The Rex is Toronto’s listening room and community space for jazz fans


Both for its longevity and its location, The Rex is by far the most famous jazz venue in this city. Literally millions of locals and tourists alike have listened to jazz at 194 Queen Street West since the establishment began booking bands in the early 1980s.

“It’s a very eclectic clientele here: young, old, lawyers, ripped jeans, tattoos, it’s a mix. But the music speaks to everyone so it makes sense.” says Avi Ross, the son of owner Bob Ross who pioneered music policy in 1981.

For many years, each day at the Rex consisted of 4 shows per day on weekends and two shows per night on weekdays, with a wide range of jazz styles represented from instrumental to vocal, from piano trios to big bands. , blues, Dixieland, New Orleans, traditional, experimental and above all Canadian.

“Our first show after closing was on Canada Day, outside on St. Patrick Street, because we weren’t doing music inside yet,” recalls Avi. “It was a touching show – just to watch live music and see the crowd. People were so excited – after being locked up for so long it was so meaningful for everyone to be again sociable.”

The latest live music news regarding the Rex’s reopening is the renovations that have taken place inside, renovations that would not have been possible before due to time constraints.

It took a pandemic for this place to go from a highly musical tavern to a respectful listening room.

Avi says:

The closure gave us the opportunity to retouch, to clean… to repaint the walls, to put in new images, but also a big part of that was the renovation of the stage.

Music is the most essential part of our business, so why not make the public sound better? So we have a new stage, new speakers, a whole new system. Musicians love it and the audience too …

When we reopened, due to covid protocols and restrictions, we changed our style a bit. The Rex was once packed, very social, very loud, but now we’ve rotated and it’s more of a concert style seating, where everyone comes to really listen to the music, and it works for us, so far so good.

When the province moved to Stage 3 reopening in July, it became mandatory for concert halls to have Plexiglas or “some other impermeable barrier” between the audience and the performer – especially singers and performers. “Brass or wind instrument players” due to the possible spread of droplets.

Most clubs have adhered to this in some form or another, but none are as extensive as the Rex. Avi Ross shares with blogTO that they wanted to “make sure musicians and clients feel safe” so they invested in “high 8ft high plexiglass barriers that cross the stage to separate the musicians from the public”.

Ross says half the battle is just making sure people feel safe entering the Rex so they can let their guard down a bit and just enjoy the music.

Regular client Nancy Davey, who writes on the Toronto jazz scene on his Instagram account takes live jazz very seriously.

“My biggest complaint about the Rex before the pandemic was that people weren’t listening and chatting too much. Today it’s a wonderful place to listen. I love the sound system and the fact that all of the tables face each other. The stage. “

Indeed, another huge additional change in the Rex’s reinvention is that the tip pot is gone: all shows now have tickets. Back then, in most cases, musicians moved from table to table, filling a transparent “music appreciation” receptacle with money – far from glamorous.

Back then, musicians usually ended up doing well due to strong participation and a culture of fans who knew they had to bring money to the band. Many customers would put $ 5, $ 10, $ 20 in the hat, sometimes more.

These days, any sense of normalcy wrapped in nostalgia is a big sell, and that’s the case with the return of the Classic Rex Jazz Jam on Tuesday night.

Traditionally, jazz jam is an evening where musicians play a set and then open it up to others, so that everyone is welcome, from young students to friends of the band.

At Rex, the Tuesday jam is currently hosted by tenor saxophonist Chris Gale, and he is happy to do so.

“It’s all about community and providing another outlet for anyone who feels like playing jazz,” says Gale.

“This place is an institution, just like the jam itself. It’s good to continue. If the past year and a half has taught us anything beyond thinking about your health, it’s that we need to be together. , we need to play, we need community. “

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