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What’s in store for jazz fans in Toronto and Montreal

The Toronto Jazz Festival kicks off June 19 with Chaka Khan, a soul star with strong jazz proclivities.

Sandro Campardo/AP

Jazz festivals sometimes seem a bit conflicted. On the one hand, they want big crowds; on the other, they want to present jazz, which is not always big crowd music. How can they do both?

The Toronto Jazz Festival may have found a way. This year's events kick off June 19 with Chaka Khan, a soul star with strong jazz proclivities, then goes on to offer performances by jazzy funk titans Earth, Wind & Fire (June 24) and Blood, Sweat & Tears frontman David Clayton Thomas (June 21). There's also the usual dose of high-improv blues, thanks to a double bill of Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Robert Randolph (June 22), and a big serving of New Orleans fun(k), thanks to the jammy Galactic (June 23) and the brassy Dirty Dozen Brass Band (June 25).

Not everything at the festival involves amps. Pianist Keith Jarrett will employ nothing more than his two hands when he plays a solo concert at Roy Thomson Hall (June 25)

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But most of the jazz offerings seem well set to follow the fusion formula of mixing jazz with rock or funk. Start with piano virtuoso Hiromi's all-star Trio Project (June 24), then proceed to the double-bill of John Scofield Uberjam Band with Dave Holland's PRISM (June 26), and finish with bass superstar Stanley Clarke, whose opening act, Mehliana, features the eclectic, sometimes electric Brad Mehldau. Meanwhile at the Horseshoe (hardly a standard jazz venue), the offerings include soulful big band Snarky Puppy (June 23), the genre-busting guitar duet Nels Cline/Julian Lage (June 24), and B-3 behemoth Joey DeFrancesco (June 25).

If Toronto's schedule seem unusually focused, the line-up at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is all over the map. Then again, given the number of performances on tap, the festival can afford to cover a bit of ground. In between an opener that finds Alan Lefèvre and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal celebrate the 90th Anniversary of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (June 26), and a closing concert in which Oliver Jones and friends celebrate 80 years of, well, Oliver Jones (July 5), you'll find such highlights as: Michael Bublé (July 4-5); Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion (June 30): a John Coltrane tribute by the Jack DeJohnette Trio featuring Ravi Coltrane (June 29); Beck (June 25); Rufus Wainwright (June 27-29); and the incomparable Tony Bennett (July 1).

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