RNRG’s exclusive preview of what’s ahead at this year’s wildly diverse Montreal International Festival on its 40th anniversary
There are few festivals that are as venerable and respected as The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, popularly known as the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
While New Orleans, Telluride, Montreux, Merlefest, and Bonarroo may compete for that distinction, Montreal clearly holds its own in terms of prestige and prominence. Held every year in late June and early July, it offers an array of spectacular performances spread across nearly two dozen stages and venues, ranging from outdoors amphitheaters to hip clubs and spacious theaters spread along and in proximity to the city’s major thoroughfare, St. Catherine Street in the bustling heart of Montreal’s teeming metropolis. The festival itself spans more than ten days, little wonder that in 2004 it was deemed the world’s largest jazz festival by the Guiness Book of World Records.
Remarkably, the festival continues to expand in size and diversity. Approximately 3,000 artists, representing more than 30 countries, participate on average every year, offering some 650 performances, many free and others offered through paid admission. Not surprisingly, the festival is well attended as well, welcoming some two million attendees annually.
The original incarnation of the festival was spawned from the Rising Sun Festijazz, Montreal’s first blues & jazz festival held in 1978. While other jazz festivals were also cultivated at the time, the event in its present form is best credited to the work of Alain Simard, a promoter who spent much of the ‘70s bringing top flight artists to Montreal. With the help of two other entertainment entrepreneurs, André Ménard and Denys McCann, he conceived the idea of creating a summer festival that featured leading artists sharing stages and presenting world class entertainment.
With the support of the Canadian Broadcasting Company and Radio Quebec, the three men presented the first official Montreal Jazz Festival in 1980, featuring such illustrious headliners as Muddy Waters, Ray Charles, Gary Burton and Chick Corea. Ever since, the festival has reached beyond its branding as strictly a jazz festival. An array of artists continue to play prominent roles in its line-up. In recent years, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Brian Wilson, Rufus Wainwright, George Thorogood, Boz Scaggs and King Crimson, as well as both mainstream and up and coming indie artists have been showcased as well. Nevertheless, the common bond continues to be tied to music that’s adventurous, challenging and provocative, regardless of template or technique.
Naturally then, this year’s the 40th edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival is no exception. Presented by TD Bank Group in collaboration with Rio Tinto, it takes place June 26 to July 6, boasting a line-up includes Peter Frampton, The War and Treaty, Nick Murphy AKA Chet Faker, Buddy Guy, Charlotte Cardin, New Orleans jazz ensemble Cha Wa, singer Molly Johnson, Daddy Long Legs, Victor Wainwright, JP Soars, Chick Corea, Holly Cole, Sue Foley, Norah Jones, Melody Gardot, Lee Fields & the Expressions, Dianne Reeves, Brian Adams, George Benson, Madeline Peyroux, Joshua Redman, Alan Parsons, Lucky Peterson, Popa Chubby, Courtney Barnett, PJ Morton, Roberto Fonseca, Stephane Wrembel, Snarky Puppy, Julian Lang, Blue Rodeo, ColinJames, Voivod, Suuns, Kurt Elling, Steve Marriner, Chvrches, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and dozens of other performers too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that as always, the gamut of styles will run from jazz, avant garde, rock, and blues to Afro-Caribbean, funk, Creole, zydeco and any number of other sounds that defy description. Music will be heard from afternoon and evening until midnight and beyond.
Whew… time to take a breath. Indeed, the expanse of sound sometimes seems too much to take in. And yet, there’s a magical vibe that’s truly compelling and enthralling, making Montreal all the more fascinating in terms of indulgence and entertainment.
It is, without a doubt, an essential experience for anyone who considers music as their mantra.
For more information on the Montreal International Jazz Festival, including prices, schedules and the complete artist roaster, go to montrealjazzfestival.com.