Lucky me. I’m just back from the 35th anniversary celebration at the Festival International de Jazz Montréal. As world-class talents Diana Krall, Pat Metheny, Tony Bennett and B.B. King agree,”It’s the best jazz festival in the world.” Oh, yes.
Each year I discover new treasures, and this year it’s Woodkid, the versatile French artist who “popped” opening night with an emotional and electric performance that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
Two years ago, I was blown away by Sophie Hunger’s soul poetry. In 2009, it was Guy Bélanger’s harmonica genius, which sounds like an oxymoron until you hear him. This year I fell in love with Montreal trumpeter and singer, Nico Sarbanes, who has us on our feet in thunderous appreciation of I’m Through with Love.
After sunny outdoor sets by St. Luc high school jazz band, Concordia’s Willis Pride Quartet, and a passionate performance by beloved Streetnix, it feels great to chill at an indoor venue. Gesu Centre provides a cool respite from sun and outdoor crowds at with lap-slide bluesman Harry Manx, sharing the stage with virtuoso guitar-man Dave Lindley, whose distinctive guitar wail will take you back to the first time you heard Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty.
Or you may prefer the star-studded outdoor spectacles that offer something for every musical taste and all ages. The ever-burgeoning festival includes over 500 concerts and events — both ticketed and free. The indoor and outdoor lineup this year includes the incomparable Diana Krall, Rufus Wainwright, Diana Ross, Keith Jarrett, Dianne Reeves, smooth native-son Michael Bublé, and so many more. Plus special programs like Piazzolla Plays Piazzola, Zappa Plays Zappa — terrific.
I’m lucky enough to see Dianne Reeves’ blues performance of jazz standards and her trademark scat. Tonight she pays tribute to the great Celia Cruz — azúcar!
Daniel Lanois, a Montreal stalwart, opens his set with the very romantic and familiar Tremeloe — moving and electric. His woo-woo guitar work is familiar and plummy. Just as I start to go into a Lanois-trance, he switches gears and is joined by blues-mistress Trixie Whitley t whom he refers as “adventurous heart.”
Whitley lights up the stage with Surely You Were Meant To Be Mine. Drummer Brian Beck is an old hand, relaxed and ultra-cool. Whitley plays along with him on a smaller set of drums. As she gains steam, her expression is pure cat-and-canary. Real-time B&W film projected above the artists grants us a fascinating bird’s eye view of their collaboration.
Musical bright lights continue to assemble onstage with the legendary EmmyLou Harris who croons Ma Jolie Louise to French-speakers in the audience who roar in approval. On the legendary Lanois — and his talented friends — truly soar.
Countdown to 2015 – 364 Days
I plunge back into the festival masses – wow. With the exception of the enormous marches on Washington of my youth, I have never been in a bigger, happier and more peaceful crowd. For a woman traveling alone, the Montreal Jazz Festival can’t be beat for safety and security — Montreal, je t’taime.
Whether you drive or fly, it is always worth the trip to savor our jazzy and sophisticated neighbors to the north. Treat yourself to a dazzling world of music, culture, saveur and savoir at the Jazz Festival set in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles in downtown Montréal. You have 364 days to plan for 2015! •
UP NEXT: : Epicurean Adventures in Montreal!