Jazz is Alive in Montreal

By | June 19, 2024
Montreal Jazz Festival

by T. Brooks Shepard

At the end of June, just north of the U.S. border, a jazz extravaganza will take place. From June 27 through July 6, the world’s largest jazz festival, the 2024 Festival International de Jazz De Montreal will present a dazzling array of current (and soon-to-be) jazz stars.

Founded in 1980 with seven concerts, twelve ensembles and Ray Charles as the first performer at a cost of seven dollars, the 44th edition of the Festival will offer 350 shows, two-thirds of them, free.

The original 1979 effort to initiate a major jazz festival in Montreal was cancelled at virtually the last minute but still managed to produce concerts by Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny.

Throughout the 80’s the success of the franchise grew with concerts by Chuck Mangione, the late Johnny Clegg and his South African band “Savuka” and Celia Cruz.

In the 90’s, The Zawinul Syndicate, Toots and the Maytals, Hugh Masekela and Milton Nascimento were among the headliners as the Festival broadened its international scope and melded African, Latin, European, Central, South American and Asian genres to the jazz music mix.

In 2000 and beyond, the Festival has showcased groups as varied as the Dave Holland Quintet, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Questlove.

This year’s lineup which embraces André 3000, Jason Moran, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Robert Glasper is indicative of the expansive approach the Festival takes to jazz programming.

Director of Programming, Maurin Auxemery, stated, ”We offer international jazz artists a platform to be heard” by an anticipated international audience of more than a million. The Festival has drawn as many as two million music lovers. Pat Metheny alone drew 100,000 people for a single concert”.

“Jazz will always be the music of tradition,” he said. ‘Now we have a new generation of jazz fusion and artists who are using new tools and exploring sound and music.”

In addition, the Montreal Jazz Festival presents a series of prestigious awards acknowledging the accomplishments of jazz musicians on a global scale. For example, born and bred in Montreal, acclaimed pianist Oliver Jones was very supportive of the energy to create a new jazz festival experience in his birthplace.

As a result, the festival created the Oliver-Jones Award in 2019 and given to aspiring Canadian university jazz students. There is, also, the Prix Oscar-Peterson named after the preeminent Canadian jazz pianist to recognize deserving Canadian jazz musicians. Both Peterson and Jones were recipients.

And the Prix – Ella Fitzgerald with Etta James, Diana Ross and Gregory Porter as awardees. Miles Davis, Antonio Jobim, and B. B. King awards round out the list named after these 20th century music luminaries.

In addition, the festival’s unique sustainability initiatives are not to be ignored. In eliminating, among other items, single-use plastic cups, installing solar power and developing a “green brigade” to assist in maintaining a clean concert site, Montreal is making its best effort to provide a clean concert environment.

Starting June 27, the Festival International de Jazz De Montreal takes over the Place Des Arts in downtown Montreal from 5pm to midnight and jazz will reign supreme in this gorgeous city.

The big stages belong to the veteran jazz superstars like Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola, Norah Jones and Marcus Miller. The smaller, more intimate venues feature emerging talent like Lakecia Benjamin, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dominique Fils-Aimie and Joey Alexander. Hiatus Kaiyote, Laufey, and Orville Peck will also headline shows.

All in all, the evidence is clear that in Montreal jazz is very much alive and well worth a visit to the city.

T. Brooks Shepard is a writer, educator, Executive Producer of Jazz@Union Concerts and the Ujima Culture Project

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