For 10 days this summer, June 25 to July 4, Montreal goes jazz crazy. Well, not really crazy, more like extremely excited to the point of literally dancing in the streets. And, while I’m being honest here, it’s not all jazz either, or at least not any typical definition of it. For instance: music-world royalty Prince just agreed to a two-night stand here! Yes, the 32nd edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival is as eclectic and diverse as ever…
The Jazz Fest can be broken down in many different ways, but with too many genres of music to name here, the easiest categorization might be: Indoors and Outdoors. Most shows of both kinds happen downtown in newly beautified and snazzed-up area now known as Quartier Des Spectacles, so it’s easy enough to go from one show to the next – start with some $80 k.d. lang seats and then go outside and party with the plebes to Louisiana’s funkstastic Galactic and go late into the night with The Unsettlers. I usually spend most of Jazz Fest roaming the free outdoor stuff (like the proud plebe I am).
This year, as a child of the 80s, I’m definitely looking forward to the (free!) festival finale concert from the B-52s. There’s also pianist Oliver Jones‘ sure-to-be-mind-blowing tribute to one of Montreal’s best-loved uber-talents, Oscar Peterson. Other jazz classics get the Battle of the Bands treatment as the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Artie Shaw Orchestra duke it out on June 26. And legendary pianist and Jazz Fest mainstay Dave Brubeck is always, always a treat.
On the more experimental wild side, guitarist Marc Ribot, a player in John Zorn’s 2010 Masada Marathon, channels the spirit of the universe. The classic American folk scene comes on strong with America and Marianne Faithful. Funk-soul legend Lee Fields rocks my world, as does Esperanza Spalding, and Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright, who will sing to the legacies of Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln and Odetta in Sing the Truth!.
But that’s juste a taste of what’s going on in the wildly eclectic program: Pink Martini brings pop-jazz fun, while hometown hero Poirier brings the electro beats and what’s sure to be one of the biggest parties of JFest. If you’re looking for some Canadian content, the fest has plenty: Men Without Hats (!), Blue Rodeo, Diana Krall, The Dears, Katie Moore and a slew of others, many playing for the, in my happy opinion, criminally-low fee of free.
With so many amazing shows, you can decide, as many people do, to take these two weeks off and see as many acts as you possibly can, but if that’s not the case, know that at least you’re not left entirely to your own devices when it comes to decision making. The Jazz Fest, with its many savvy programmers and diversity of musical acts, can also be commended for keeping up with the technological times: their web site includes programmers’ picks, divides the festival schedule into easier-to-digest sections by artist, plus organizers and several musicians go onscreen to tell us why they’re excited about this year’s fest. And you can keep track of your own choices with a personalized on-line schedule.
So, whether you’re a black-turtleneck-in-July jazz aficionado/snob, a lover of live music from around the world, or somehow just accidentally find yourself in the middle of jazz season in Montreal, there’s a show (or ten) right here waiting for you.
Montreal International Jazz Festival, June 25 to July 4, 2011