Jazz Greats Play Massey Hall

May 15, 1953

178 Victoria St.

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Ever since the opening night performance of Handel’s Messiah on June 14, 1894, Massey Hall has hosted virtually every form of music. The famous jazz concert held there in 1953, featuring the great Charlie Parker (owing to contractual obligations, billed as “Charlie Chan”), Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, made many people the world over hear about the hall for the first time. Each of the performers was a towering figure of jazz's first century, and this was the only time that they ever played together.

Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker at Massey Hall in the historic concert on May 15, 1953 (courtesy Canadian Press Images).

Whether it was “the Greatest Jazz Concert Ever,” as it was called in one of the recordings made that night, the performance entered into music legend, along with the story that the musicians slipped across Yonge Street at intermission to watch a boxing match between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott.

Massey Hall, built by Hart Massey in honour of his late son Charles, was one of the greatest concert halls of the world in its day, and played host to such great musicians as Anna Pavlova, Enrico Caruso, Glenn Gould, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and many others. It was the long time home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It has also hosted political rallies, boxing matches, and, in the case of runner Tom Longboat, a wedding.

By James Marsh

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Massey Hall.

Massey Hall, c 1910s (courtesy Toronto Reference Library, Baldwin Room/PC-1093). View the image gallery