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Charlie Biddle: Father of Montreal Jazz Festival


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Charlie's most successful accomplishment was organizing Jazz Chez Nous, a 3-day jazz festival in 1979...
Charlie Biddle and his bass fiddle brought Jazz to Montreal and all of Quebec.

Biddle died February 5th and only one city in North America really knows who he was and why he was so important to that city. Charlie as he was known to all was a bassist extraordinaire and jazz club restaurateur for 55 years.

If you went to Montreal, you had to go to the premiere jazz club—Biddle's Jazz & Ribs on Aylmer Street—and hear him play with his trio and have some of the famous barbecue buffalo chicken wings. His trio consisted of Oliver Jones, piano, and Wali Muhammad on drums. On many occasions singer Ranee Lee would come by and blend in with her vibrant lyricism.

After serving his country in WWII and returning home to Philadelphia, he studied music at Temple University on the G.I. Bill. "Racism in Philly," as Biddle stated, expatriated him to Montreal in 1948, and "Mount Royal" became his newly adopted home.

Canada was virgin soil for Jazz and Biddle traveled, played, and planted Jazz seeds in every corner of Quebec. He literally presented Jazz to all of Canada as a musician and later as a promoter. Biddle played with Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Tadd Dameron, and Lionel Hampton. In 1967, as promoter, he brought John Coltrane, Pepper Adams, Bill Evans, Johnny Hodges, Art Farmer, Thad Jones, and Tommy Flanagan to Montreal.

Biddle's most successful accomplishment was organizing Jazz Chez Nous, a 3-day Jazz Festival in 1979 that everyone predicted would be a failure. The next year, those who doubted and underestimated him started the Festival de Jazz de Montreal---voted the number one Jazz Festival in North America and the world.

In 1995 Biddle, with his son and three daughters, Charles Jr., Tracy, Sonya, and Stephanie, performed at the festival and were honored as the first family of Canadian Jazz. This past year at the 23rd annual Montreal Jazz Festival, he performed brilliantly with his trio throughout the ten day fest.

Biddle inspired many people who heard him play, including pianist Oliver Jones, who recorded his first album Jazz and Ribs at Biddle's, launching the Justin Time Record label. Director Jonathan Lynn signed Charlie to appear in the movie My Cousin Vinnie and Bruce Willis featured Biddle's in The Jackal.

As Harriet Tubman is legendary for leading slaves to Canada via the Underground Railroad, Charlie Biddle liberated Canadians from the confines of traditional music and led them to the promised lands of jazz. And they've never looked back. Surpassing the Montreux, North Sea, Umbria, Antibes, and other Jazz Festivals, Montreal, Quebec, and all of Canada have a black man to thank for bringing and spreading the music of jazz. Charlie Biddle, with his bass fiddle, was a one man band of jazz whose name will forever be synonymous with the Festival de Jazz de Montreal. For this endeavor, he will certainly be enshrined one day in the Jazz Hall of Fame.


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