Talents Take Montreal by Storm - Jazzgram
by Emilie Pons - Sept. 2009
This year, Montréal celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Jazz Festival. The setup was enormous and the selection of artists quite special, with African-American pop star Stevie Wonder opening the festival on June 30 and another American singer-songwriter, Ben Harper, closing the festival on July 12 at the Scene General Motors, six years after his previous appearance at the festival. On the main square, which is the center of the “quartier des spectacles” in Montréal, many stages were installed. And many theatres were also used for concerts: Théatre Maisonneuve, Théatre Jean-Duceppe, Salle Wilfried-Pelletier, or the Metropolis on rue Sainte- Catherine. This central spot of the city was, overall, where most of the festival took place. It was the festival’s headquarters for journalists, musicians, producers, and other jazz professionals. The outdoor stages featured mostly young up-and-coming artists even if their program also included a few veterans. Nearby is also the red light district, on rue Saint- Laurent, and the whole area is crowded with young people during the summer, which makes the whole city look younger than it actually is.
June, July, and August is festival season in Montréal, the jazz festival being one event among many others (Les Francopholies, Just for Laughs Festival, etc.). During the summer, the city of Montréal is extremely vibrant, just like the whole province of Quebec. People enjoy the outdoors, especially after such a long winter. The Quebecois are proud of their festivals. They claim they bring them tourists Ð a lot of foreigners. Americans, they say, like Canada for its festivals.
The Montréal Jazz Festival is a wonderful event partly due to its highly eclectic and sophisticated selection of artists, from jazz to rock to dub. There is music for all tastes. Even lesser-known acts like the French quintet High Tone that played on the first Friday of the festival at Club Soda were able to pack the venues they performed at. The festival also tends to bring back quite a number of musicians. Singer Melody Gardot or jazz legend Dave Brubeck had already honored the festival last year, and Canadian pianist Oliver Jones, a sort of godfather of the festival, was back also. Other noteworthy returns were Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés (see article here), French trumpet player Erik Truffaz, the young American bass player and singer Esperanda Spalding, the gifted saxophone player Joshua Redman, or the talented New York-based pianist Aaron Park.
This year, contrary to last year, jam sessions did not occur inside the Hyatt Hotel, but in front of it, in a restaurant, which somewhat changed the atmosphere, since musicians had to get out of the Hyatt to play instead of just leaving their room and walking down to the bar of the very hotel they stayed at.
But rain or shine, a myriad of concert-goers make the effort to go to the concerts, whether they were free or not, proposed on the main square. Quite a few young artists get a chance to come and play. Next year, the festival might bring back some of these musicians who by that time might have reached a major artist status. Montréal is a real platform for musicians of all calibers and of varying talents.