Montreal Jazz Festival
When I returned home from a month-long visit to France in 1991, my sister Paula, who lived in Paris, advised that if I found myself needing a quick hit of Europe, I could always jump in the car and drive to Montreal. I followed her lead that summer and attended the Montreal Jazz Festival for the first time, and I’ve been going ever since. Year in and year out, the Quebecois patiently suffer my halting attempts at a few French pleasantries while the festival and the amazing range of cultures, cuisines, neighborhoods, parks, churches and galleries that make Montreal one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities keep me coming back.
I usually go toward the latter half of the eleven-day festival, which this year runs between June 27 and July 7, so that in addition to the fest itself, I might also be there for either the Canada Day celebrations on July 1 or the annual Carifiesta Montreal, a celebration of Quebec’s Caribbean community which boasts a parade that’s truly carnival. Carifiesta takes place this year on July 6.
I’ve heard dozens of memorable concerts on the indoor and outdoor stages of Montreal's Place des Arts, and among the standouts have been the unique combinations that co-founders Alain Simard and Andre Menard foster by presenting Invitation Artists at the festival each year. In 2000, I heard guitarist Jim Hall across a span of three nights playing duos with pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland and leading a quartet with saxophonist Greg Osby and the renowned Canadian rhythm section of Don Thompson and Terry Clarke. In 2007, I caught Hank Jones in duos with pianist Oliver Jones and saxophonist Joe Lovano. The only time I ever saw Herb Ellis was at the 1997 fest when the guitarist appeared with Oliver Jones and vibist Peter Appleyard. Last year, Appleyard, whom Menard presented with the 2012 Oscar Peterson Award, paid special tribute to the Montreal-born Jones.
At this year's fest, which is dedicated to the late Dave Brubeck, Invitation Artist Charles Lloyd will appear with his quartet on June 28, with his trio Sangam on the 29th, and in duo and trio settings with pianist Jason Moran and guitarist Bill Frisell on the 30th. While they’re in town, Frisell will also play a solo concert, and Moran will host one of the Fats Waller Dance Parties that he inaugurated two years ago in Harlem. Joshua Redman's Quartet and Orchestra will play music from his gorgeous new release, Walking Shadows. on the 29th. That same evening, Wayne Shorter's 80th birthday celebration will be held at Theatre Maisonneuve; Lovano and Dave Douglas are on the bill too.
Tony Bennett made the 1400-seat Maisonneuve as intimate as a living room during his concert there two years ago, and 73-year-old Wanda Jackson rocked Club Soda the following afternoon. Bennett's not on this year's roster (he's at the Saratoga Jazz Festival on June 30), but Jackson, of "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" fame, and soul legend Bettye LaVette will share the bill on July 4 at Metropolis. Holly Cole will sing jazz and pop standards during a three-night stand at Theatre du Nouveau Monde. Chanteurs George Benson, Dr. John, Boz Scaggs, and Gregory Porter, whom Dee Dee Bridgewater recently described as "hope...an old soul reborn...the whole thing," and chanteuses Madeliene Peyroux, Sharon Jones, Molly Ringwald, and the legendary Helen Merrill will grace the fest too.
Houston Person and Bill Charlap, two leaders whom I’ve seen numerous times with their respective combos, made for an inspired pairing at the 2008 festival. I heard them at Gesu, an intimate space with perfect acoustics that was formerly part of a Jesuit monastery on rue Bleury. This year Gesu will be the site of performances by piano trios led by Steve Kuhn, Vijay Iyer, and Jacky Terrasson, a duo concert by Iyer and Craig Taborn, and the organ combo of Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Bill Stewart. Charlap will be back on July 5 to play two shows at the Upstairs Jazz Club, Montreal’s premier jazz club throughout the year. Barry Harris, for all intents and purposes the dean of jazz pianists, plays Upstairs on June 28 and 29.
From its inception, Montreal has programmed a truly international range of artists and genres; this year 3000 artists from about 30 countries will appear in both concert halls and the free outdoor stages. Bravo in advance for booking the genre-bending Scottish ensemble Belle & Sebastian, and MJF perennial David Murray, whose Infinity Quartet will be joined by neo-soul singer Macy Gray. Montreal's jazz is a loosely defined aggregate that includes pop, rock, blues, r&b, gospel, reggae, Afro Pop, Latin, Euro jazz and everything in between. Let's face it, Canada's biggest annual tourist attraction isn't drawing 2.5 million visitors with post-bop alone.
I’ll focus on the bounty of jazz greats playing the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal in tonight’s Jazz a la Mode. Read details of the fest here and join me at 8 for Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Dr. John, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Enrico Pieranunzi, Canadian-born Christine Jensen’s Jazz Orchestra, John Abercrombie, Redman, Shorter, Murray, and more of the aforementioned.
Hear the entire show here:
Menard noted recently that Dave Brubeck, a perennial at the festival since its inception 34 years ago, had a standing offer to appear in any context he wanted. Over the years, Dave played solo, and with his quartet, trio, and octet. This year’s fest will conclude with The Brubeck Brothers, Chris and Dan, paying tribute to their father. Menard says, “As our Festival comes to an end, we shall bid a warm farewell to our dearly departed Dave Brubeck, to whom this 34th edition is entirely dedicated… Dear Dave, we will never forget you.”
Here's a highlight reel of Brubeck at Montreal playing "Take Five," beginning with a 1981 appearance by Two Generations of Brubeck that segues into a 2009 concert by the Dave Brubeck Quartet joined by his 58-year-old son Matt on cello.