montreal festival de jazz

Festival Art:  Yves Archambault's "Swing"

Festival Art: Yves Archambault's "Swing"

Even if you can be in Montreal for the entire two weeks of the International Jazz Festival, you’ll need more ears and eyes than you have to take in the  3,000+ artists featured at this year’s event.

Last Friday the Festival held its biannual press conference in Burlington on a sunlit hotel balcony overlooking the waterfront. As the season’s first sailboats tentatively ventured out into the distant, deep blue, newly thawed waters, around 20 local media folks gathered to find out more about this year’s plans and events.

Where to start?

Well, first off, you should know that 2009 marks the Festival’s 30th anniversary year. With that landmark birthday comes coinciding celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records; the 55th anniversary of the iconic Newport Jazz Festival (and founder George Wein); the 10th anniversary of Montreal’s own Effendi recording label; jazz legend Dave Brubeck reinterpreting tunes from his pivotal Time Out, 50 years after its 1959 release; AND, Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band in a 50th-ann. tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

Dave Brubeck (1954)

Dave Brubeck (1954)

As the press release says, birthdays are more about giving than receiving!

Other highlights: teen musicians in the family might be interested in auditioning for the annual  Blues Camp, a chance to share some 12-bar grooves with other young folks on everything from the accordion and guitar to the trombone and blues harp. And whether you’re a musician or not it’s always fun to stop by the Musical Instrument Show (“SIMM“) and experience the casual environment where many performers drop in for impromptu jam sessions to try out the latest equipment and accessories. You never know who will show up, I was there one time when Esperanza Spalding showed up to check out the new electric upright basses (you just might see her use it in her Festival show on July 2nd – she affectionately calls it “the skeleton”).

Another “not miss”: the 3rd annual Montreal Guitar Show runs July 3rd-5th. It’s one of the Festival’s most popular partnerships and the new venue this year (the Palais des congrès de Montréal) offers a roomier, more comprehensive experience than in previous years where the lack of space dispersed the various elements (retailers, musicians, demo tables) into different areas. I’m not a guitarist but even as a passing visitor it’s fun to check out the Show just to be able to see close-up and learn about instruments like the oud, the Greek bouzouki, the Saz, assorted kinds of steel guitars and pretty much anything else that can be strummed or plucked. Very cool.

Oh yes, and beyond the showcases and workshops this year’s 30th anniversary Festival promises over 650 shows, with the majority taking place on the free outdoor stages. If all you do is walk around, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in a little of this and that as you pass by, it’ll still make for a memorable experience. The last time I was at the Festival, the walk to the music plaza one morning was unexpectedly impeded by floats, honking buses, and a mighty mass of people (many wearing bright t-shirts the colors of flags, with the words “Trinidad” and “Tobago” splashed across the chest) carrying lots of grilled pineapple kabobs on long blackened sticks. It turned out to be a Caribbean pride parade, right down a major street near the Festival! Random, and wonderful.

See? You just can’t miss.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

As for the ‘inside word’ from the Festival (and you would expect a little insider info from someone who went to the press conference, right? Right.) – I’m relieved to say that I can now let you in on the big secret revealed on Friday: the free, opening night concert that “not even Montreal knows about yet!” We were under strict instruction to sit on it until at least yesterday (when Montreal found out) that — STEVIE WONDER is the opening act for this year’s Festival, in a free concert (9:30pm on 6/30) at the new Place des Festivals. Jazz? Nah. Jazz-informed? Sure. Classy, soulful fun in a concert befitting the magnitude of this year’s 30th anniversary? Absolutely.

Hope to see you there.


I don’t work for the fest – publicity or otherwise. I just love music and the special occasions like this that can bring musicians and music supporters together in  joyous, culturally celebratory and unifying experiences. The Montreal Jazz Fest is great in all of these respects.

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