days are so good and free.” -- the iconic lyric sung by
Flora Purim on Chick Corea’s iconic album Light As a
Feather. Especially in northern climes, the lyrics evoke
those perfect days we associate with the summer that comes and
goes all too quickly.
it comes to celebrating summer, there’s nothing like the
now world renown 10-day
Montreal International Jazz Festival (MJF) that
begins a week after the solstice. What makes the festival special
is that not only are the “clear days so good and free”
but there are hundreds of free concerts that begin at noon and
continue until closing time. Yes, for the duration of the festival
there's a Havana Moon hanging
high over Montreal. Unnoticed in the 1000ds of positive reports
the festival has generated over the years is that it is above
everything else a people’s festival. On any given day, you
(family and/or friends) can attend the many free outdoor concerts
that are strategically embedded in the heart of the festival.
Along with the music you’ll also discover that the city
is a magnet for the world's polyglot of languages, which redounds
to the festival’s continually evolving creative programming
that attracts music and culture lovers from the four corners of
early 1980s, when festival founders Andre Menard and Alain Simard
were growing the MJF, they had an idea which would become the
template for all festivals looking to survive the financial burdens
mega-events invariably generate. They understood that the best
way to introduce listeners raised on pop, rock or rap and hip-hop
to the more demanding and complex language of jazz would be to
provide it free. If jazz is now one of the mainstays of the city,
it’s because Menard and Simard created the ideal conditions
for listeners to expose themselves to an unfamiliar musical language
while having fun. Jazz is a constantly evolving form with many
different approaches to structure and expression (free-form, bee-bop,
manouche, fusion, cool, swing, The American Songbook); and thanks
to the free shows listeners can try them all out and then pick
ALERT = Hyundai Stage - le Parterre (corner of De Montigny and
location location is not only the buzzword in real-estate, but
also for festival venues; and where steel and cement
make up the core of the city center, anything that is green and
grows will attract the undivided attention of city folk starving
for the natural world. And when it comes to cool grass under the
feet (and legally in the air since Oct. 2018) there's nothing
that rivals the green acres that cozy up to the Hyundai Stage
-- the festival's perennial venue for all that's the blues. It's
a huge area where blues fans congregate, bringing snacks and blankets
in preparation for the best of what 12-bar has to offer in terms
of composition and especially improvisation.
their origins in New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta in the
early 20th century, jazz and blues have supplied both the impetus
and architecture for music that appeals to musicians for whom
improvisation -- the spontaneous translation of feelings into
music -- is the genre's crowning achievement. And while jazz (
and that includes 12-bar jazz), is more interval-rich and structurally
elastic than blues, the latter requires no defending in respect
to its emotive power and the memorable solos it generates. In
the words of blues legend B. B. King, "the blues plays no
second fiddle to anybody's any music." At which point Mr.
King stops talking and brings out Lucille (his trusted guitar)
to make his point.
year, the Hyundai stage features 30 concerts that begin at 7 pm,
then 9 pm, followed by a repeat of the 9 pm at ll pm; the 7 pm
under the late afternoon sun, the later concerts when Montreal
becomes North America's city of lights, city of nights.
the female voice you're hankering for, this year's Lady Sings
the Blues line-up will not disappoint: Cécile Doo-Kingué,
Angélique Francis, Miss Emily, Barbara Diab, Jenie Thai,
Dawn Tyler and Sue Foley bring a variety of styles and voices
to the stage.
to catch Cécile Doo-Kingué (June 27, 7 pm) whose
up-tempo funky style is offset by a deep, butter smooth voice
while her highly original solos take you to places where most
guitarists fear to tread. This women isn't afraid of a little
bit of dissonance.
Angélique Francis (June 29, 7 pm) and her near all-women
band combine gospel and the delta in music that evokes chain gangs
and the sins of the nation.
it comes to walkin' the walk and talkin' the talk, the rhythm
and blues of Jenie Thai (July 2nd and 3rd, 7 pm) will show you
how it gets done right.
spirit of Big Mama Thornton, there's not enough sky to contain
the booming voice of Miche Love (July 6, 7pm).
but not least, two concerts that are sure to generate highlight
reel of the highest quality: Montreal's dynamic Dawn Taylor Watson
(June 30, 9 pm) is one of the city's great blues performers, and
Canada's Sue Foley (July 6, 9 pm) is rapidly becoming an international
blues star. She brings an unadulterated confessional voice to
her original material and her soloing makes you forget that it's
not the fingers but the heart that plucks the strings.
fans, Gaz Bar Bluesman Guy Belanger is the man: he's
dedicated his entire career to keeping alive the spirit of Sonny
Boy, Little Walter and the great Junior Wells 'alive and well.'
He'll be joined by the rich and resonant voice of singer Kim Richardson
on June 27th, 11 pm. Don't be late on this date for this non-nonsense,
man Victor Wainright (June 29, 9 pm), brings one of the best (clean
and smooth) voices to the stage: he'll remind you of Dr. John
which is nothing to sneeze at.
it comes to deliciously long solos that begin on a slow burn and
fan out in the finest filigree before stopping just short of the
distort, you gotta see J. P. Soars (July 2, 9 pm). This guy breathes
guitar and he'll leave you breathless with his low-keyed dazzle
and ability to shift gears and wobble the planets.
if you're looking for something different, something off the wall,
music caught between a vector and an alpha particle, blues that
reminds you of the blues, a blues that thinks of itself as an
open category as a way of dealing with a world that deals from
under the table, make a point of getting to know Germany's Wellbat
(July 1, 9 pm). Like one the genre's largely unheralded creative
geniuses (John Mayall), Daniel Wellbat convinces you that 12-bar
can do anything it wants, however it wants and when it wants --
and you'll be wanting more.
to the cathartic G in the key of C, or the D in the key of A,
the blues is the perfect antidote to anything and everything that
isn't right with the world -- or with your women or your man or
significant other (pardon the inclusivity trope). And unlike any
other festival of its kind, the Montreal Jazz Festival provides
to the free-show concept, one of the jazz festival's enduring
note-perfect rites of summer, it's all yours for the taking, the