Summer Montreal Jams
In talking with jazz musicians whose bread is buttered with North American and European jazz festivals that include Montreaux, North Sea, Umbria, and Antibes, all have said that Festival International de Jazz De Montreal is number one. Two prominent jazz magazines polled their readers and it was unanimous. Montreal was the top vote getter and here’s why it gets my vote. I have attended Montreal since 1996 and have heard and hung out at jam sessions with legends, moderns and new lions in the jazz music world.
Let’s set the 10 day scene for the FIJM. You take downtown LA and block off Temple and Grand to Sunset with the Dorothy Chandler and Ahmanson as main venues for headliners. This would be The Wilfrid-Pelletier and Theater Maissonneuve on St. Catherine. A large stage is assembled on the corner of Grand and Temple for noon and evening concerts, all free. Surrounding Temple, Grand and Sunset would be smaller scale theaters for other known artists. They would be the Spectrum, Metropolis, Club Soda, and Club du Maurier. One hundred fifty artists performing from noon to midnight with jam sessions until 4am. And not forgetting "Biddle's" and "The Upstairs Room" that's downstairs always featuring bassist Curtis Lundy's group.
Montreal goes all the way out with painting the theme of jazz throughout. The theme on radio/tv and department storefronts, in French and English: Festival International de Jazz De Montreal. A blue hip cat playing sax is the official symbol seen everywhere, on everyone, hats and t-shirts. A truly musical experience in Jazz and all musics. Merchants anticipate concert goers buying CDs, t-shirts, caps, food, etc. The North American continent’s number one jazz festival, FIJM has the best "Salle de Presse," providing champagne atmospheres for interviews. Marie Achard, Director, Claudia Betancourt, Assistant Director, and Sophie Desbiens, Director of International Press, held Oscar Peterson 's press conference at the Ritz Carleton. Singer, Susanne Arbuehl's was at the Swiss Embassy. Jimmy Failla, Director of Securite heads a phenomenal staff of comprehensive security that can't be found at any other festival. Failla's eyes patrol the insides and outsides of the official FIJM Hotel Wyndham, and throughout all areas of free music surrounding St. Catherine and Rene Levesque. After 9/11, security has become ever more paramount for the safety of all musicians, concessionaires, and patrons of the jazz music.
Now in its 24th year after bassist Charlie Biddle held the first Montreal Jazz Festival, Montreal has showcased legends Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Horace Silver, Tito Puente with Arturo Sandoval, Kenny Burrell, Ray Baretto, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Nancy Wilson, Roberta Flack, Shirley Horn, Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, Max Roach, Tommy Flanagan, Roy Haynes, Tony Bennett, Mal Waldron, Yusef Lateef, and Charles Lloyd.
Moderns have included Dee Dee Bridgewater, George Benson, Chucho Valdes, Isaac Hayes, Diana Reeves, Andy Bey, LA musicians Patrice Rushen, Benny Maupin, Ndugu Chancler, and Charlie Haden. New lions have been Wynton Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard and Cassandra Wilson, Regina Carter and Kenny Barron, Willie Jones, Jr., Russell Malone, Bennie Green, Joan Monheit, Diana Krall, James Carter, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, and Cyrus Chestnut among many.
Jam sessions have seen combinations of Hargrove, McBride, Larry Willis, Jones, Malone, Carter, with Benson on vocals. Freddie Hubbard commented in 2001, as he listened to Hargrove flaring, “Damn! Listen! He sounds just like Blue (Mitchell)! I’d better go home and get my s--- together, real quick!” Jamming goes on until the wee early morn hours with festival goers hanging onto every note jammed. An outstanding 16 year old alto-saxophonist Marcus Miller, from New Jersey, played with Montreal’s great jazz pianist Vic Vogel’s trio augmented with New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield of Los Hombres Calientes and Clifford Adams of Kool and the Gang. Kool was reluctant to sit in on bass (probably because it was an upright and not a Fender), yet shared the enjoyment with everyone. And would you believe a 13 year old who everyone dubbed “Young Matthew Monk,” jumped onto the grand piano with feet that didn’t touch the pedals (but he did) told everyone that it was about Midnight, close to his bedtime and commenced to play just about he most consummate version of Monk’s “Round Midnight” that has ever been played. Need there be anymore said? The applause was raucous for minutes with standing ovation.
The sessions which go on every night of the ten day fest mixing a warm , happy group of Jazz loving people from all around the United States, specifically Angelenos, New Yorkers, and Bostonians. Singers, ED and April Ellington, players, tap dancers, all got chances to jam along to mostly traditional jazz songs played, “On Green Dolphin Street,” “All The Things You Are,” “Now’s The Time,” and “So What.”
There are some unusual aggregational mixes to concerts that would normally not sound like they would even work. An example of this was Prince and his Revolution performing before 2000, highlighted regular R&B bassist Larry Graham assisted by soprano sax playing Najee and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. It was a raving success. Another memorable concert , “El Rey’s” (Tito Puente) last Montreal performance, had Arturo Sandoval on trumpet, and Rocker, Stevie Winwood on keyboards. It was spontaneous combustion.
International music has been presented in grand fashion, teaming Chucho Valdes with 15 piece orchestra Cubanismo and Irakere, Dizzy Gillespie’s last Cuban discovery formed by Valdes. Cubanismo, with Valdes played 3 hours before an outdoor crowd of 200,000 on St. Catherine St. in 1997. Tombaloa, a 20 piece Brazilian band, opened its 2000 concert with a Mardi Gras parade and entertained 200,000 highly energized festival goers.
Dedicated to the memory of Montreal’s founding “Jazz Father,” Charlie Biddle, “The Genius,” Ray Charles, who launched the first FIJM, will open the 24th Annual Montreal Jazz Festival on June 26th. Andre Menard, VP-Director of Artistes brags about the talent and music of FIJM stating, "the public is invited to experience the thrill of discovery and pure listening bliss in our beautiful concert halls and on sites of outdoor stages. Our festival is a varitable crossroad of culltural dynamism."
It’s the number one jazz festival in the safest city in North America: Montreal. Alain Simard, President-Founder, says, "Ville-Maree, a new downtown addition opening in 2004, will solidify Montreal's international reputation as the 'City of Festivals"'." In all of the whole wide world, Mount Royal stands high above all music festivals. If you've never been, add it to your jazz festival itinerary---a once in a lifetime, unforgettable experience.