Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 15, No. 3, 2016
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Robert J. Lewis
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

martha and rufus





Now in its 37th year, Montreal’s International Jazz Festival is the hottest ticket during summer. Certainly one of the world’s largest of its kind, the festival features over 800 dazzling concerts performed by outstanding musicians from all over the world. Audiences from here and beyond Quebec’s borders enjoy the rich array of vibrant genres that spill out onto the festival’s seven free outdoor stages and 12 indoor venues that require tickets. For tickets and info, visit:

One exceptional part of this accessible festival is the inclusive school program that allows great talent to shine on one of the outdoor stages. I was bowled over by the astounding performance of the band from CÉGEP André-Larendeau CEGEP. The 5-year music program is renown in Montreal. Certainly the calibre of playing of this pop/jazz boisterous ensemble was anything but “schoolish.” Directed by Benoît Rochefort, this now famous band walked away with the Golden Mickey Mouse Award for “Best Jazz Band” in Disneyland, Orlando. Performing on the Rio Tinto stage on July 1st embodied the sprit of Canada day. Each student was a master of technical virtuosity and musicality – trombone did not take second place to trombone, trumpet, piano and electric guitar. The incredible blues vocals of Phyulia Yatchou impressed the crowd.


Attending the press conference for Rufus and Martha Wainwright was a rare and humbling experience. Hosted by Olivier Robillard-Laveaux and co-festival-founder, artistic director André Ménard in Salle Stevie-Wonder, Maison du Festival, the interview gave us an up-close and personal view of these two brilliant artists. It was rare to have them both sitting together for an interview time, and Mr. Olivier Robillard-Laveaux took full advantage of the sister-brother pairing. His candid questions really shed light on how these two felt about one another’s musical careers, but also about their own family personal relationship.

Martha started the interview making a joke. Speaking in fluent French, she said, it can be unnerving; he (bro’ Rufus) is so amazingly talented, but she noted that his generosity to share the stage with her on so many occasions touches her.

Rufus recalled his performance in the tiny Café Sarajevo Club -- a wonderful underground nook. Rufus had asked Martha to join him for on number. “Then it became two, then three.” I saw she was developing in her own course, less boisterous than me. I wanted to begin my career with a family element behind it.” Fast forward, when Martha took the stage with him at Covent Gardens in London during his performance of his opera Prima Donna (Jazz Fest performance is on July 2nd and the 3rd). “She surprised us all by suddenly appearing in a tutu and ballet hoses. It was a cross between Stormy Weather and Swan Lake.” Both recently shared the stage at Carnegie Hall, and so their mutual respect and love of each other’s music is obvious. “Martha’s the most impressive woman I have ever known in my entire life. One element that astounds me is her song writing; it is completely her own voice – her own world.”

Martha likewise, returned the compliment, saying she is so touched by him bringing her into his life and his performance. The host asked several questions to Rufus about his opera writing. The singer replied that at the age of 13, his mother, the late, great Kate McGarrigle had brought home Verdi’s Requiem, and at that moment he “developed a fever for opera.” The year was 1987, and it was in 2009, that Rufus wrote his Prima Donna. He spoke at length about the exceptional people involved in the opera spectacle, including Zaldy, Cirque du Soleil’s costume designer and photographer and Cindy Sherman who performs.

In 1982, Rufus heard Nina Simone perform at the jazz festival – a career shaker for him. “She was the first artist whom I listened to and understood what I could do. I could combine classical music with jazz and pop.”

Martha is performing with her sister Lucy whom she describes as the comic of the pair, with a voice like a bell. This concert will feature Songs in the Dark, initially recorded at their grandfather’s cabin in Saint-Sauveur on the cuff. It worked. They are stepping back into the nursery rhymes of their childhood. Martha said it is both sad and depressing. Nostalgia for a time gone is something we can all relate to.

Footnote: I had the pleasure to live with Rufus and Martha. I was asked by their mother, Kate, to teach Rufus piano as a live-in baby sitter while she and her sisters were on tour. I humbly share this little fact with you because at the press conference, Martha revealed as kids, they fought. “There were stitches.” I laughed. I knew them to be the sweetest kids to ever wanted to take care of. I am sure they do not remember our 3-week-long séjour together, but it is a memory I cherish. I could see these two siblings were waiting in the wings to make music their raison d’être.

Photos by Victor Diaz Lamich



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