz Festival
On slower nights, Lido’s drew customers and music fans by offering live music. Notable acts like bluesman Paul James, Barenaked Ladies, Sam Roberts, and the late jazz and blues-rock vocalist Jeff Healey, just to name a few, all performed at Lido’s early in their careers.
Building on a sense of community, Lido founded the Toronto Beaches International Jazz Festival in the late ‘80s, when music fests in Canada only numbered a handful. “I spoke with different business people about implementing a new jazz festival, and I received full support. Music was a natural fit for the setting on Queen Street East,” says Chilelli. “The Beaches International Jazz Festival grew to have that same ‘community’ feel but with national scope, and that’s what people find so unique about the event.”
Since its inception, the festival has grown by leaps and bounds, uniting millions of music lovers from around the world. Although admission to the festival is free, it manages to produce millions of dollars for the city and the East-end community. Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue told local Toronto newscast CityNews the festival generates about $65 million for Toronto’s overall economy – more than $30 million of that right in the Beaches area.
The Beaches International Jazz Festival drew more than 900,000 music fans in 2014, and it takes more than 150 volunteer staff to keep its wheels spinning before, after and throughout the 14-day series of outdoor concerts.
And Canadian talent, rather than going abroad, can take advantage of the opportunity that the festival provides here in Canada. The Beaches festival often establishes Canadian musicians locally, and brings the international jazz community to Toronto. “We always want to showcase our own, and we’re always looking to work with emerging and new artists,” says Chilelli. “We’re usually one of the first festivals to allow a musician to have platform to play in front of a large crowd.”
Rap-rock band Down with Webster, nuevo flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook, and jazz singer Matt Dusk have all seen their commercial success increase after their performances at the festival.
Proud to be Licensed to Play with SOCAN, the Beaches festival attributes much of its success to the countless performers – many of them SOCAN members – who relentlessly hit the various stages every night during the festival. “I think being licensed to play music helps preserve and enrich our community of music. You’re supporting and buying everything made in your own community,” says Chilelli. “It’s almost like a musical ecosystem where everyone contributes a little piece and it keeps going around and gets better every time.”
One way the festival is expanding its audience, and championing local talent, is through a program called the Youth Initiatives, geared towards a younger demographic. Chilelli says the year-long program attracts indie and electronic music artists to the festival. “We started this program a few years back and we’ve been working with different high schools and colleges in Toronto to raise awareness for it,” he says.
The future looks promising for the popular and ever-growing event. “I think it’s going to be the face of Toronto,” says Chilelli. “It will soon be the music community within the music city.”