Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 9, No. 3, 2010

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
David Solway
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)
2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101 (featuring David Binney)
Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Alain Simard © Marcel DuboisAndré Ménard© Marcel Dubois



From its humble beginnings in 1979, The Montreal International Jazz Festival (MIJF) has evolved into not only one of the biggest but, in the opinion of many, the most festive and comprehensive jazz festival in the world. The reasons for this -- especially for festival organizers looking to best the learning curve or decide on what template is most likely to translate into festival success -- are just as interesting as the music itself, since the major criticism of the festival just happens to explain its success.

Every year smug skeptics and naysayers gather like dutiful drosophilae to excreta, and in full j’accuse mode pretend to pose the question they have already answered: What do Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Ritchie, Boz Skaggs, The Doobie Brothers et al have to do with jazz? Isn’t the MIJF, in point of fact, more of a world music festival than anything else? All About Jazz’s pointman, John Kelman, observes that “it's a festival that long ago deserted purity in favour of a trifecta of jazz, world music and blues.”

Over the course of a typical Montreal jazz festival that runs for the better part of two Mardis Gras-like weeks, there are approximately 150 ticketed indoor and 400 free outdoor concerts. In the outdoor concerts, most of the major genres of music are represented, including jazz and its many subsets: manouche, gypsy, samba, the standards, fusion, swing, bop, West Coast, smooth and freeform.

Militating against the appreciation of jazz and its offshoots are the typical listeners who are shamelessly trigger-fast and judgmental in forming their musical opinions.

The radio is on, a music we’re not familiar with is playing and in a matter of seconds we will have already made a decision on it. Genres that fail the test rarely get a second chance. Jazz, in its interval and architecture, is more complex and less accessible than folk, pop, rock and rap, which is why most of us decide we don't like it. And yet we would never say we don’t like Chinese, because our relationship with it is limited to the fact that it’s a language we don’t understand, which precludes either liking or disliking it.

Since there’s no circumventing the time and hard work required to learn any language, including the language of jazz, the challenge from the get-go for MIJF founders André Ménard and Alain Simard wasn’t whether or not to call their event a jazz festival, but how to cajole the prejudiced ear to give jazz a second and third chance, knowing that most listeners automatically default to music they are already familiar with. What strategy could be implemented that would best entice a by and large skeptical jazz public to attend a jazz festival?

After a strenuous negotiation with City Hall, Ménard and Simard wrested permission to convert a section of the downtown area into a pedestrian zone that would accommodate on-site alcohol consumption and facilitate the setting up of food and beverage stalls, an improvised art gallery, a street market for the sale of CDs and festival paraphernalia, a kiddies’ corner with daycare and concert stages offering free concerts from high noon until round midnight. In short, they created a party atmosphere that few could resist.


The streets are closed to traffic, the party and fun have already begun and there’s an international vibe (and scent of sativa) in the air. You’re feeling good, everybody’s looking good, it’s summer in the city and you’re suddenly stopped in your tracks by a strange and sizzling guitar solo fueled by a thrashing, cymbal-driven rhythm section. A fusion band (long since disbanded) called Uzeb is playing and you find yourself actually enjoying a music to which you previously wouldn't give the time of day. You move on (not necessarily in a straight line) to another stage where velvet-voiced Susie Arioli and guitarist Jordan Officer are playing the standards that your parents used to play and you couldn’t stand, only this time Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” has somehow gotten under your skin and you decide to stay for another song -- and then another. Twilight gives way to a booming moon with larger crowds and concerts on every corner. You look at your watch and it’s half past thirty but who cares because you’ve already decided that you’re coming back the next day – but this time to check out more of the free shows, some of which are actually related to jazz. And without realizing it yet, the beginning has already 'beguine,' note by note, bar by bar, line by line (larghissimo), for the uninitiated for whom jazz is a language that has to be learned before it is liked.

Perhaps more than its programming, the MIJF’s most noteworthy accomplishment (and legacy) is pedagogical, a show-me-how lesson on how to systematically break down the musically prejudiced mind. The Ménard-Simard formula predicts that with repeated exposure, guaranteed by the inducements (festivities and freebies), there will come a day in the life of erstwhile jazz skeptics when they not only make a point of attending free outdoor jazz but indoor concerts as well -- perhaps to catch the lyrical guitar work of Pat Metheny, or butter-smooth vocalese of Kurt Elling or serenities offered by saxophonist David Binney.

Crowds that in the early years of the MIJF measured in the tens of thousands now number in the hundreds of thousands, the fact of which speaks to the elasticity of the musical mind and the importance of laying down the groundwork for that mind’s musical development, and prior to that, the psychological prescience of André Ménard and Alain Simard, who have double-handedly grown the MIJF into the envy of all festivals.

It wasn’t so long ago -- in the 1960s and 70s -- when local jazz musicians were forced to pitch tent in Toronto and New York to get their music heard. Well, that was then and now is now and the now has never been better for Montreal jazz.

This year’s 31st edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival runs from June 25th to July 6th. In the spirit of discovering new music, I recommend you hitch your wagon to these stars:
(1) Sylvain Luc -- guitarist
(2) Sophie Hunger – vocalist
(3) Christian Scott -- trumpeter.

Photos ©Marcel Dubois



John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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