This September, Kensington Market Jazz Festival takes centre stage for its fourth annual celebration. We sat down with Canadian jazz icon Molly Johnson to get the latest on this years music fest.

There’s no other place in Toronto quite like Kensington Market.

With diverse cultural offerings of all kinds, this hippie haven is rooted in inclusivity and has a history of welcoming new residents to the country. It’s no wonder then that this grassroots music festival feels quite at home within the streets of the vibrant bohemian nook. “It’s the heartbeat of the city,” says award-winning jazz vocalist Molly Johnson. “It’s where every kind of immigrant arrives to find their food and their spice.”

Johnson knows the market intimately—not only did she grow up here, she raised her own kids here too. “It’s a paradox—this place changes consistently yet stays exactly the same,” she says. Its tight- knit community remains driven to protect this cherished Toronto gem from the forces of gentrification. And so independent festivals like this one continue to thrive.

“I saw a real need for audiences and musicians to connect,” says Johnson, who sees the live music experience as sacred in itself.

Created to pay homage to our incredible homegrown musicians, the three-day festival will play host to 300 artists and 150 performances this year from September 13 to 15. Fuelled by a dedicated team of 150 volunteers, the festival relies on a pay-what-you-can, cash-only system that goes directly to the artists, meaning you won’t find advance tickets or guest lists here.

Instead of limiting music programming to traditional venues, Johnson loves the notion of weaving the festival through the market, with live shows peppered throughout 23 local shops and vendors like Poetry Jazz Cafe, Tom’s Place, Supermarket, Fresco’s Fish & Chips and Wanda’s Pie in the Sky. Each venue’s lineup is chosen by an ever-evolving roster of guest curators, from CBC’s Errol Nazareth and jazz guitarist Eric Saint-Laurent to multi-instrumentalist Colleen Allen. “That’s how we keep it fresh and get different voices at the table,” says Johnson. This year’s performers include Jackie Richardson, Eliana Cuevas, Micah Barnes, Carol Welsman, Bernie Senensky and many more.

Wanting the festival to echo across the city in its hibernation months is Johnson’s ultimate goal for Toronto’s music community. “Nothing replaces live music,” she says. “I hope these artists will discover new venues and book themselves throughout the year.” But for now, catch them during what’s sure to be a most soulful weekend in the market.

—AC

Kensington Market Jazz Festival runs September 13–15. For more information, visit kensingtonjazz.com.

Molly Johnson’s Top 5 Favourite Scores & Soundtracks

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)
BOLDEN (2019)
BLACK ORPHEUS (1959)
BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)
LA HAINE (1995)
LA HAINE (1995)