Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
June 27 -July 1, 2019
Forty years. Not a lifetime, perhaps, but a remarkably long time for any festival to not only continue to exist but, despite increasing challenges, to thrive. An even greater achievement when it's the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, which has grown from its humble beginnings In 1980 into the largest festival of its kind in the world. A festival that closes off six square blocks of the downtown core for twelve days each year, to create a music bubble where, between indoor ticketed venues and a series of free outdoor stages, and between hotels, restaurants and shops, it's possible for attendees to literally ignore the rest of the world for a brief time (if they should so choose) and immerse themselves in something positive, free of the trials and tribulations that dominate world news, day in, day out.
FIJM has never been a festival about purity; still, it's long considered itself a jazz festival first while never shying away from bringing acts either tangential or even completely disconnected to a genre where purity, in truth, is a myth. Jazz is, after all, a genre of inclusion rather than exclusion, whether it's indigenous folk music from countries far away, urban elements like hip hop, electronics innovations or any of the other many stylistic markers that have cross-pollinated with jazz, especially over the past 50 years but, truthfully, since its inception.
Still, there are those who bemoan the harsh reality that to exist as a jazz festival, it's not just important but necessary to bring completely unrelated acts into the programming mix. And this year's 40th Anniversary FIJM is no different than any of its previous ones. For every Brad Mehldau
or Steve Gadd
there's a Peter Frampton or Alan Parsons. For every Tord Gustavsen
(one of a number of ECM Records artists in the program, celebrating the lauded, award-winning label's 50th anniversary), Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
or Gilad Hekselman
there's a Blue Rodeo or Sue Foley, and for every Ravi Coltrane
, Antonio Sanchez
or Joshua Redman
there's a Victor Wainwright or alt-J.
The bottom line? With a litmus test introduced in the 2011 All About Jazz
article When is a Jazz Festival (Not) a Jazz Festival
, the Festival international de Jazz de Montréal continues to pass with flying colors. For those who don't want to hear about the festival's non-jazz programming, there wasn't a single day during this year's 11-day run, where there weren't so many choices in the jazz arena that choosing what to see was no mean feat.
Steve Gadd Band
June 27, 2019, 8:00PM
Take the first official day of the festival (there was an opening "Party Surprise 40e" the previous evening, one of the festival's Grande Événement
outdoor shows that have, in some years, seen as many as a quarter million people on the streets): from the Vijay Iyer
piano duo that opened the ECM 50th celebration and Brad Mehldau
's current quintet to Norah Jones
, Susie Arioli
and Melissa Aldana
, that would have been a tough enough call.
But for the first of five evenings covering this year's Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, the clear choice had to be the Steve Gadd
Band. Not just because the veteran 74 year-old jazz, rock and pop drummer, who's appeared on so many recordings that it's time to stop counting, rarely tours, let alone with his own project; but because of the band he's been playing with, for the most part, for the past several yearsand who have all played together, in recent years, in singer/songwriter James Taylor
's touring band.
Beyond Taylor, pianist Kevin Hays
, has been (relatively) quietly amassing a significant résumé that includes, in addition to his own work as a leader (over 20 releases since 1990), he's been recruited for sessions or gigs with artists, amongst the many, who include Bob Belden
, Benny Golson
, Eddie Henderson
, Chris Potter
, Joshua Redman
and Mark Turner
But while it's relatively easy to find Hays on the road, either with his own band or as a member of another, it's the other three members of Gadd's bandall busy west coast session players who only occasionally hit the road and rarely seen in this neck of the woodsthat made catching this show all the more essential.