Montréal Jazz Festival Ignites With a Summer Extravaganza of Music
By Doug Hall, Contributing Writer, June 22, 2018
In a recent conversation, André Ménard, co-founder and artistic director of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, gives an overview of the breadth and scale of the outdoor and indoor venues and range of musicians (over 3,000) and concert choices (over 650) during a 10-day run from June 28 to July 7, 2018. It’s impressive, even to the point of being overwhelmed, which Ménard, a lifelong aficionado of jazz and renowned promoter of musical talent for the past 40 years, replies: “You shall be!” This underlines his confidence in presenting the best at the Montréal Jazz Festival by traveling to over 300 artistic events internationally to evaluate and recruit stellar musicianship.
Since its founding in 1980, the summer festival has become a cherished event for jazz music fans from around the world. It’s considered to be the largest and most heralded jazz event by critics and musicians alike. In 1982, Ménard brought the festival into Montréal’s downtown Latin quarter (in the heart of Quartier des Spectacles) “where everything began to come together and gel,” he says. As the popularity of the festival caught on in 1986, multiple venues were developed to what is today twelve concert halls and eight outdoor stages “all in the same neighborhood,” Ménard explains.
Much like Montréal’s reputation and image worldwide as a peaceful respectful city of diverse cultures, Ménard proudly points out that the MJF continues that tradition. “Montreal people want to keep it sane and safe,” he says, “and it all happens in a very good spirit.” With an actual record of almost non-existent violence or policing necessity, even with the very large crowds, it is a shining example of community togetherness, people mingling and focusing on the sharing of music, crafts and food that showcases the best of the Montréal spirit.
The festival’s line-up for jazz lovers is an explosion of varied artists new and old, blending a wide range of influences and allowing a broadening of tastes, and avoiding any narrowing of the wide band of musical choices. Ménard likens the inclusion of “sounds” to starting at the base of a tree. “The main trunk is jazz, but there is a spreading out to many branches, to leaves of many colors,” he says. The first performance in 1982 was Ray Charles after which Ménard booked Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Chick Corea and other jazz giants. He later followed with a new generation of talent, including the so-called “young lions” such as Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove and Canada-born Diana Krall. Krall had her take off moment at the MJF in 1995, with a ten-night performance affair that helped to launch her career.
Always listening for new talent, Ménard has been mindful not to offer a single channel. “It’s not like a musicology, like presenting bebop players from 1959,” he says. “Instead it’s always going beyond, as jazz has traveled all around the world from Africa to Spain to France to England, as well the United States where it was born.” Also, the speed of delivery of new music—through the internet and streaming on Spotify—is not lost on Ménard, as he relates that he’s now reacting to all these electronic resources. “With the new world being so interconnected,” he says, “the music comes in troves.”
The 2018 MJF line-up speaks to a vast array of talent: newly discovered, undiscovered, legends playing with contemporary artists, reunions of players that will undoubtedly create the chemistry that will allow sparks, spontaneity and improvisation to flourish. Here is a sampling of the diverse artists headlining this year’s festival:
Herbie Hancock: The seminal jazz pianist, multi Grammy-award-winning artist, composer and international performer, helped redefine the jazz rhythm section under the Miles Davis Quintet and has been a chameleon ever since, ranging from jazz, R&B to electronic pop to hip-hop. Accompanying Hancock will be singer/multi-genre bassist Thundercat, 2016 Grammy winner for Best Rap/Sung Performance and featured on Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly (2015).
Jessie Reyez: The winner of Canada’s Juno Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year in March, the Toronto-born singer is considered to be the R&B revelation this year. Her debut EP, Kiddo, detonated the musical landscape with extraordinary and tormented vocals, as on singles “Figures,” “Hard to Love” and “Gatekeeper.”
Kamasi Washington: Pushing boundaries of jazz, the bandleader, composer and saxophonist makes his debut at the festival, riding on a breakout multidisc 2015 release The Epic, that included guest appearances by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and contemporary stars Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat. Washington has followed that with his new recording, Heaven and Earth, a two-disc masterpiece released this month. Expect him to play a lot of that new material.
Mike Stern (guitar), Randy Brecker (trumpet, flugelhorn), Dennis Chambers (drums) and Tom Kennedy (bass): This is a dream team of stellar jazz-rock fusion players. Each of these musicians is a virtuoso individually, so this performance promises to be explosive.
Holly Cole: The legendary Canadian jazz singer and multi Juno Award winner performs music from her recently released recording, HOLLY. Her first release in five years, the album spans genres of music with a focus on such classics as “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Everybody Loves Somebody” and “Teach Me Tonight.”
Ry Cooder: The renowned innovator of style and stellar guitarist and composer performs his debut at the fest. His creation of music is at a crossroads of influences, nations and musical legacies that have established his instrumental talent and rich mix of musical directions from the Cuba-based sound of acclaimed release Buena Vista Social Club (1997) and current release Prodigal Son (2018).
Carla Bley: The return of a pioneer in the “free jazz” movement of the 1960s as jazz composer, pianist, organist and bandleader. Bley will conduct the Orchestre Nationale de Jazz de Montréal with special guest Steve Swallow, New York-based jazz bassist and composer—and her husband. She will perform her influential jazz opera Escalator over the Hill, along with compositions performed by Gary Burton, Art Farmer and John Scofield. She is the recipient of “A Life for Jazz” award from the German Jazz Trophy and received the NEA Jazz Masters Award in 2015. A definitive figure in post-bop jazz, she takes the reins of the ONJ for an evening that will include original orchestral works.
This is only a sampling of the energy and depth of this year’s jazz affair with a festival clock that runs day and night, outdoors (including many free performances) and indoors.
For more information on this year’s festival and to purchase tickets click here.
Cover: A panoramic view of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal; photo: Victor Diaz Lamich.